If anyone knows of similar stories that have happened in your home town that you’d like me to write about to share with others, please feel free to tell me about it in the comments and I will certainly do my best to give the event the spotlight it deserves.
I’m a bit late in posting about this 40 year anniversary which was 5 days ago, for which I apologize.
UpStairs Lounge, New Orleans, Louisiana
On June 24, 1973, the largest massacre in the history of the LGBT community happened in a small second floor bar in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Although the 70s was a period where LGBTs were discriminated against and violence was far more common than it is now, yet the community still persevered and had quiet little places to meet others and hang out with friends. The UpStairs Lounge was one such place.
Sunday, June 24th saw dozens of members of the Metropolitan Community Church (the nation’s first gay church) meeting in the Lounge for drinks and socializing. The atmosphere was amiable and drinks flowed freely. Around 8 PM, the doorbell buzzed insistently. Believing the buzzer to be a taxi driver, perhaps to pick up a rider, the bartender asked his friend to let in whoever it was wanting in. The door opened and Luther Boggs instantly caught the scent of the Ronsonol lighter fluid that had been sprayed on the stairs. The smell was followed by instant pain as Boggs was engulfed in the fireball that shot up the stairwell and into the Lounge.
The windows of the Lounge were protected by metal bars 14 inches apart, meant to keep people from falling out, but they only served to trap people in their own personal hell as they died from the flames, fumes and smoke. The Church’s pastor was burned to death as he tried to escape through one of these windows. Thirty-two people died in the UpStairs Lounge inferno.
Homophobia was so strong during the 70s that Reverend Bill Larson was left where he died, charred body on display for all to see. Many families left bodies unclaimed and most of the city’s churches refused to allow memorial services to the dead. Eventually all but three bodies were identified and buried properly.
The fire in the UpStairs Lounge was the worst in the city’s history, but the fact that the thirty-two individuals who died were homosexuals meant that there was little media coverage of the massacre. What little there was came in the form of mocking jokes. The New Orleans Police Department was accused of being lackluster in their investigation, which officers denied. No one was ever arrested for the crime.
Royd Anderson has put together a documentary about the arson attack: