A New Way to Remember the Deadly New Orleans Fire of '73

9.25.2013

By Nicholas Cimarusti

The Upstairs Lounge fire, an inferno that claimed the lives of 32 mostly LGBT people, is now commemorated in an online museum exhibit.

Above: Linn Quinton weeps as he is helped by New Orleans firemen after he escaped from a fire at the Upstairs bar on Sunday night. Quinton said he was with a group singing around the piano when the fire swept through the bar leaving 29 dead and 15 injured.

An innovative online exhibit from the LGBT Religious Archives Network will now document the horrific flash fire at the Upstairs Lounge, a New Orleans gay bar in which 32 patrons were killed. The fire occurred June 24, 1973, the same day as the fourth United States observance of Gay Pride Day.

Despite the event's undeniable tragedy, media coverage at the time was limited because of the era's homophobia. The LGBT community has since grown stronger and developed its own voice, but remembering the Upstairs Lounge fire is still vital to LGBT history as a whole.


Above: A night at the Upstairs Lounge. Source: Johnny Townsend Collection

Metropolitan Community Church historian and archivist Lynn Jordan initiated the memorial project and is co-curator of the exhibit, along with Mark Bowman, LGBT-RAN coordinator. The online exhibit is currently the most comprehensive display of artifacts concerning the Upstairs Lounge fire. Included in the exhibit are local and national news articles, photographs, reactionary articles, and other media clips showing how the public, especially the LGBT religious community, reacted to the fire.

Jordan writes that "hate and intolerance are not constrained to finding shelter in any one moment, any one location in our 'queer' history." By publishing this exhibit online, historical knowledge of significant LGBT events will be more accessible and thus encourage public discourse concerning LGBT issues, past and present.

The exhibit can be viewed online here.

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