St. Mark's United Methodist Church To Play Integral Role in Up Stairs Lounge Fire 50th Anniversary Commemoration Weekend

June 20, 2023

In remembrance of the tragic Up Stairs Lounge fire that took place 50 years ago, St. Mark's United Methodist Church and the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana are hosting the Up Stairs Lounge 50th Anniversary Commemoration Weekend from June 23 to 25, 2023.

This significant event will be held at The Historic New Orleans Collection, New Orleans Marriott, and St. Mark's United Methodist Church, with a focus on honoring the victims and their families and fostering a sense of healing within the community.

In 1973, the deadliest fire in the history of New Orleans occurred in a small gay bar in the French Quarter. The Up Stairs Lounge (604 Iberville Street) was a refuge of love and acceptance in the New Orleans community until, in just 19 minutes, it became a symbol of tragedy and rejection. Thirty-two people perished, and 15 others were injured 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. However, United Methodist clergy and St. Mark’s United Methodist Church helped organize various memorial services and funerals for the families and victims of the tragedy. In fact, as some were invited to 'sneak out the back door at the end of the service', UMC clergy bravely chose to walk out the front doors of St. Mark’s, allowing the press to see them and take their photos.

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.

The LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana will host a 50th-anniversary commemoration to document and share this overlooked event with the community and honor the victims and their families. 

The weekend summit will officially mark half a century since the destruction of the Up Stairs Lounge. At the event, organizers will preserve the memory of the trauma, honor the lives of those lost, consider the progress made since that time period, and discuss how far we have to go. Attendees will join in dialogue with a full slate of speakers, presenters, and performers to contend with the newly resurgent international awareness of this once-neglected past.

Of particular interest to those attending from the Louisiana Conference is Panel #1: Commemorating the Up Stairs Lounge Throughout the Decades, Saturday at 10:00 am at The Marriott.

This panel, moderated by Rev. Cory Sparks, will feature Rev. Carole Cotton Winn. The panel hopes to provide valuable insights into the historical significance of the Up Stairs Lounge and how it has shaped subsequent events and activism.

Later that day, a commemoration service will take place at St. Mark's United Methodist Church on Saturday at 3:30 PM and Bishop Delores J. Williamston will be part of the service. Following the service, attendees will participate in a traditional jazz funeral procession from the church to the site of the Up Stairs Lounge fire at 604 Iberville Street. A commemoration ceremony will be held at the site, offering a solemn moment of reflection and remembrance.

As we mark this significant milestone in the wake of the Up Stairs Lounge tragedy, it is a time for us to collectively honor the victims, remember their lives, and reflect upon the progress we have made while acknowledging the work that remains. 

For more information on the event, please head here
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