For the last few months, I’ve been working on a media history project involving the fire at the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans. The fire caused the death of 32 men and women–most of whom were gay. The death, the fire and the aftermath are often marked as the “Stonewall of New Orleans” meaning that the fire and the loss of so many from the gay community sparked the modern movement in New Orleans.
I argued in my research that the Upstairs Lounge memory works more presently to galvanize the current movement and the legacies of a few national activists who came to New Orleans to help the victims families, the survivors, and the gay and lesbian community. The reality is that often many of those who died in the fire have been forgotten. This past weekend I went to New Orleans to see Upstairs the Musical at Café Istanbul. The musical, though fictional, focused on folks that were in the bar the night of the fire. Altogether the musical was a tale of triumph through tragedy–inviting viewers to learn from the experience and make their thoughts, lives, “word” heard.
I saw this video on Nola.com today. Skylar Fein’s comments at the end mimic my thoughts on the fire and what it meant to New Orleans in the 1970s. Above all it is important to remember the Upstairs Lounge and the 32 lives that were taken that summer night.