Remembering Queer History: The Upstairs Lounge Fire

(Content Note:
This post discusses the two deadliest recorded attacks against the queer community in United States history)

What follows is a raw attempt on my part, with no practice at slam poetry.

44 years

Yesterday marked 44 years since a devastating fire erupted at The Upstairs Lounge, a popular queer gathering spot in New Orleans, Louisiana. This deliberate arson attack caused the deaths of 32 people and was the deadliest attack on the queer community in the United States until the 2016 shooting massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, which saw 49 murdered and more than 50 injured. Every time I think about this deeply, massively horrific act of barbarism, I am brought to tears. I am brought to tears because

32 people died.

32 people who loved, hated, and fucked

32 people with stories of heartbreak, joy, sorrow, contentment, apathy, and compassion

32 people who ate,  slept, vacationed, worked, traveled, got drunk, went to church, loved politics, hated politics, and gambled and more

32 people who were siblings and parents, extended family and friends, co-workers and acquaintances, perhaps strangers even

32 people who had hopes and dreams, skills and talents, strengths and weaknesses, character flaws and integrity

32 people were killed.

No. Actually, that’s not right.

32 people were murdered.

Murdered in one of those “god I hope I don’t die this way bc this is unbearable to even imagine” kind of ways. But I can ONLY imagine. They EXPERIENCED it. I truly hope they didn’t suffer and IF they suffered it was for a brief moment. Death by FIRE and STARVED of oxygen and poison SEEPING into your lungs? Is not…is not…is not how one should die.

And when the inferno was out?

And 32 people were dead? Hearts were open. Aid was offered. Condolences were given. Around the world people reached out and shared their candle lit grief. And their solidarity. With the 32 people whose lives were TAKEN in that fearsome. fiery. tragedy. I WISH I could say with ALL of my heart that THAT was what had occurred.

It did not.

I can not and will not. Tell such a tall tale.

There is a tale that I can tell that does not require deceit. And in this deceitless tale that I can tell,

Not 24. Not 12. Not 6. Not 3 hours went by

Before reactions were heard.  Before support was offered. Before commiserations were given. Before outrage was shared. Before the “what can I do”‘s  and “how can I help”‘s were asked.

And not just Orlando. Not just Florida. Not JUST the United States.

There were lit Candles in the Phillipines.

A rainbow bridge in Australia.

Unity placards in England.

Remembrance in Denmark.

Mourning in Switzerland.

Gathering in South Korea.

Homage in France.

Vigils in Berlin.

And on it went. And on it went.

And so it went around the world. Country to country. People to people. The solidarity and vigils and homages and remembrances and candles were a response. A very human response to a horrific tragedy. A very human response to a horrific tragedy that was vastly different than the one that happened 44 years ago yesterday when:

Silence was heard. Silence so loud and so powerful. Like a Silent Sonic Boom went off. So loud and so powerful was this Sonic Boom that the world was engulfed in silence.

Jokes were made that packed a punch. Oppressive punches so powerful they punched down and punched down and punched down until BAM! The Earth’s core. And then continued to punch down some more.

A fearsome fire overtook a bar. Survivors feared the fire and fought the fire and fled the fire and found that they were fired. From their jobs.

****

In the aftermath of the Upstairs Lounge, the reaction of New Orleans officials, church leaders, and civilians in the city was unsympathetic. Jokes were indeed made about some of the people killed. Churches refused to allow memorials. Family members of some of the deceased refused to collect the remains of people who up until they died in that fire, were probably family members they cared for. But for some people, finding out that a member of your family is gay is “::gasp:: HOLY FUCKBALLS! Red is black and blue is sky and and nothing makes sense any longer”. Unlike the response to the Pulse massacre last year–a response that included vigils, commiserations, remembrances, homages, and so much more. And from as far away as South Korea and Australia.

But that was not the case in NOLA. Here, it was as if the city and the religious leaders wanted nothing to do with the case. They wanted it swept under the rug. They cared more about the image of their town than finding the killer (and they never found the person, either). For all that the Upstairs Lounge fire was the deadliest attack on our community until last year, far too many people know nothing of it. They know nothing of this horrific attack or the apathetic-at-best response from the city. In what could symbolize the utter lack of concern about the fire, one of the victims, the Reverend Bill Larson, had attempted to escape, but got stuck in the iron bars around one of the windows. People on the street watched in horror as he burned alive. And the city left his body there for days. Heartless as fuck. The fact that no killer was found (despite one suspect, a gay man who had been kicked out of the bar earlier and apparently threatened retribution; the man took his own life the following year) also points to the lack of care on display by the city.

The Upstairs Lounge fire is part of USAmerican queer history. It was a devastating attack and its aftermath served as a reminder that we were viewed as subhuman deviants for whom care and compassion was in short supply.  In the years since the fire, care and compassion have been found in some cases, and cultivated in other, such that the Pulse attack engendered compassion in people around the globe. Please take a few minutes to read the full details of the Upstairs Lounge fire or familiarize yourself with the names of the deceased as well as the survivors.  We matter.  Contrary to what NOLA officials and church officials said at the time, their lives mattered. Just as our lives matter today. We are part of the narrative of this country. Both in life and in death. We expect society as a whole to recognize that our lives matter and that we deserve liberation and equality. If we expect that in society, should we not also expect that in ourselves?

The Deceased:

  • Joseph Henry (Joe) Adams, 51, comptroller, Sidney Espinache’s lover
  • Reginald Eugene (Reggie) Adams Jr., 24, salesman
  • Guy David Owen Anderson, 41, researcher, visitor from Illinois
  • Joseph William (Bill) Bailey, 29, waiter, Clarence McCloskey’s lover
  • Luther Thomas Boggs, 47, computer programmer, died in hospital
  • Louis Horace Broussard, 26, barber, Mitch Mitchell’s lover
  • Hurbert Dean (Hugh) Cooley, 32, lounge bartender
  • Donald Walter Dunbar, 21, carpet cleaner
  • Adam Roland Fontenot, 32, Buddy Rasmussen’s lover
  • David Stuart Gary, 22, lounge pianist
  • Horace Winslow (Skip) Getchell, 35, freight dispatcher
  • John Thomas Golding Sr., 49, various careers, father
  • Gerald Hoyt Gordon, 37, shipping clerk
  • Glenn Richard (Dick) Green, 32, shipping clerk
  • James Walls (Jim) Hambrick, 45, salesman, died in hospital
  • Kenneth Paul Harrington, 48, federal lab technician
  • Rev. William Ros (Bill) Larson, 47, MCC pastor
  • Ferris Jerome LeBlanc, 50, hair dresser
  • Robert Keith (Bobby) Lumpkin, 29, switchman
  • Leon Richard Maples, 32, auto mechanic, father
  • George Steven (Bud) Matyi, 27, musician
  • Clarence Joseph McCloskey Jr., 48, sales manager, father, Bill Bailey’s lover
  • Duane George (Mitch) Mitchell, 31, salesman, assistant MCC pastor, Horace Broussard’s lover
  • Larry Dean Stratton, 25, died in hospital
  • Eddie Hosea Warren, 24, cook, father
  • James Curtis Warren, 26, carpenter
  • Willie Inez Whatley Warren, 59, unemployed, their mother
  • Dr. Perry Lane Waters Jr., 41, Jefferson Parish dentist whose x-rays identified several victims
  • Douglas Maxwell Williams Jr., 20, truck driver

in addition to three unidentified white males.

Known survivors

  • Theo Ancelet
  • Jessie Baker, 28, beautician
  • Philip Byrd, 40s, hospitalized for injuries
  • J. C. Carrier
  • Courtney Craighead, 30s
  • Richard Robert (Mother) Cross, 29, salesman, Dean Morris’ lover
  • Frank Dean, 34
  • Jimmy Demoll Jr., hospitalized for injuries
  • Francis Dufrene, 21, hospitalized for injuries
  • Roger Dale Dunn, 26, hospitalized for injuries
  • Sidney Espinache, 50, Joe Adams’ lover, hospitalized for injuries
  • Richard Frank (Rick) Everett, 35, computer technician
  • Frank Gaalema, 29, display freelancher
  • Edward B. (Eddie) Gillis, 52, hospitalized for injuries
  • Jean Cory Gosnell, 37, realtor, mother, hospitalized for injuries
  • James Larson
  • Adolph Medina, 32, wig saloon manager, hospitalized for injuries
  • Albert Harold (Uncle Al) Monroe, 68
  • Dean Morris, 37, Rick Cross’ lover
  • Jim Peterson, 31
  • Robert Thomas Price, 19, various jobs
  • Lindy Laurell (Rusty) Quinton, 25, welder, hospitalized for injuries
  • Douglas (Buddy) Rasmussen, 32, bartender
  • Robert (Ronnie) Rosenthal
  • Michael Wayne Scarborough, 27, steel worker, Glenn Green’s lover, hospitalized for injuries
  • Fred Scharohway, 22, Earl Thomas’ lover, hospitalized for injuries
  • Don Sherry
  • Eugene Earl Thomas 42, Fred Scharohway’s lover, hospitalized for injuries
  • I. R. (Bob) Vann, hospitalized for injuries
  • Stephen Whittaker
  • Peter — , bank clerk
  • Harry —

 

 

 

Remembering Queer History: The Upstairs Lounge Fire
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Important Read! A theme study of LGBTQ history in the U.S.

PoC and our achievements have been ignored, demeaned, debased, and erased at all levels throughout US history. It is no different in the queer community. This flag represents the need for the community to recognize our value and worth, just as society at large needs to do. Yesterday.
In response to racial tensions in Philly’s queer community, a new Pride flag was created to honor Queer People of Color.

Yesterday, I talked about my desire to develop a connection to queer heritage, culture, and history in the United States. There are so many people that have contributed to the struggle for the rights that I and millions of others currently enjoy. There are also those people who helped shape our culture and in some cases, help steer the course of US history. Beyond that, there are the places where queers gathered and loved, lived and died, and where they endured great trials and enjoyed amazing successes. Queer history in the US is more than facing down mob violence, defying “the man”, or pushing back against restrictive and prescriptive social norms regarding gender or sexuality. It is also about the quest for love and acceptance (internally and externally) in a harsh and uncaring world, as well as the formation and dissolution of the ties that bind us (whether socially, religiously, or politically). One incredibly important aspect of our history is the recognition among those in our community (and later, by society at large) that the right to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ is our right as well; that our lives have value and that we are an important part of the fabric of this country.

I suspect it is that recognition–that we exist, that our lives matter, that we have value, that we are an essential part of the narrative of United States history–that played a role in the creation by the National Park Service of a multi-part (32 to be exact), peer-reviewed theme study into queer history. Megan Springate, the prime consultant for and editor of the LGBTQ theme study describes it thusly: Continue reading “Important Read! A theme study of LGBTQ history in the U.S.”

Important Read! A theme study of LGBTQ history in the U.S.

A pathetic attempt at historical revisionism

A pro-Confederate flag group on Facebook put up this deeply ridiculous meme recently. There are a few problems I can see with the it. First off…oh, you know what, let’s be fair here. I don’t want to be so overly critical of the meme maker that I neglect to offer them praise. I mean they totally deserve a slow clap or two for their ability to Google ‘how many people died in the Civil War‘ and come up with 620,000. That level of talent just boggles the mind.  So yeah, let’s take a moment to congratulate the meme maker here for the ability to find a number related to the Civil War. Now, about those problems with the meme.

Continue reading “A pathetic attempt at historical revisionism”

A pathetic attempt at historical revisionism

What a privilege indeed

Content Note: Discussion of slavery and white supremacy, disturbing imagery

For much of my life, I thought I knew about slavery and white supremacy in the United States. Not everything mind you. But I knew about that ‘peculiar’ institution. I watched ‘Roots’. I saw ‘The Color Purple’. I knew stuff.

  • I knew that millions of Africans were enslaved and brought to the United States where they had no rights.
  • I knew that these Africans were not considered full human beings, and had no rights.
  • I knew that they could be bought, sold, traded, and bartered like property.
  • I knew that male slave owners often raped their female slaves and bore illegitimate children which they sold when the children were of sufficient age.
  • I knew that families had been ripped apart and destroyed. I knew that black families sought to form whatever communities they could, often in the form of churches, though white people would have none of that.
  • I knew about slave patrols, which played a role in the development of modern policing.
  • I knew about black people being whipped, chained, disemboweled, and brutally beaten.
  • I knew the tools often used to keep black people enslaved.
  • I saw the images of black people before, during, and after they were whipped.
19th century medical missionary and anti-slavery advocate David Livingstone sent weapons and tools such as these to Britain as evidence in the battle against slavery.

I knew all of that and more still. I knew that slavery was a vile institution; one that dehumanizes its victims (in this case, African-Americans), treats them as things…as property. I knew that the Civil War was fought over slavery; that slavery was the bloodiest conflict in US history. I knew the Emancipation Proclamation declared an end to slavery. But there was much I did not know. Oh boy, was there ever. Here are three things I’ve learned about slavery and white supremacy in the last year, one of which I learned about today.

Continue reading “What a privilege indeed”

What a privilege indeed

Defending the indefensible

I’m growing increasingly frustrated by the historical ignorance on the part of many Southerners. In the wake of the June 17 act of racial terrorism that took the lives of 9 African-American churchgoers in Charleston, SC, a debate has reignited over the Confederate flag (which has flown over the South Carolina state capitol since 2000). On one side of the debate are those who argue that the flag represents white supremacy, slavery, and treason. On the other side are those who think the flag is a symbol of Southern heritage and freedom from tyranny. The supporters of the flag are attempting to revise history with proclamations such as “The Civil War was fought over states’ rights”, “The Confederate flag represents bravery, valor, and heroism”, and “The Civil War wasn’t just fought over slavery”. The only proper response to the previous claims are (IMO) “no, it wasn’t”, “no the fuck it doesn’t”, and “hell yes it was”. While I’m sure that many people are genuinely ignorant of the causes of the Civil War and the symbolism of the Confederate flag (owing to deliberate attempts to paint the Southern states in a positive light in the wake of the Civil War), I have no doubt that many other people know full well what they argue for. Whatever the case may be, it disgusts me that whether intentional or not, people are defending the indefensible. To understand the reasons why supporters of the Confederate flag are deeply wrong, a little history lesson is in order. The following is a broad overview of the causes behind the Civil War.

Continue reading “Defending the indefensible”

Defending the indefensible

It was an act of terrorism by a white supremacist

You can’t go a day without hearing someone say “The United States is a post-racial country”. In other words, racism, racial discrimination, and prejudice based on race are all things of the past. Leaving aside the fact that people who feel this way have an incomplete understanding of racism (seriously, they need a 101 lesson), these ignoramuses are also blind to the individual examples of racism that occur all the damn time. Normally I would list 5 examples of racism in the United States, but today I’m going to focus on one example.

Continue reading “It was an act of terrorism by a white supremacist”

It was an act of terrorism by a white supremacist

Stop honoring Christopher Columbus

Children across the country are no doubt overjoyed at being out of school today.  ‘Christopher Columbus Day’ is the second Monday of every October.  It is a day set aside to honor the Italian explorer considered by many to have discovered the ‘New World’ (aka the ‘Americas’) in 1492.  Children are taught to revere the heroic man who risked life and limb to prove the Earth was round.  They’re taught that he discovered the land that would one day be considered the greatest, most prosperous nation on Earth.  Columbus Day is intended as a celebration of this man and all his greatness.  In addition to a holiday just for him, Columbus is honored through the poem 1492.

The thing is:  his history has been whitewashed.

Continue reading “Stop honoring Christopher Columbus”

Stop honoring Christopher Columbus

Kathy Jetnil-Jijiner's History Project

This week, poet and performance artist Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner stood before the world leaders at the opening ceremony of the United Nations Climate Summit.  She was one of 4 people out of 544 chosen to address the Summit.  She says she wanted to “bring my people’s message out to the world, that climate change is a threat we need to take more seriously.”  Poetry has been part of her life since she was young and she uses her poetry to address social and environmental issues.

On her blog Iep Jeltok , she writes: “My poetry mainly focuses on raising awareness surrounding the issues and threats faced by my people. Nuclear testing conducted in our islands, militarism, the rising sea level as a result of climate change, forced migration, adaptation and racism in America.”

In one such poem, The History Project, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner expresses the frustration she and her people have felt over the nuclear tests run by the United States on their island home in the Marshall Islands.

Here’s the video.  She delivers a powerful, passionate performance:

Kathy Jetnil-Jijiner's History Project

Kathy Jetnil-Jijiner’s History Project

This week, poet and performance artist Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner stood before the world leaders at the opening ceremony of the United Nations Climate Summit.  She was one of 4 people out of 544 chosen to address the Summit.  She says she wanted to “bring my people’s message out to the world, that climate change is a threat we need to take more seriously.”  Poetry has been part of her life since she was young and she uses her poetry to address social and environmental issues.

On her blog Iep Jeltok , she writes: “My poetry mainly focuses on raising awareness surrounding the issues and threats faced by my people. Nuclear testing conducted in our islands, militarism, the rising sea level as a result of climate change, forced migration, adaptation and racism in America.”

In one such poem, The History Project, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner expresses the frustration she and her people have felt over the nuclear tests run by the United States on their island home in the Marshall Islands.

Here’s the video.  She delivers a powerful, passionate performance:

Kathy Jetnil-Jijiner’s History Project

Unsolved Mysteries

There are a lot of mysteries in life.  Things we may never know (or, more likely, things I will never know, but someone, someWHEN, may figure out the answer). These are burning questions that strike at the core of humanity.  Without answers to these questions, it’s hard to sleep at night. True rest cannot be had so long as these mysteries go unsolved.

I’m your host, Robert Stack, and this is Unsolved Mysteries.

  • Why was Stonehenge built?
  • How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
  • How do they get that creamy filling inside Twinkies?
  • How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop (the world still doesn’t know)?
  • Was there a second shooter involved in the assassination of JFK?
  • Where was George Lucas going with Luke and Leia *before* he decided they were siblings?
  • Why are women, queer people, and PoC whitewashed in US public school history books?
  • Who was Jack the Ripper?

Oh, wait, we may be able to strike that last one off our list (thank all the non-existent gods in the non-existent heavens, one more hour of sleep)!  British writer Russell Edwards claims he knows the identity of Jack the Ripper!!

On the eve of the release of his book Naming Jack The Ripper, a British businessman claims that he has ascertained the real name of 19th century serial murder Jack the Ripper using 126-year-old DNA extracted from blood found on the shawl of one of his victims.

 

That’s all I’m giving you.  Go read the full story over at Raw Story.

Unsolved Mysteries