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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This can all be traced back to the Civil War

We are going through some horrifying times right now. The presidential win by the incompetent, thin skinned rapist demagogue (I refuse to refer to him by his actual name, nor will I *EVER* call him “Mr. President” or “President [redacted]”) has led to a government that is very much not democratic, and is in fact, in danger of becoming an authoritarian police state (one run by white supremacists and Nazis at that). Chitler and those he brought on as part of his Cabinet have no respect for the people of this nation or the Constitution that all government employees are supposed to uphold. They have a complete disrespect for the rule of law  as well as disrespect for the basic standards of decency, transparency, and accountability expected from the leaders of this country. This disrespect and the trampling of the Constitutional and human rights of USAmerican citizens can be seen almost daily:

  • issuing an executive order that effectively bars Muslims from seven countries from entering the United States (no, the writing of the order does not literally say “ban on Muslims”, but that’s the end result) is an attack on people based on their religion and ethnicity
  • the imposition of a media blackout on multiple federal agenices such as the FDA and the EPA
  • criticizing the exercise of free speech rights of USAmerican civilians (the ‘Hamilton’ cast) and attacking celebrities who express disapproval of his actions
  • referring to his critics as enemies
  • openly displaying aggression to private companies
  • being extremely hostile to reporters and the media (signalling an opposition to the freedom of the press)
  • nominating a host of appointees for government positions who are not only supremely unqualified, but also (in most cases) want to gut the departments they are to be in charge of
  • continuing to associate with Russia, despite the successful cyberattacks carried out by that country

That’s just off the top of my head.  There’s been so much that the Tangerine Tyrant does on a daily basis that flies in the face of human decency or respect for the founding principles of this country. What many people may not realize though, is that our current slide towards an authoritarian or fascist state are directly connected to the demonization and enslavement of African-Americans for 245 years, which culminated with the Civil War.

Continue reading “This can all be traced back to the Civil War”

This can all be traced back to the Civil War

Police Behaving Badly 7.12.16

More than 800,000 people serve as local and state law enforcement officials in the United States. These police officers are charged with upholding and enforcing the law, maintaining order, and providing general services. To carry out these duties, police officers possess certain powers, granted by the state. If the situation calls for it, police officers can frisk, detain, and arrest civilians, as well as seize property. In addition, depending upon the situation, police officers are empowered to use force to defend themselves or civilians (the amount of force extends along a spectrum from police presence through deadly force). Given the powers that police officers have, it is incumbent upon them to maintain a level of professionalism in the course of their duties and to wield their powers responsibly and ethically. Unfortunately, there are countless examples of cops engaging in a range of irresponsible, unethical, immoral, and/or illegal activities from bribery and unjustified arrests to illegal search and seizure and the use of excessive force. Here are five examples of

Police behaving badly

Continue reading “Police Behaving Badly 7.12.16”

Police Behaving Badly 7.12.16

Dear readers, I could use some assistance

E-begging time, y’all.

Unemployment sucks (and since I quit, I cannot receive unemployment compensation). I’m living in a small town that doesn’t have many job options*. For the last few months, I’ve been paying bills by selling items on Ebay and some help from relatives. There are not enough items moving on Ebay sadly, but my family has thankfully been able to help with rent. I have half of what I need ($412) at present, so if anyone is in a position to donate (here’s my PayPal), it would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance to anyone and everyone!

If you can’t donate, no worries. I understand that many people might not be in a position to donate. If you can’t, please consider spreading the word on social media.

*I have a tentative bright spot on the horizon, but the restaurant doesn’t open until the middle or the end of July so that cannot help me at the moment.

Dear readers, I could use some assistance

Speakeasy #12

Welcome to the social thread at the Progressive Pub. Here at the Speakeasy, you can metaphorically put your feet up, grab a virtual beverage from your resident bartender (me), and socialize with the regulars. Gab, share recipes, share news, rage about your problems or the problems of the world, discuss impending vacations, share book recommendations, talk about your jobs and your families, your hopes and dreams, and pretty much anything else you want. Everyone is welcome, just be kind to one another (and leave bigotry at the door).

Speakeasy #12

Frivolous Friday: What the fuck was I thinking?

Frivolous Fridays are the Orbit bloggers’ excuse to post about fun things we care about that may not have serious implications for atheism or social justice. Any day is a good day to write about whatever the heck we’re interested in (hey, we put “culture” in our tagline for a reason), but we sometimes have a hard time giving ourselves permission to do that. This is our way of encouraging each other to take a break from serious topics and have some fun. Enjoy!

Continue reading “Frivolous Friday: What the fuck was I thinking?”

Frivolous Friday: What the fuck was I thinking?

Help, please! Ye old Progressive Pub blogger needs help

E-begging time, y’all.

As many people know, I’ve been unemployed for a while now. I’m living in a small town that doesn’t have many job options (though I’m not giving up). For the last few months, I’ve been paying bills by selling items on Ebay and some help from relatives. Unfortunately, my family cannot help this month, and I’ve run out of items to sell on ebay. I have rent coming up next week ($412) and I need to buy cat and dog food (as well as cat litter-roughly $50). If anyone is in a position to donate (here’s my PayPal), it would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance to anyone and everyone!

If you can’t donate, no worries. I understand that many people might not be in a position to donate. If you can’t, please consider spreading the word on social media.

Help, please! Ye old Progressive Pub blogger needs help

Just how fragile is masculinity?

When you lie on the beach

‘neath the warm summer sky,

do you only wear sunscreen

that’s made for a guy?

When the smell of your home

is like a rancid trash can,

will the scented candles you buy

be made just for a man?

 

When you finish your meal

and you’re craving sweet food,

will you only eat chocolate

that’s made for a dude?

 

 

When cleaning your ears

do you without fail,

refuse to buy Q-tips

not made for a male?

 

 

When the drip from your nose

never seems spent,

will you only buy tissue

made for a gent?

 

 

When playing a game

(no, this isn’t a joke),

do you fret and you whine

cuz you can’t play a bloke?

 

If you answered yes to any of the above rhyming questions (of my creation), then congrats, your masculinity may be fragile. The above Tweets are part of the #MasculinitySoFragile hashtag, which originated as a way for feminists and their allies to mock and criticize the toxic attitudes and beliefs our society associates with masculinity. From beliefs about the type of alcoholic beverages a “real man” drinks, to the type of careers men are supposed to lean towards, to the perception that displays of affection between men are “unmanly”, to discriminatory and marginalizing views about LGBT people, #MasculinitySoFragile is part of an ongoing effort to criticize rigid and ultimately destructive ideas of how masculinity is defined. To the surprise of few, the hashtag evoked outrage from men who crawled out of the woodwork to complain that it was an attack on men in general, rather than a criticism of toxic masculinity. Amusingly, many of those who claimed the hashtag was demeaning towards men proved through their responses that masculinity really is a fragile concept. The frailty of masculinity was demonstrated once again in the responses to a recent mockumentary-No Men Beyond This Point

Continue reading “Just how fragile is masculinity?”

Just how fragile is masculinity?

White History Month, part 2

Earlier this year, I found myself feeling bad for white people. It was February, and of course, that’s the one whole month that Black people get to celebrate our achievements, our history, and our accomplishments. Indigenous people get an entire month too: November. Hispanic people also get a full thirty days to celebrate their heritage, from Sept. 15-Oct. 15. But white people? Where is the month set aside for white folks to celebrate their heritage and history? I mean ok, sure, students in the public school system in the U.S. are taught about white explorers, white chemists, white mathematicians, white playwrights, white colonists, white artists, white politicians, white physicists, white cosmonauts, white inventors, and more (throughout the entire year), but where is the one month for honoring the history of white people in the United States? There is no month set aside for that! Not wanting white folks to feel like their history wasn’t being honored, I dug around and came up with a list of subjects that might be taught in a White History Month (since I knew that public schools already teach about the achievements, exploits, and inventions of white folks, I thought it would be a good idea to find lesser known historical examples that deserve recognition). As I completed it, I recognized that it still really wasn’t fair to white people. After all, Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, and Native American Heritage Month have been recognized for 40 years, 28 years, and 26 years respectively. Thinking it might be a good idea to double up on White History Month to try and make up for the decades white folks have been deprived of a month set aside just for them, I decided to dig around for more examples of white history.  And thus we have White History Month part 2 (I even gave white folks a specific month all their own):

Continue reading “White History Month, part 2”

White History Month, part 2

Dear Hollywood: fix your damn race problem

Dear Hollywood,

You have a problem with racial diversity, and you’ve had it for a long time (pretty much your entire existence, to be frank). Sadly, it has become apparent that you seem bound and determined to do exactly fuck-all about this problem. It’s as if you’re perfectly fine with excluding People of Color at all levels by perpetuating the co-narratives of white dominance and superiority that pervade the industry. While these issues manifest in a variety of ways (see the 2015 Diversity Report for many of the dismal details), a key one that is currently weighing on my mind is whitewashing:

Continue reading “Dear Hollywood: fix your damn race problem”

Dear Hollywood: fix your damn race problem