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Pulse Nightclub Shooting and UpStairs Lounge Fire | Queer History


CW: Talking about death, shooting, arson. Image of burned body.

Hello, I’m Rogan and welcome back. Before I continue, you probably already know that this post is going to be a heavy one since I’ll be talking about the two largest massacres of queer people in US history. This post will have some graphic images below, but I will not be showing any in the video. Stop right now if you don’t want to learn about some very heartbreaking history. There is no shame in clicking away from this post, this stuff is hard for anyone.

Memorial outside of Pulse

Most of you have at least heard of the most recent one – the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando that happened a year ago today. It was June 12, 2016 at 2 AM during last call when the shooter came in and started shooting. He killed 49 people and wounded 58 people, then had a three-hour standoff with Orlando Police before being killed by them. The night it happened, Pulse was having a Latin Night, so many of the victims were Latinx themselves. This was classified as a terrorist attack and a hate crime. It was both the deadliest shooting by a single shooter and deadliest incident of violence against queer people in US history. It was also the deadliest terrorist attack in the US since 9/11. After this, there was a lot of Islamophobia due to the shooter affiliating himself with Daesh. That needs to stop, Daesh is not Islam. (Daesh is another name for ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State – though that last one is problematic for several reasons.) Since this is such a recent event and many people are still hurting from this, I will end here about Pulse. There is a lot of information out there about this event.


Until the Pulse shooting happened, this was the largest massacre of queer people in the US. June 24 1973 was Sunday, the end of Pride Weekend in New Orleans. This was four years after the Stonewall Riots, and anti-queer sentiments, discrimination and violence were still common. However, there were spots that people generally left them be, and one of these was the UpStairs Lounge, a second-floor bar. That Sunday, dozens of members of the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), the nation’s first gay church, got together there for drinks and conversation. The atmosphere was welcoming enough that two gay brothers, Eddie and Jim Warren, even brought their mom, Inez, and proudly introduced her to the other patrons. Laughter filled the room.Just before 8:00p, the doorbell rang insistently. To answer it, you had to unlock a steel door that opened onto a flight of stairs leading down to the ground floor. Bartender Buddy Rasmussen, expecting a taxi driver, asked his friend Luther Boggs to let the man in. The attacker had sprayed Ronsonol lighter fluid on the steps and tossed a match on it. After Boggs opened the door, the fireball exploded, pushing upward and into the bar. The ensuing 15 minutes were the most horrific that any of the 65 or so customers had ever endured — full of flames, smoke, panic, breaking glass, and screams. MCC assistant pastor George “Mitch” Mitchell escaped, but soon returned to try to rescue his boyfriend, Louis Broussard. Both died in the fire, their bodies clinging together in death. Metal bars on the UpStairs Lounge windows, meant to keep people from falling out, were just 14 inches apart; while some managed to squeeze through and jump, others got stuck. That’s how the MCC’s pastor, Rev. Bill Larson, died. When police and firefighters surveyed and began clearing the scene, they left Larson fused to the window frame until the next morning. Thirty-two people lost their lives that Sunday night 44 years ago — Luther Boggs, Inez Warren, and Warren’s sons among them. Homophobia being what it was, several families declined to claim the bodies and one church after another refused to bury or memorialize the dead. Three victims were never identified or claimed, and were interred at the local potter’s field. When the Rev. William Richardson, of St. George’s Episcopal Church, agreed to hold a small prayer service for the victims, about 80 people attended. But many more complained about Richardson to Iveson Noland, the Episcopalian bishop of New Orleans. Noland reportedly rebuked Richardson for his kindness, and the latter received volumes of hate mail. The UpStairs Lounge arson was the deadliest fire in New Orleans history and the second-largest massacre of queer people ever in the U.S. Yet it didn’t make much of an impact news-wise. The few respectable news organizations that deigned to cover the tragedy made little of the fact that the majority of the victims had been gay, while talk-radio hosts tended to take a jocular or sneering tone: What do we bury them in? Fruit jars, said one, on the air, only a day after the massacre. Other, smaller disasters resulted in City Hall press conferences or statements of condolence from the governor, but no civil authorities publicly spoke out about the fire, other than to mumble about needed improvements to the city’s fire code. Continuing this pattern of neglect, the New Orleans police department appeared lackluster about the investigation (the officers involved denied it). The detectives wouldn’t even acknowledge that it was an arson case, saying the cause of the fire was of “undetermined origin.” No one was ever charged with the crime, although an itinerant troublemaker with known mental problems, Rogder Dale Nunez, is said to have claimed responsibility multiple times. Nunez, a sometime visitor to the UpStairs Lounge, committed suicide in 1974. In June 1998, a memorial service was held on the 25th anniversary of the fire as part of the Pride celebrations.

That was a tough post/video for me to make. The pictures… It’s really important that we remember this part of our history because… Yes, we can be happy, being who we are today. But we didn’t get here without all of this happening, and we have to remember the sacrifices that our queer siblings made for us today. Thanks for reading, see you next time.

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