Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation

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My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As someone who lives in the French Quarter and has heard the story of the early days of the gay liberation movement from dear friends and neighbors, many (too many) who are no longer here to enjoy the results of their energies, I was glad to see this book at my library. Partly because I remain so thankful that the gay movement made its home in my neighborhood where I spent much of the last 40 odd years, as it brought diversity, a welcoming and inclusive vibe, which meant this place has stayed a neighborhood even as it struggles with its white flight history role in a majority African-American city too often obsessed only with its tourist’s face.
Arriving as a teen to this neighborhood in those years that did not only include white, straight, middle-class people allowed me to expand my originally suburban outlook to be able to recognize a diversity of human connections and appreciate a multiplicity of lifestyles and thinking which has only helped me move through the world with a lot more gratitude and latitude.
I knew the story of the Upstairs Lounge and since the plaque has been added, I get to the site either to give a silent moment of commemoration or to show visitors or activists. Still, the book gave me more detail about the victims that I did not know, and also gave much more detail as to the horror of the event, for both those who survived and those who perished in the fire. I read this book in an evening, as it is well organized and written using recollections and first-hand accounts and only a little secondary information.
The only criticism I have is I would have liked to see an epilogue of the amazing transformation of the Quarter into the center of gay commerce and culture maybe even naming some of those leaders and even some of the businesses that still exist due to that leadership including our little Mary’s Ace Hardware, Bourbon Street Postal, tour companies, neighborhood bars, restaurants, florists, salons, and the rest and how that then spread into the rest of the city.
This book should be included in the required reading list for New Orleans high school students and added to the bookshelves of historical centers and libraries as an example of how many of our property owners (STILL) don’t maintain their buildings to ensure safety for those using them especially when those using them are on the “fringes” of society, how equity (in life or death) is (STILL) not given to all and how our city can do better with all of it by remembering The Upstairs Lounge tragedy.

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About DW

New Orleans resident, writer, activist. Public market consultant.

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