The Upstairs Lounge Fire: The Little Known Story of the Largest Killing of Gays in US History

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On June 24, 1973, a flash fire tore through a gay bar in New Orleans’ French Quarter. In less than 20 minutes, 32 people were killed, dozens more critically injured and the ones who managed to escape watched helplessly as friends and lovers burned to death before their eyes. It is believed to be the largest killing of gay people in U.S. history. Yet politicians and religious leaders were relatively silent. The powerful Catholic Archbishop of New Orleans at the time, Phillip Hannan, did not offer his support or sympathy to victims. And while all signs pointed to arson, the police investigation ran cold. No one has ever been prosecuted.

In this week’s magazine, TIME tells the story of the Upstairs Lounge Fire, which remains little known and even less understood despite the epic scale of the tragedy. Events like Stonewall have entered the canon of GLBT history, while other, equally significant moments have lingered in the background. But the movement is still relatively young in the arc of American history and as Harvey Milk once said, “A reading of the Declaration of Independence on the steps of a building is widely covered. The events that started the American Revolution were the meetings in homes, pubs, on street corners.”

As the stories of a survivor who remembers that tragic night, the founder of the church whose local congregation held services in the bar and the lead police investigator on the case show, the Upstairs fire was one such event.

Forty years later, the Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans apologized for its silence in a statement to TIME: “In retrospect, if we did not release a statement we should have to be in solidarity with the victims and their families,” Archbishop Gregory Aymond said via email on June 17. “The church does not condone violence and hatred. If we did not extend our care and condolences, I deeply apologize.” In a month that anticipates a potentially landmark Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage, the apology is another sign that times are changing.

Click here to read Elizabeth Dias’ full story about the fire at the Upstairs Lounge.

More Photography from Time

18 comments
hispire
hispire

This article was so disturbing,I felt I had to write.Then I read the above comments and decided not to throw in with a bunch of deluded imbeciles.

mrbomb13
mrbomb13 like.author.displayName 1 Like

If you think that fire was bad, just wait for the Apocalypse.

God will punish all sinners who have not repented - including those in the LGBT crowd.

Best of luck there...

ignacio99
ignacio99

@mrbomb13 

No, you're wrong. Apocalypse ís for the bad and cruel people like you. There'll no good luck for you and people like at the end of times. Wait and see, by your own risk.

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

@ignacio99 @mrbomb13 

Additionally, the Apocalypse is for those who have (by their own Free Will) sinned against God, and have freely broken His laws and Commandments.

If restating that makes me "bad and cruel," than so be it.  I would rather be labeled as such in this life than be condemned in the next.

GodiIsn'tReal
GodiIsn'tReal

@mrbomb13 @ignacio99 The Bible also says if a man rapes a virgin, she must become his wife. It also states if you wear polyester or eat shellfish, then you will go to hell, so remind me, how infallible is the Bible supposed to be?

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

@ignacio99 @mrbomb13 

I'm sorry, but your interpretation of the Biblical Apocalypse is inaccurate.  The Apocalypse is precisely for those people who do not believe in God and his Word.  Simply put, I'm restating what the Bible says.  Nothing more, nothing less.

BobSheepleherder
BobSheepleherder like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

@mrbomb13 You haven't "repented" the sin of spiritual smugness if you still practice it. Welcome to the Apocalypse ... along with the rest of us.

mrbomb13
mrbomb13 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

@BobSheepleherder @mrbomb13 

Spiritual smugness?  I follow the rules of my religion, I don't have to worry about Divine reprisal.  Why should I repent for the act of "telling it like it is" (a.k.a. talking about Christianity)?

I'll definitely witness the Apocalypse with you, but I'll be doing so on safer ground.

BJones
BJones

@mrbomb13 @BobSheepleherder 
Guess what, mrbomb13, the religion I was brought up in as a child (pentecostal) was just as certain in their beliefs that Roman catholicism is a demonic cult and the catholic pope is the antichrist, as you are in your beliefs.  Both are "Christian", both are absolutely certain that they are right and everyone else is wrong.  See, it turns out that not all "Christians" believe the same things.  The pentecostal belief that the pope is the antichrist comes from their interpretation of the bible, just as catholic beliefs come from their interpretation of the bible.  Won't you feel silly if they were right all along and you were wrong?   Perhaps you should be worried about the apocalypse after all.  Or perhaps it's more likely all a crock of garbage and you should stop watching for the apocalypse.  It sounds to me as if you just want the apocalypse to come because you think you'll get to see others around you suffer while you enjoy the show.  Not only does this make you a sadist, but it is also sinful...so welcome back to the business end of the apocalypse.

ajwill729
ajwill729

@BobSheepleherder @mrbomb13 It's unfortunate for you that you think because these people are different that they will burn in the apocalypse. You can't nitpick which parts of the bible you want to use to support your opinion. You either follow all of it and believe that if you don't do everything as is said in the bible then you will burn in the apocalypse. Or you believe that adjustments must be made and reinterpreted and therefor you're belief that all these people will burn because they don't believe as you do is completely wrong

ajwill729
ajwill729

@mrbomb13@BobSheepleherderDo you shave? If so you sin and therefor will be a part of this apocalypse you speak of because you have sined and not followed the word of the bible. Did you ever have any premarital relations? If so you're kinda screwed there to. Unless you're telling me that you follow every rule of the bible to a T then according to you, you will burn in the apocalypse. 

ZoeySloane
ZoeySloane

@mrbomb13 , For an apocalypse, one requires there to be a god. Keep waiting for Godot. And waiting. And waiting. And waiting.............

BobSheepleherder
BobSheepleherder

@mrbomb13 @BobSheepleherder Well there you go, you don't even know what gender your God is. How can you possibly know what the Almighty has in mind for you when you don't even know that God is neither male nor female. I leave you with the following Word of Wisdom, "disappointment". That pit you think you'll be looking down on at all the heathens ... you'll actually be looking up.

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

@BobSheepleherder @mrbomb13 

Yes, I do make that presumption, because I follow the dictates of my religion (Roman Catholicism). 

Furthermore, there is no way that your god - real or pretended - could compare to the omnipotence of God Himself.  He has no rival, and will suffer none either.  Your She-god is rife with wishful thinking if she thinks she can contend against Him.

Lastly, you're right - God will reserve a special for place for me, and for all other faithful believers too.  It will be high above the pit into which He casts all other sinners.

BobSheepleherder
BobSheepleherder

@mrbomb13@BobSheepleherderYou presume your religions Apocalypse will affect unbelievers, I presume you suffer from my religions sin of Spiritual smugness. My God is a lot more powerful than yours, I've talked to her and she told me so. She tells me your God is displeased about all your smugness as well, and he will reserve a special place for you to "witness" it ... up close and personal.

lazarus00000
lazarus00000 like.author.displayName 1 Like

Hate Crime? Not in 1973. This is the reason why we are finally moving forward and away from the hateful religious dogma and ignorant sterotypes.

Lazarus

ChikuMisra
ChikuMisra

Arsonists kill all kinds of folks, not just gays. Could this perhaps be another example of the left wing gay obsessed media finding conspiracies where none exist?