Upstairs Lounge Arson, 1973: Aftermath
Stop 4 of 5 in the Upstairs Lounge Fire tour
Thirty-two people died in the Upstairs Lounge Fire, making it the deadliest fire in the history of New Orleans. In the fire’s aftermath, many New Orleans residents revealed prejudice against LGBT people and culture. Survivor Stewart Butler recalls the silence he had to endure the day after the fire: “The next morning I still -- so many people, especially those who witnessed any of it were almost immobile. I had to go to work, and I was in the closet at work, so I couldn’t say one word about it.”
Of the 32 people that died in the fire, four of the bodies were unclaimed because the families refused to identify them out of fear that others would find out that their loved ones were gay. Many members of the New Orleans community, even those who were assigned to investigate the fire, either largely disregarded the fire or refused to take it seriously.
Many people with strong religious convictions had interpreted the fire as a form of divine retribution, punishing those for being gay. Instead of releasing the unidentified bodies to the Metropolitan Community Church for proper burials, the city buried the four bodies together in a potter’s field cemetery. In addition to this blatant disregard for the victims and the survivors, no one was ever prosecuted for the crime.