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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LGBT Link Round Up 11.11.14

Dedicated social activist and mayor of Kiev, Vitali Klitschko, refuses to speak up about the rights of gays and lesbians

Taras Karasiichuk, head of the organization UPO Gay Alliance Ukraine said in the statement that he was ‘very disappointed’ by the mayor’s comments.

‘What were we all speaking for during the Revolution of Dignity at the Maidan? It was all about providing Ukrainians, Kyiv citizens with equal rights – regardless their sexual orientation.

‘Our mayor as one of those politicians standing at the Maidan should have been the flagship of those changes in Ukraine. His statement – is a sheer contradiction: he is supportive of human rights, but will not support the same rights of LGBT people.

‘It is impossible – there are no special rights for heterosexuals, and separate rights for homosexuals, or bisexuals, or transgender people. Human rights are rights of humans! The rest is discrimination.’

Taras Karasiichuk appears to make the same mistake I frequently do: thinking LGBT people are human beings who deserve to live their lives free of oppression and discrimination. WhatEVER on Earth are we thinking?!

* * * *

Trans women stage first Pride parade in Bangladesh

More than 1,000 transgender women staged Bangladesh’s first ever pride parade yesterday to mark one year since the government recognized them as a third gender.

The colorful hijras, as transgender women are known in the conservative Muslim country, brought the busy roads of Dhaka to a standstill with their singing and dancing.

They unfurled a huge Bangladeshi flag and carried banners, one of which read, ‘The days of stigma, discrimination and fear are over.’

‘I never dreamt that I would see this day in my life,’ Sonali, 25, told AFP.

‘We are stigmatized everywhere. We are discriminated against. We are laughed at just because we do not feel like a man or woman. But today is different. We feel like we’re normal human beings.’

Bangladesh recognized hijras as a third gender in November last year, securing their rights and enabling them to identify their gender as ‘hijra’ on all government documents, including passports.

* * * *

Marcus Bachmann still defending conversion therapy

This weekend, according to Right Wing Watch, Mr. Bachmann was a guest on the radio program Understanding the Times.

He described himself, and others like him, as ‘people of ethics.’ Attacks on his clinic was because he was speaking ‘truth’ and ‘creating a safe space’ for LGBTI people.

‘Once the far-left understood that we were actually creating a safe place, a place where people who said “I have this issue with same-sex attraction, this desire. I’m a believer, I’m a person of faith and it’s conflicting with my values systems,”‘ he insisted.

‘Anyone who would walk alongside and then encourage that person’s values systems, and their beliefs, and bring that in alignment, that is like blasphemous to the other side,’  Bachmann continued. ‘How dare you even consider being involved in someone who has decided or is desiring that to influence in any way shape or form another side in the book on this one?’

The American Psychological Association has reported ‘efforts to change sexual orientation are unlikely to be successful and involve some risk of harm.’

This is one of many reasons why progressives feel that conservatives are not in touch with reality. They think their religious beliefs and opinions trump reality.

* * * *

‘Tony the Tiger’ Pride ad upsets Christians

The Kellogg’s cereal company is experiencing a backlash from Christian consumers who claim they’ll no longer buy the company’s products after it helped sponsor the Atlanta gay pride march in mid-October by using the beloved Frosted Flakes mascot, Tony the Tiger, in a pro-LGBT advertisement in the event’s pride guide.

“Wear your stripes with pride,” the Kellogg’s ad states, highlighting the word “pride” in large-font rainbow-colored letters, while Tony the Tiger stands to the right with his arms crossed and a familiar smile on his face.

The American Family Association, a traditional Christian values activist group, posted a picture of the Tony the Tiger advertisement to its Facebook page last Friday and since then, the post has received over 800 comments. Many of the comments were highly critical of the company for using a cartoon character to promote homosexuality, while a number of other commenters stated that Kellogg’s has no place, as a food manufacturer, to weigh in on sexual preference.

They aren’t promoting anything. They’re celebrating diversity. They’re saying “We aren’t going to shame you. We support LGBT Pride.”  Is there a bucket big enough to collect the tears of the bigots?

* * * *

Anti-Gay Duggar family asks couples to post kissing photos. Guess what happens next?

Recently, Jessa Duggar married her beau, Ben Seewald, and rumor sites claimed they “shared a private first kiss away from the altar immediately after their enormous wedding ceremony last weekend. But according to a shocked guest, the newlyweds may have done more than just smooch— and their steamy tryst wasn’t so private after all!”

So the Duggar parents took to Facebook to defend their good name.

“Recently, Ben & Jessa received some criticism for posting a kissing picture. We are so grateful they waited to share their first kiss until after marriage,” they wrote on their official Facebook page.

God designed marriage to be a loving, dynamic relationship between a husband and wife for a lifetime. God loves marriage and it is supposed to be full of love, joy, fun and romance. Marriage is where romance belongs!

We are so grateful they waited to share their first kiss until after marriage. We’ve been married 30 years and are still in love! We had fun trying to duplicate Ben and Jessa’s happily married kissing picture. We challenge all married couples to take a happily married picture and post it here.

I don’t think they got the response they expected.

LGBT Link Round Up 11.11.14

Peter Boghossian doesn't understand what Pride means

“I’ve never understood how someone could be proud of being gay. How can one be proud of something one didn’t work for?”

-Peter Boghossian via Facebook

I don’t know who Peter Boghossian is (apparently he’s an atheist), but I do know that the above statement is a willfully ignorant one to make. Why?

Shorter Me:

Did you bother asking any gay people? Did you consult an online dictionary? Did you check wikipedia? Did you Google ‘Gay Pride’?  Did you do any damn work, or do you take pride in being an ignorant fuck?

Longer me:

Gay Pride (technically LGBT pride) is about being comfortable in your skin. It’s about being happy that you’re able to live your life as who you are, on your own terms. Why is this important? Society (I’m speaking here of the United States, but really, this extends across the planet) sends certain messages to LGBT people:

  • we’re child molesters
  • we’re immoral
  • we’re perverts
  • we’re sexual deviants
  • we’re mentally ill
  • we’re going to hell
  • we’re a disappointment
  • we don’t deserve to get married to the person we love
  • we don’t deserve to be free from discrimination in the workplace
  • we deserve to be thrown out on the streets and cut off from all support
  • we deserve to be the object of scorn and ridicule
  • there’s something so wrong with us that we deserve to be bullied, beaten and killed
  • that god hates us and wants us stoned
  • that we’re unworthy of being loved
  • that we shouldn’t be able to visit our loved one in the hospital
  • that we shouldn’t be allowed to adopt kids
  • that AIDS is our fault
  • that we’re sexually promiscuous
  • that natural disasters are our fault, because god is mad at us
  • that gay men aren’t real men
  • that lesbians just need the right man to turn them around
  • that the gender dysphoria experienced by trans people isn’t real
  • that our very existence is the cause of the downfall of entire nations

See what all those have in common? They aim to shame LGBT people for who they are. All those messages and more are sent to LGBT people all the fucking time. We’re taught that there’s something so wrong with us that we need to hide it. That we need to suppress it. That we need to conform to how others think we should look and act. That our expression of who and what we are is so foul that we ought to be ashamed.

Pride is about taking all that and saying FUCK THAT NOISE.

It’s about recognizing that we are human, we deserve rights, we deserve equality, and that we’re not going to be shamed any longer. It’s about saying “We’re here. We’re queer. And we’re not going anywhere.” It’s about telling the world that you damn well WILL accept us for who we are. It’s telling the world that there is nothing wrong with us psychologically, sexually, physically, or emotionally. It’s standing up to the bullies and saying THIS STOPS NOW. It’s about being free in your own skin, and being able to exist in the world on our own terms.  It’s about being proud that you’ve survived what society has thrown at you.

It’s about saying “No more. This is who we are. We will hide no more. We will be ashamed no more. We are proud of who we are.”

Peter Boghossian could have learned that in a few seconds if he actually cared to learn the answer. But clearly he did not. He asked a rhetorical question. One he’d already come up with an answer to. He doesn’t think we should be prideful.

Well I’m sorry to disappoint you pal, but I…WE do not exist on this planet for you. We don’t seek your approval. We don’t want your approval.  We don’t care whether you agree with Gay Pride or not.  So kindly fuck the fuck off.

In response to Boghossian, Greta Christina explains Pride in an easily digestible way. 

Oh, and thanks to Ophelia Benson, I now know that Peter Boghossian is considered vewwy important in the atheist community. Gee, we really needed another ignorant, insensitive bigwig asshole (or thought leader, take your pick).

Peter Boghossian doesn't understand what Pride means

Peter Boghossian doesn’t understand what Pride means

“I’ve never understood how someone could be proud of being gay. How can one be proud of something one didn’t work for?”

-Peter Boghossian via Facebook

I don’t know who Peter Boghossian is (apparently he’s an atheist), but I do know that the above statement is a willfully ignorant one to make. Why?

Shorter Me:

Did you bother asking any gay people? Did you consult an online dictionary? Did you check wikipedia? Did you Google ‘Gay Pride’?  Did you do any damn work, or do you take pride in being an ignorant fuck?

Longer me:

Gay Pride (technically LGBT pride) is about being comfortable in your skin. It’s about being happy that you’re able to live your life as who you are, on your own terms. Why is this important? Society (I’m speaking here of the United States, but really, this extends across the planet) sends certain messages to LGBT people:

  • we’re child molesters
  • we’re immoral
  • we’re perverts
  • we’re sexual deviants
  • we’re mentally ill
  • we’re going to hell
  • we’re a disappointment
  • we don’t deserve to get married to the person we love
  • we don’t deserve to be free from discrimination in the workplace
  • we deserve to be thrown out on the streets and cut off from all support
  • we deserve to be the object of scorn and ridicule
  • there’s something so wrong with us that we deserve to be bullied, beaten and killed
  • that god hates us and wants us stoned
  • that we’re unworthy of being loved
  • that we shouldn’t be able to visit our loved one in the hospital
  • that we shouldn’t be allowed to adopt kids
  • that AIDS is our fault
  • that we’re sexually promiscuous
  • that natural disasters are our fault, because god is mad at us
  • that gay men aren’t real men
  • that lesbians just need the right man to turn them around
  • that the gender dysphoria experienced by trans people isn’t real
  • that our very existence is the cause of the downfall of entire nations

See what all those have in common? They aim to shame LGBT people for who they are. All those messages and more are sent to LGBT people all the fucking time. We’re taught that there’s something so wrong with us that we need to hide it. That we need to suppress it. That we need to conform to how others think we should look and act. That our expression of who and what we are is so foul that we ought to be ashamed.

Pride is about taking all that and saying FUCK THAT NOISE.

It’s about recognizing that we are human, we deserve rights, we deserve equality, and that we’re not going to be shamed any longer. It’s about saying “We’re here. We’re queer. And we’re not going anywhere.” It’s about telling the world that you damn well WILL accept us for who we are. It’s telling the world that there is nothing wrong with us psychologically, sexually, physically, or emotionally. It’s standing up to the bullies and saying THIS STOPS NOW. It’s about being free in your own skin, and being able to exist in the world on our own terms.  It’s about being proud that you’ve survived what society has thrown at you.

It’s about saying “No more. This is who we are. We will hide no more. We will be ashamed no more. We are proud of who we are.”

Peter Boghossian could have learned that in a few seconds if he actually cared to learn the answer. But clearly he did not. He asked a rhetorical question. One he’d already come up with an answer to. He doesn’t think we should be prideful.

Well I’m sorry to disappoint you pal, but I…WE do not exist on this planet for you. We don’t seek your approval. We don’t want your approval.  We don’t care whether you agree with Gay Pride or not.  So kindly fuck the fuck off.

In response to Boghossian, Greta Christina explains Pride in an easily digestible way. 

Oh, and thanks to Ophelia Benson, I now know that Peter Boghossian is considered vewwy important in the atheist community. Gee, we really needed another ignorant, insensitive bigwig asshole (or thought leader, take your pick).

Peter Boghossian doesn’t understand what Pride means