On Sunday, June 24, 1973, the largest LGBTQ massacre in the history of the United States occurred at the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans, LA. It was the final day of a Pride Weekend celebration, and dozens from at the Metropolitan Community Church, the first gay church founded in the US, went to the Lounge. The attacker coated the stairs with lighter fluid, which made way for an exploding fireball throughout the building and took the lives of 32 people. Despite being the deadliest fire in New Orleans history, few news organizations respectably covered the tragedy.
UPSTAIRS LOUNGE FIRE
The deadliest fire in New Orleans history occurred on June 24, 1973. On that night, an unruly patron was thrown out of the UpStairs Lounge, which was located at the corner of Iberville and Chartres streets. About 30 minutes after being ejected from the bar, the patron returned and deliberately set the stairwell on fire. Thirty-two people died as a result of the arson.
The police and fire department responses were nonchalant and no arrest was made in the case, even though authorities knew who set the fire. Mayor Moon Landrieu, nor any other government official, had anything to say about the tragedy. Churches were either silent or subtly suggested the victims deserved what they got. Today, the fire remains largely forgotten.
I wrote about this before on this blog and appreciate that some of our media at least bothers to note this date of this terrible event. Recently, I saw a husband/wife set of tourists stop and read the plaque that was only recently put there to note the spot. Maybe if more people were aware of this crime and the lack of concern at that point by city officials-and the churches that refused to have services for the dead- we can begin to understand why we need to push human rights issues forward in every generation.
There is a plaque embedded in the sidewalk remembering the victims of the fire at Iberville and Chartres. If memory serves me, it was Councilperson-at-large Oliver Thomas who made it happen. Unfortunately, he ended his political career serving time for kickbacks from Pampy Barre over French Quarter parking lot contracts.
He is again doing good deeds with different non-profits since his release.