UpStairs Lounge Research Continues to Surprise and Sadden

I originally read about the UpStairs Lounge arson while I was working on my master’s thesis. There was a 20-page paper, which reminded me of the many class assignments I’ve completed in the last five years, stuffed into a file box with many other New Orleans LGBT historical artifacts. The paper didn’t seem overly academic—there was no reference page or in-text citation, the byline wasn’t accompanied with an institution name, and the writing was a little rough.

But what the paper lacked in structure and “authenticism” it more than made up for in information. I used the paper to go digging for more information. To my surprise, other researchers had also cited the paper, written by Johnny Townsend, in their work. Since returning to the topic, I’ve stumbled across Townsend’s more complete work—a book title Let the Faggots Burn: The UpStairs Lounge Fire.

A harsh title, but it seems to accurately encompass the thoughts and actions of many in New Orleans at the time of the fire and deaths of 32 people, who were mostly gay men.

In a short forward to the book, Townsend wrote:

I simply wanted the story to be recorded and told before too many people were lost to AIDS and age. I thought at the time that I should write the book in a “popular” fashion, and so I did not include footnotes, only a bibliography . . . I understand now that all this probably lessens the value of the material . . . I finally decided that whatever the book’s failings, I wanted it to be more widely available to scholars who might be able to write a more definitive work, and to the public, who need to know what happened that dreadful day in June of 1973.

I honestly felt as though Townsend imagined someone like me doing research with few outlets available for information. I’m not so romantic as to suggest that this was all part of some divine intervention, but as a writer you always hope that your work may mean something to someone. Townsend’s work is invaluable to the LGBT community even if there are no footnotes and it was written in a “popular” fashion. He captured history before it was lost to time.

Oscar Night Red Carpet Tweets More Interesting than Most of the Nominated Films!

So I was trying to get some work done tonight, but OSCAR happened. Now I’m glued to Twitter. Who needs to watch the red carpet when you can read the commentary on Twitter? Here’s a sampling of my favorites so far.

What were some of your favorites?

Funniest Red Carpet Tweets

Alaskan Lawmakers Apparently Forgot We Live in a World With YouTube

On Friday, February 15, members of Alaska’s House Majority (Republican) Caucus laughed after being posed a question from a reporter on the body’s position on same-sex civil unions or marriages. Caucus members had gathered to report it’s guiding principals, of which civil unions or same-sex marriages did not rank.

Video of the exchange can be seen via YouTube, and the caucus felt a need, on Monday, to release a statement in regards to the incident. The statement alluded to an inside joke as the reason for the laughter, but, of course, the viewer is not privy to inside jokes. The laughter seems as though it is in response to the legislators’ feelings on civil unions and same-sex marriage.

YouTube, for all of its faults, makes the world a more scrutinized place. Some might say we all have to be too politically correct. I think we are all just a little more accountable for our actions, words, or both. Politicians would do well to remember that.

Less than 10 years ago who have known about this exchange in Anchorage, Alaska? The folks in attendance and maybe the folks who read or watch the news in the city, and then only if those outlets chose to run or to air the exchange.

The reaction and the apology also point to a cultural change in the US. Would the same group have felt the need for such an apology five years ago or even a year ago? I don’t think they would have. What do you think?

A Tornado In Hattiesburg Brings Back Old Journalistic Memories and Impulses

In August 2005, I worked at a newspaper in Meridian, Miss. during one of the worst natural disasters in history, Hurricane Katrina. I remember getting up for work that morning (I was the assistant sports editor so morning meant like 10 a.m.) and arriving to only to wait a few hours before the storm arrived. We knew it was coming, but we weren’t prepared for the aftermath. How could we be?

I remember how hectic newspaper life was for the month after Katrina made landfall. Even in sports. Every week there was a “first since Katrina” story. It was a crazy time that I never want to relive, but, admittedly, it was kind of thrilling as a journalist.

On Sunday, around 4:45 p.m. or so, I was working in my home office—like any good PhD student. Tornado sirens began going off, but they had been most all day long so I just kind of ignored them. After I posted the blog I had been writing, I went up stairs for a little catnap (another trait of a good PhD student is being able to take short naps and awaken refreshed).

The sirens went off again—this time so did the electricity. The combination of the two caused me to take notice this time. I came down stairs looked out the peephole—as if I had heard an unexpected guest knocking at the door. I wish it had been an unexpected guest. I ran for the closet under our staircase in the living room. We store all of our cleaning junk in there like the vacuum and brooms along with our bulk warehouse store supply of paper goods.

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To the Top: A view of the University of Southern Mississippi campus entrance on Monday.

I ripped open the door and evicted the vacuum, and there I stood half in the closet and half out waiting for the worst. The sound of the wind got louder and louder (and by the way it didn’t sound like a freight train, which is what every person in the history of tornadoes says on the nightly news). It reminded me of the sound of a washing machine. Anyway 15 seconds later it was gone. I was fine. The apartment was still standing, and naïve as it sounds I just thought the world around me was fine too.

I was wrong. The world around me was not fine.

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A car parked in front of Southern Hall on Monday at USM.

It still amazing to me that something that moves so fast and so unpredictably can do so much damage in so little time. It was here then it was gone. Scary isn’t it?

After seeing all of the damage to building and homes just blocks away from my own apartment, I’m happy to report that we were without electricity for 24 hours and that we still don’t have cable or Internet service. I’m happy I missed the Grammys on Sunday night (from looks of things on Twitter, I’m really happy). I’m happy that we have to take a detour around the hardest hit areas, which adds about 15 to 20 minutes to even the shortest of trips. I’m happy because I can see the alternative from my front door.

So I say all this to say that maybe I haven’t fully recovered from being a journalist. I still have this need to know what is going on. To see it first hand. I want to hear other people’s stories from the tornado—that may just be human nature.

I know this blog is a departure from my usual material, but this has occupied my thoughts for the last few days. I needed to share.

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USM’s alumni house after a tornado touched down on Sunday.

Help Still Needed And Appreciated For LGBTQ Blogger Research

I posted this link a little over a week ago and I’m excited to say that I did get a pretty nice response. With that being said, I still need help. If you are an LGBTQ blogger please take a few moments to help, or if you now an LGBTQ blogger please pass this along. It will only take about 10 minutes to complete.

I’m currently working on research that is exploring the motivations and goals for LGBTQ bloggers. I’m curious to know why we blog, what we think we accomplish by blogging, and what we blog about.

Here is the link to the questionnaire, which is a combination of closed questions and open-ended short answer questions. It shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes to answer the questions—and you’ll be adding to the current body of knowledge on blogging and the LGBTQ community. Trust me we don’t know a lot, yet, about our motivations and uses of blogs.

You’ll also be helping a poor doctoral student get one step closer to greatness! Please (notice how I’m begging) help. After you’ve finished sharing your thoughts, please pass the link on to your LGBTQ blogger friends too. The more the merrier.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me or post a comment below.

Thanks again everyone.

I Need Help with LGBTQ Blogger Research

This post may seem more like neurotic self-promotion, but I’m willing to take that chance. I need help!

I’m currently working on research that is exploring the motivations and goals for LGBTQ bloggers. I’m curious to know why we blog, what we think we accomplish by blogging, and what we blog about.

Here is the link to the questionnaire, which is a combination of closed questions and open-ended short answer questions. It shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes to answer the questions—and you’ll be adding to the current body of knowledge on blogging and the LGBTQ community. Trust me we don’t know a lot, yet, about our motivations and uses of blogs.

You’ll also be helping a poor doctoral student get one step closer to greatness! Please (notice how I’m begging) help. After you’ve finished sharing your thoughts, please pass the link on to your LGBTQ blogger friends too. The more the merrier.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me or post a comment below.

Thanks again everyone.

UpStairs Lounge Fire Story Still Obscure Nearly 40 Years Later

A few years ago, while working on my master’s thesis, I read about a fire in New Orleans that killed 32 people, mostly gay men. The fire, set by an arson, engulfed the UpStairs Lounge in the matter of minutes while its 60 or so patrons, who were hindered from escape by barred windows, unlit exits and thick clouds of smoke, scrambled to find a way out.

I was shocked by several parts of the story. First, the mainstream media in New Orleans and the rest of the country covered the murders and the fire as though the fire was nothing more than a means to get rid of an even bigger nuisance, the homosexuals.

According to a story published in the July 13, 1973, edition of The Advocate, the New Orleans mainstream newspapers placed the story on the front pages for two days before burying it 14 pages inside. The local press ran quotes from residents that ranged from, “I hoped the fire burned off their dresses,” to “the Lord had something to do with this,” which only fed the wave of homophobia in the city.

The national media also said very little about the murders. This clip from CBS News on YouTube has been circulated before, but I think it shows just how little most folks in the mainstream media covered the crime.

I was also shocked that I had never heard of the UpStairs Lounge fire until 2010. Was I that ill-informed? But I guess the story of more than 30 gay men getting murder in New Orleans isn’t going to make the history books—but the story of 30 straight, white men burned alive at a church service would have probably garnered a memorial and a national holiday (just saying).

Finally, I’m shocked that the arsonists/murderer was never official arrested or tried for what is now referred to as the worst hate crime in American history. Apparently a suspect was detained but never charged and then was never seen again.

This story needs more attention. It should be more well-known and recognized.

This semester I’m working on a media history project about the UpStairs Lounge fire, and I’m asking for your help. I have fairly easy access to New Orleans media coverage (newspaper) and some national coverage, but I would like access to other local accounts and documentation of the fire and the response.

My focus is on the media, but any and all materials will help to piece together the story. If you know of any one who was at the fire or any one who covered the event for the media, please let me know.

I plan on keeping you all up-to-date on the project as it unfolds. Thanks for your help.