On June 24, 1973, an arson fire at the UpStairs Lounge, a popular gathering spot for New Orleans’ LGBT community in the French Quarter, results in 32 deaths and at least 15 injuries. At the time, it was the deadliest known attack at a gay club in American history. The fire’s official cause was “undetermined,” and no one was ever arrested for the crime.
The rapidly moving fire began in a second-floor lounge, a New Orleans fire department official said. Firefighters became blocked by stalled vehicles and crowds of early evening revelers. Witnesses smelled gasoline before the blaze. Fifteen people leaped from the second floor of the club. All survived.
“It was horrible,” a former New Orleans fireman told the New Orleans Times-Picayune in 2013. “I don’t think anything could have prepared you for something like that,” the Vietnam veteran added. “No one deserves to die like that.”
In 1973, LGBT scene in New Orleans was still largely underground, the Times-Picayune reported in 2013. A week after the fire, churches refused to conduct funerals for the dead. An Episcopal bishop rebuked a reverend who held a prayer service for the victims.
In 2013, the Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans apologized for the church’s silence after the fire. Also in 2013, a documentary film was released about the fire.
In 2016, 49 people were murdered at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, the deadliest attack at a gay club in American history.