HomeCultureNew Orleans Remembers Tragic Up Stairs Lounge Fire

New Orleans Remembers Tragic Up Stairs Lounge Fire

City to commemorate the 50th anniversary of one of the deadliest crimes against gay and lesbian people during Pride Month.

Former Up Stairs Lounge at 604 Iberville St. in the New Orleans French Quarter

In 1973, the deadliest fire in New Orleans’ history occurred in a small gay bar at 604 Iberville St. in the French Quarter. The Up Stairs Lounge was a refuge of love and acceptance in the New Orleans community until—in just a matter of 19 minutes—it became a symbol of tragedy and rejection. Thirty-two people died in the fire, and the New Orleans LGBT+ community was changed forever.

At the time, local police did not consider the tragedy a top priority. One officer told a reporter, “This was, after all, a queer bar.” No elected official responded publicly to the fire. Archbishop Philip Hannan denied the victims Catholic funerals. Radio commentators joked that the victims’ remains should be buried in fruit jars. The arson at the Up Stairs Lounge remains officially unsolved despite being the deadliest crime against LGBT+ people in US history until the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando.

On June 23-25, New Orleans will commemorate the 50th anniversary of this tragic event with panel discussions, a service at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church and a jazz funeral to a ceremony at the Up Stairs Lounge site, a screening of the documentary “Upstairs Inferno” and more. See the full program here.

The commemoration event is made possible by supporters like the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana, which encourages the protection and preservation of materials that chronicle the culture and history of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in Louisiana. Archives Executive Director Frank Perez leads LGBT+ walking tours of the New Orleans French Quarter, with a stop at the Up Stairs Lounge site. The Iberville Street location is marked with a plaque in the sidewalk listing the names of those who died.

Perez’s tour also includes In Exile, New Orleans’ oldest gay bar that was a hangout for Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote; and Jackson Square, the site of a protest against Anita Bryant in 1977.

Find out more about the Up Stairs Lounge fire and events associated with it here.

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