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Hear Eyewitness Accounts of the Largest Mass Murder of Gay People in U.S. History: VIDEO

Cry

On June 24, 1973 an arsonist’s blaze killed 29 people in New Orleans’ Upstairs Lounge bar. Another three people died from burns sustained from the fire, making it the largest anti-gay mass murder in our nation’s history.

We’ve shared footage, reporting and stories from the catastrophe in the past as well as provided an in-depth look at an art exhibit dedicated to the lounge and those that perished.

But the tale of the survivors and other people affected by the crime will finally be heard thanks to Upstairs Inferno, a documentary set for release this year. The horror, disbelief and sadness still lives on, but with it a glimmer of love and the conviction that no one should ever suffer such injustice just because of who they are.

Watch the trailer AFTER THE JUMP…

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Comments

  1. Thank you. It's about time this horror was made known to the public, and the shameful indifference that followed.

    Posted by: Randy | May 13, 2014 11:01:20 AM


  2. I look forward to seeing it.

    Posted by: Guillermo Luna | May 13, 2014 11:08:47 AM


  3. This is one of those stories that chills you to the bone. I am glad people are finding out about this as well.

    Posted by: WayneMPLS | May 13, 2014 11:11:18 AM


  4. I had never heard of this incident. Good to know. And good to know that in today's world, the gay community knows how to make its voice heads and demand attention and justice.

    Posted by: SpaceCadet | May 13, 2014 11:13:37 AM


  5. I remember being a kid in New Orleans and seeing breaking 10 pm news on it.
    New Orleans had all kinds of awful things happening - then Rault Center fire and the Howard Johnson's roof sniper were both around that time.

    Posted by: Mike | May 13, 2014 11:15:09 AM


  6. Years ago during Decadence I happened upon the historical marker embedded in the sidewalk outside this building and researched the story - only to find that my parents witnessed it in person when I was a child. It's an important piece of history that I am thankful is now being remembered for our young generation.

    Posted by: Will | May 13, 2014 11:26:16 AM


  7. Wow, I had never heard of this. I'll attempt to check it out, but I have a weak stomach for history tragedy.

    Posted by: Mikey | May 13, 2014 11:27:38 AM


  8. Wow, I had never heard of this. I'll attempt to check it out, but I have a weak stomach for history tragedy.

    Posted by: Mikey | May 13, 2014 11:27:39 AM


  9. was it an anti gay attack because on wikipedia they said that one of the suspects was a gay person?

    Posted by: luke | May 13, 2014 11:31:54 AM


  10. Yes, "anti gay mass murder" is a ridiculous and irresponsible descriptor of this horrible event. The only thing one can reasonably conclude from the evidence is that it was an act against the bar's staff and NOT because they were gay. "The only suspect arrested for the attack was Rodger Dale Nunez, a local hustler and troublemaker who had been ejected from the bar earlier in the evening after fighting with another customer. Nunez had been diagnosed with 'conversion hysteria' in 1970 and had visited numerous psychiatric clinics. After his arrest, Nunez escaped from psychiatric custody and was never picked up again by police, despite frequent appearances in the French Quarter. A friend later told investigators that Nunez confessed on at least four occasions to starting the fire. He told the friend that he squirted the bottom steps with Ronsonol lighter fluid bought at a local Walgreens and tossed a match. He did not realize, he claimed, that the whole place would go up in flames. Nunez committed suicide in November 1974."

    The reprehensible homophobia in the story is the indifference of the local straight community to the fire's victims and their survivors. That IS an important story to tell. But the "antigay arson" spin is simply wrong from multiple angles.

    Posted by: Michael Bedwell | May 13, 2014 11:40:55 AM


  11. This recalls "The Everard Bath" fire in NYC '77. Famous Boston DJ, Jimmy Stuard was killed in that fire. He was the disc jockey at the popular "1270" gay bar in Boston. He would give me the inside info on what new songs were coming out. Sad passing. He was the best.

    Posted by: Gary | May 13, 2014 12:46:19 PM


  12. Though I'm a New Orleanian and graduated from HS that year, I remember the Rault Center fire and the Howard Johnsons, but not this -- I think I was out of town when it happened. But I read the book recently (Let the Faggots Burn), and Bedwell is right.

    It was likely set by a slightly deranged and maybe gay person, but the reaction was horrendously homophobic, especially families refusing to bury their children. Aside from the MCC, I think there was an Episcopal priest that held a memorial, and he was censured by the bishop.

    Glad to see it's getting coverage!

    Posted by: KevinVT | May 13, 2014 12:54:24 PM


  13. Just because we are not being "stoned to death" don't believe that Americans can't be whacko. Our rapid exposure, in such a short time period, could be a catalyst for violence. Be vigilant. When Karl Rove can accuse Hillary Clinton of having brain damage, don't be fooled into a false sense of security by a "Modern Family" wedding.

    Posted by: Arrow | May 13, 2014 1:12:44 PM


  14. Let The Faggots Burn...I had to Google it to see if it was the actual title of the book...& yup, it actually is...that's kinda f*cked up, imo..but I like Upstairs Inferno, sounds less derogative.

    Posted by: St.Eve | May 13, 2014 2:17:58 PM


  15. I wonder if there isn't some copycat effect going on with that other more recent story of someone lighting the stairs in a gay bar, in Seattle I believe it is.


    Posted by: castaway | May 13, 2014 3:51:56 PM


  16. I have heard of this fire but haven't read much about it. Thank you for the "Let the Faggots Burn" tip. Just purchased it.

    Posted by: Icarus | May 13, 2014 7:18:38 PM


  17. Let The Faggots Burn is an absolutely incredible and well-written book of this tragedy authored by Johnny Townsend. Reading the book, it becomes clear that Townsend painstakingly researched every detail about this event. While it's a terrible tragedy in GLBT history, Townsend did an absolutely amazing job of documenting it in his book. And while the title is equally as disturbing as the event, it is highly appropriate seeing as these were the disgusting words uttered in the midst of the fire that would forever remain associated with the overall public response to the Upstairs Lounge fire. I believe the book is available on iTunes for something like $3. It is worth every penny and is a must read for any gay American.

    Posted by: Dr. Christopher Blackwell | May 14, 2014 1:34:41 AM


  18. As sad as this is, you still can't compare it to the legal slaughter of the multitude of blacks in this country that absolutely NONE of you give two shits about. Blacks hung and burned in front of children who watched with smiles on their faces. America has yet to admit this American Holocaust. So forgive me if I don't shed as many tears!!! As it's been said, the white gay community is so hypocritical!

    Posted by: Still do not compare | May 14, 2014 2:59:31 AM


  19. This fire was tragic. All tragedy is tragedy. The inaction on the part of the New Orleans political and civil community was as bad in the aftermath of the fire.
    I have read about this incident on this site before. Thank you for bringing it to light again though I know it is brought to our attention because of the documentary.
    It is part of our gay and American history just as the mistreatment of African Americans, Native Americans and all of the bad which happened to countless other immigrants to our country. (Ever read "The Jungle" by Upton Sinclair?) Face it, there's a lot of bad out there. We need to remember it all and learn from it and act with the knowledge of it. We need to be compassionate towards each other. We need to treat each other with dignity and respect in all our daily dealings. Life is hard enough for most of us without bringing discrimination and blame into the dynamic of our actions. Be aware!

    Posted by: JT | May 14, 2014 10:30:59 AM


  20. I agree with Dr. Blackwell. I read the book "Let the Faggots Burn" by Johnny Townsend a couple of years ago. What an emotional, powerful, and disturbing account of a horrible tragedy of which most people, including LGTB folks, are unaware. Townsend brought the personalities to life, and reminded me that "they" were and are "us." It could happen still and it could happen anywhere. I look forward to the documentary. I also encourage everyone to get the book and read it....it will horrify you, anger you, and move you to tears. I bought my copy on Amazon.

    Posted by: arj | May 15, 2014 12:45:50 PM


  21. A postscript to the homophobia of the time is that within the past year the current Roman Catholic Archbishop of New Orleans apologized that the archbishop at the time of the fire did not provide any assistance to the victims and their families and did not allow his priests to. I believe that Christian Charity and love should be extended to everyone PERIOD. In June 1973, I was still somewhat isolated in the Army so I didn't hear about it. However, I was just out and was in my first relationship with a man and was on top of the world.

    Posted by: BP. Bob Withrow | May 17, 2014 2:31:46 AM


  22. As far as I know this wasnt an actual anti gay arson, but was perpetrated by a disgruntled rentboy. Still a horrible story and the way it was framed by media at the time still has many lessons but I dont think it was meant to be against them because they were gay. regardless i see the marker quite often. If i remember correctly the sealed windows created some sort of backdraft which made the place explode. Sad for sure!

    Posted by: Derek | May 20, 2014 10:24:24 PM


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