Up Stairs Lounge Fire 50th Anniversary Commemoration Activities Announced

New Orleans, La. – A coalition of local organizations spearheaded by the LBGT+ Archives Project of Louisiana will present a weekend of events to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the tragic 1973 Up Stairs Lounge fire. The events will take place in various locations in the historic French Quarter of New Orleans on June 23, 24 and 25, 2023.

About the Up Stairs Lounge Fire

In 1973, the deadliest fire in New Orleans’ history occurred in a small gay bar at 604 Iberville Street in the French Quarter. The Up Stairs Lounge was a refuge of love and acceptance in the New Orleans community until, in a matter of 19 minutes, it became a symbol of tragedy and rejection. Thirty-two people perished in the fire, and the New Orleans LGBT+ community was changed forever.

At the time, local police did not consider the tragedy a top priority. One officer told a reporter, “This was, after all, a queer bar.” No elected official responded publicly to the fire. Archbishop Philip Hannan denied the victims Catholic funerals. Radio commentators joked that the victims’ remains should be buried in fruit jars. The arson at the Up Stairs Lounge remains officially unsolved despite being the deadliest crime against LGBT+ people in US history until the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando.

See this page for more detailed information about the Up Stairs Lounge Fire.

In 2023, a 50th anniversary commemoration will document and share this overlooked event with the community and honor the victims and their families.

About the Commemoration

Events will include presentations and panel discussions, a memorial service, a second line funeral procession culminating in a candlelight service, screenings of all three documentary film made about the fire, and live performances. An opening reception and informational presentation will be held at The Historic New Orleans Collection. The panel discussions and presentations will examine the event and response, a review of the many creative endeavors that have been produced to tell this gruesome story, and present-day implications of the fire.

This commemorative program is made possible through the generous support of the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana, The Historic New Orleans Collection, Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, Crescent City Leathermen, New Orleans & Co., St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, Metropolitan Community Church of New Orleans, The New Orleans Marriott, The Faerie Playhouse family, St. George’s Episcopal Church, The Big Easy Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, The New Orleans Culture and Tourism Fund, National WWII Museum, American Townhouse, Crossing, Corner Pocket, Chez Nous, Crescent City Tour Booking Agency, NAMI New Orleans, French Quarter Journal, Odyssey House Louisiana, Krewe od Evexia, PFLAG New Orleans, Greater New Orleans Foundation, Rev. Guy LaMothe & Mr. Mike Dolan, and Dr. David Campbell.

About the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana

Our mission is promoting and encouraging the protection and preservation of materials that chronicle the culture and history of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community in Louisiana.

The history of the LGBT+ Archives begin in 2012 with Stewart Butler, Otis Fennell and Mark Gonzales. In that year, they founded the Legacy Project with the goal of compiling oral histories. Completing one interview, the group realized that the time, logistics and money involved were overwhelming and the Legacy Project slowly dissolved. The need and desire to preserve local gay history was still strong, however, and the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana rose from the ashes of the Legacy Project.

In June 2013, a handful of dedicated people began meeting to discuss the necessary action of preserving all parts of our history and how this endeavor might be undertaken. Early on, the group decided the organization needed to provide information and resources to those also interested in local gay history. Surveying local libraries and collections for LGBT holdings was one of the organization’s first steps. Questionnaires were sent to archivists at several local institutions and several on-site visits were made to local repositories.

In October of that year, the Society of American Archivists held their national conference in New Orleans, and a few members of the group’s LGBT Roundtable met with members of the LGBT+ Archive Project of Louisiana. At a community meeting in November, the project organizers set out to gather input from the public. After many months of information-gathering, the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana adopted the mission statement found at the top of the organization’s website home page.

In June 2014, the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana was officially born at a public meeting where bylaws were adopted and officers were elected. Aiming to educate the public about the importance of preservation, the Archives Project also aims to share how individuals can safely entrust local archives with the care of the historical objects, documents and photographs they possess. This project does not intend to establish an archive of its own but rather aims to educate the public about the resources and holdings of existing archives in Louisiana.

In the last eight years, the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana has grown into a robust statewide collective that has facilitated major collection donations to institutions around the state, including The Historic New Orleans Collection, the Louisiana State Museum, the Louisiana Research Collection at Tulane University, the Amistad Research Center, the Earl K. Long Library at the University of New Orleans, the Center for Louisiana Studies, the Special Collections at Louisiana State University, the T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History, and the Newcomb Archives and Vorhoff Collection. The Archives Project also serves as a resource for those researching LGBT+ history in Louisiana, including authors, documentary filmmakers, graduate students, artists, podcasters, and others.