The Upstairs Lounge Fire, 24 June 1973
This would be the largest mass-murder and hate crime on the LGBT community in the United States until the recent Orlando shootings.
On June 24, 1973, an arsonist attacked the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans, Louisiana. The space was full of members of the local Metropolitan Community Church gathered to celebrate the last night of Pride Weekend. When the fire broke out, the bars on the windows kept most people from escaping. As onlookers made jokes, MCC Pastor Rev. Bill Larson burned to death hanging out of a small opening screaming, “Oh, God, no!” When the flames subsided, 32 people were dead. No one was ever charged with the massacre.
In addition to the horribly incinerated Rev. Larson, twenty-eight other individuals lost their lives that night, and three others later died of injuries received in the fire. The death toll was the worst of any fire in New Orleans history up to that time, including the great fire of 1788 that burned the old French Quarter to the ground. It was also the largest mass murder of homosexuals ever in the U.S. and what is more, it is a crime that has never been solved.
But the city of New Orleans did its level best to ignore the whole event. The fire exposed a surprisingly deep fissure of homophobia in a city that has historically prided itself on its egalitarianism and cosmopolitan tolerance. For the first time, New Orleans had to confront the reality of a thriving homosexual community in its midst. Evidently, this was a very hard lesson for it to learn.
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