Friday, June 24, 2016

UpStairs Lounge fire: 32 killed in deadliest attack on LGBT people (until Orlando)

“See You at the UpStairs Lounge” by Skylar Fein

Before the Orlando massacre this month, the deadliest attack on LGBT people in U.S. history was an arson fire at the UpStairs Lounge, a gay bar in New Orleans. The fire killed 32 people on June 24, 1973, exactly 43 years ago today.

It is enlightening the re-examine the UpStairs Lounge fire in the wake of the Orlando shooting that killed 49 people at the Pulse gay bar in Florida on June 12.

Few people cared about the UpStairs Lounge fire at the time. The crime was never solved, churches refused to do funerals for the dead, and four bodies went unclaimed. Now there is a resurgence of interest in the martyrs of New Orleans.

The fire is being remembered in powerful new ways, including the 2016 book “Stand by Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation” by Harvard history professor Jim Downs. The fire is covered in the first chapter, titled “The Largest Massacre of Gay People in American History.”

Upstairs Inferno,” a documentary directed by Robert Camina and narrated by Christopher Rice, is currently playing at film festivals around the United States before its release on DVD. The film brings humanity to the headlines by interviewing more than 20 people, including several survivors who have kept silent for decades.

Other recent works about the fire include an award-winning online exhibit at the LGBT Religious Archives Network; the 2014 book “The Up Stairs Lounge Arson: Thirty-two Dead in a New Orleans Gay Bar, June 24, 1973” by Clayton Delery-Edwards; and the musical drama “Upstairs” by Louisiana playwright Wayne Self. In 2013 the New Orleans Museum of Art acquired Louisiana artist Skylar Fein’s major installation “Remember the UpStairs Lounge.” The tragedy is also recounted in a short documentary by award-winning film maker Royd Anderson released on June 24, 2013, and in the 2011 book “Let the Faggots Burn: The UpStairs Lounge Fire” by Johnny Townsend.

For queer people, the UpStairs Lounge served as a sanctuary in every sense of the world. It was a seemingly safe place where LGBT people met behind boarded-up windows that hid them from a hostile world. Worship services were held there by the LGBT-affirming Metropolitan Community Church of New Orleans. The pastor, Rev. William R. Larson, died along with a third of congregation. Half the victims were MCC members. Those who died included people from all walks of life: preachers, hustlers, soldiers, musicians, parents, professionals and a mother with her two sons.

The horror of the fire was compounded by the homophobic reactions. Churches refused to hold funerals for the victims. Finally MCC founder Rev. Troy Perry flew to New Orleans to conduct a group memorial service. Families of four victims were apparently so ashamed of their gay relatives that they would not identify or claim their remains. The City refused to release their bodies to MCC for burial, and instead laid them to rest in a mass grave at a potter’s field.

UPSTAIRS INFERNO - Teaser Trailer [HD] from Camina Entertainment on Vimeo.

The full-length feature documentary “Upstairs Inferno” was produced and directed by Camina, whose previous film was the widely praised “Raid of the Rainbow Lounge” about a police raid at a Texas gay bar. Now he has created the most comprehensive and authoritative film on America's biggest gay mass murder. Survivors interviewed in the film include Ricky Everett and Francis Dufrene and a survivor who lost her lover Reggie Adams in the blaze.

Narrator Chrisopher Rice is an openly gay New York Times bestselling author whose hometown is New Orleans. His debut novel "A Density of Souls" got a landslide of media attention, mostly because he is the son of famed vampire author Anne Rice.

Two videos trailers for the film have been released. The first trailer provides an overview while the second trailer present additional interviews about the personal impact of the fire.

UPSTAIRS INFERNO - Trailer 2 [HD] from Camina Entertainment on Vimeo.

Meanwhile a different film crew working on “Tracking Fire” discovered vandalism on the memorial plaque while filming an interview there in May 2015. Someone through a paint bomb at the plaque, leaving it discolored even after the paint was cleaned off.

A sidewalk memorial plaque outside the UpStairs Lounge building in New Orleans was dedicated in 2003 and vandalized in 2015 (photo courtesy of "Tracking Fire")

Another documentary still in production is “Tracking Fire” with director Sheri Wright. A video trailer is posted. “My focus is to tell the story of what happened, honor the victims, including the mother who died with her two sons, the survivors, their friends and family. It is also my intention to present a way for healing to replace the pain of tragedy and to offer a healthy resolution for personal and social conflict,” the film’s website explains.

Announcing the full-length trailer for Tracking Fire, a documentary which chronicles an unsolved case of arson that claimed 32 lives - one of the worst tragedies in LGBT history in America.
Posted by Tracking Fire on Monday, March 24, 2014

LGBT Religious Archives created an online exhibit about the UpStairs Lounge Fire with more than 120 artifacts that weave together stories about the fire and its aftermath, early gay activism, and the beginnings of Metropolitan Community Church in New Orleans. Original artifacts include newspaper and journal articles, photographs, correspondence, government reports and recordings from the time. The exhibit went online in September 2013 and received the 2014 Allan Bérubé Prize for “outstanding work in public or community-based LGBT and/or queer history.”

The crime received little attention from police, elected officials and news media.  The only national TV news coverage at the time was these video clips from CBS and NBC:

Louisiana playwright and composer Wayne Self spent five years weaving together the stories of the UpStairs Lounge fire victims and survivors. The result was the dramatic musical "Upstairs," which has been performed in various cities in Louisiana, New York and California after opening in New Orleans and Los Angeles in June 2013. He says his work takes the form “of tribute, of memorial, even of hagiography.”

The musical "Upstairs" brings back to life people such as MCC assistant pastor George “Mitch” Mitchell, who managed to escape the fire, but ran back into the burning building to save his boyfriend, Louis Broussard. Both men died in the fire. Their bodies were found clinging to one another in the ashes. In the musical, Mitchell sings a song called “I’ll Always Return”:
…Modern age,
Life to wage.
To get ahead, must turn the page.
I can't promise I'll never leave,
But I'll always,
I'll always return….

“I’ll Always Return” is one of five songs from the musical that are available online as workshop selection at

Self raised funds so that Mitchell’s son and the son’s wife and could travel from Alabama to attend the play. Many victims of the UpStairs Lounge fire were survived by children who are still alive today.

The musical also explores the unsettled and unsettling question of who set the fire. Rodger Dale Nunez, a hustler and UpStairs Lounge customer, was arrested for the crime, but escaped and was never sentenced. He was thrown out of the UpStairs Lounge shortly before the fire for starting a fight with a fellow hustler. He committed suicide a year later. Self says that other theories arose to blame the KKK and the police, but he implicates Nunez -- with room for doubt -- in the musical.

A gay man may have lit the fire, but the real culprit is still society’s homophobia that set the fuse inside him. Hatred for LGBT people was also responsible for the high death toll in another way. The fire was especially deadly because the windows were covered with iron bars and boards so nobody could see who was inside. But they also prevented many people from getting outside in an emergency.

The UpStairs Lounge is recreated with haunting detail in Skylar Fein’s 90-piece art installation. He builds an environment with artifacts, photos, video, and a reproduction of the bar’s swinging-door entrance, evoking memories of how the place looked before and after the fire. “Remember the UpStairs Lounge” debuted in New Orleans in 2008 and was shown in New York in 2010. In January 2013 the New Orleans Museum of Art announced that it had acquired the installation. Fein donated it to the museum, saying that he did not want to dismantle the work or profit from its sale. He discusses the fire and shows objects from his installation in this video.

The victims of the UpStairs Lounge fire are part of LGBT history now, along with the queer martyrs who were burned at the stake for sodomy in medieval times. Their history is told in my previous post Ash Wednesday: Queer martyrs rise from the ashes.

The UpStairs Lounge fire gives new meaning to the Upper Room where Jesus and his disciples shared a Last Supper. It was also the place where they hid after his crucifixion, but the locked doors did not prevent the risen Christ from joining them and empowering them with the Holy Spirit.

The shared journey of LGBT people includes much loss -- from hate crimes, suicide, AIDS, and government persecution. But the LGBT community has also found ways to keep going. Reginald, one of the survivors of the UpStairs Lounge fire, expresses this strength in the song "Carry On" from the "Upstairs" musical:
I can speak.
I can teach.
I can give of the compassion I've received.
I can build.
I can sing!
I can honor all the loves,
That have passed away from me,
By sharing all the good that they have ever shown to me.
I can live my life.
I can carry on.
Carry on.
Carry on!

New Orleans film maker Royd Anderson's “The UpStairs Lounge Fire” documentary lasts 27 minutes (longer than the fire itself) and includes interviews with an eyewitness, a son who lost his father, a rookie firefighter called to the scene, author Johnny Townsend, and artist Skylar Fein, whose art exhibit about the tragedy gained national prominence. Here is a video trailer for the documentary.

The value of remembering the UpStairs Lounge fire was summed up by Lynn Jordan in the LGBT Religious Archives online exhibit that he co-curated. Jordan, founding member of MCC San Francisco, visited New Orleans shortly before and after the fire. In his introduction to the UpStairs exhibit, he explains:

“I left New Orleans with the promise to each of the 32 who would become immortal, that I would remember their sacrifice and carry them with me in all that would unfold in my life. The research and documentation that is an integral part of this Upstairs exhibit is “my” living into completion the promise to these “32 martyrs of the flames” that they “would not” be forgotten.

For those who would say that this event was so yesterday, i.e., we have achieved so many advances in our civil rights and in our acceptance for this to happen again, I would remind them that hate and intolerance are not constrained to finding shelter in any one moment, any one location in our “queer” history. To focus only on how far our LGBTQI communities may have progressed in 40 years; to fail to remember the sacrifice of all the lives lost or shattered in this journey; to lapse into complacency about our personal security: places us at risk of reviving the tragedy of our past in the present.”
Related links:

UpStairs Lounge online exhibit (LGBT Religious Archives)

The Horror Upstairs ( - June 21, 2013)

UpStairs Lounge arson attack (Wikipedia)

The Tragedy of the UpStairs Lounge ( - website of the bar now at the same location)

32 Died, and I Wrote a Musical About It: Why I Did It and Would Do It Again by Wayne Self (HuffingtonPost)

NOMA acquires evocative major artwork by Skylar Fein: 'Remember the Upstairs Lounge' (

‘Upstairs Inferno’ Recounts The Gay Mass Murder You Didn’t Know About (2015 interview with Robert Camina)

Poem: “Faggots We May Be” by S. Alan Fann

This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, humanitarians, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

Молитва Радужному Христу (Rainbow Christ Prayer in Russian)

Радужный Христос, Ты объединяешь все краски мира. Радуги служат мостами между различными сферами: небом и землей, востоком и западом, квиром и не-квиром. Вдохновляй нас помнить ценности, выраженные в радужном флаге лесбиянок, геев, бисексуалов, трансгендеров и квир сообщества.

Красный цвет символизирует жизнь, источник духа. Живущий и любящий себя Христос, Ты есть наш Источник. Освободи нас от стыда и даруй нам благодать разумной гордости, чтоб мы могли следовать нашему собственному внутреннему свету. Красной полоской радуги мы благодарим Бога за то, что он сотворил нас такими, какие мы есть.

Оранжевый цвет символизирует сексуальность, огонь духа. Эротический Христос, Ты есть наш Огонь, Слово, ставшее плотью. Освободи нас от эксплуатации и даруй нам благодать взаимных отношений. Оранжевой полоской радуги разожги в нас огонь страсти.

Желтый цвет символизирует самоуважение, стержень духа. Открывшийся Христос, Ты есть наш Стержень. Освободи нас от наших чуланов тайн и дай нам мужество и благодать открыться. Желтой полоской радуги укрепи нашу веру.

Зеленый цвет символизирует любовь, сердце духа. Преодолевший невозможные запреты Христос, Ты есть наше Сердце, нарушающее правила из любви. Преследуемый в мире в непорочности, Ты прикасаешься к больным и ешь вместе с отверженными. Освободи нас от подчинения и даруй нам благодать несоответствия нормам. Зеленой полоской радуги наполни наши сердца неукротимым состраданием ко всем живым существам.

Синий цвет символизирует самовыражение, голос духа. Освободитель Христос, Ты есть наш Голос, выступающий против всех форм угнетения. Освободи нас от апатии и даруй благодать активизма. Синий полоской радуги побуждай нас призывать к справедливости.

Фиолетовый цвет символизирует проницательность, мудрость духа. Объединяющий Христос, Ты есть наша Мудрость, создавшая и поддерживающая вселенную. Освободи нас от изоляции и даруй нам благодать взаимозависимости. Фиолетовой полоской радуги объедини нас с другими и всем творением.

Радуга объединяет спектр цветов творить свет, венец универсального сознания. Разнородный и всеохватывающий Христос, Ты есть наш Венец, человеческий и божественный. Освободи нас от жестких категорий и даруй благодать переплетающихся идентичностей. Радугой веди нас за пределы черно-белого мышления к опыту всего спектра жизни.

Радужный Христос, Ты освещаешь мир. Ты создаешь радугу как обещание поддержки всей жизни на земле. В радужном пространстве мы можем видеть все скрытые связи между сексуальностями, гендерами и расами. Подобно радуге, сделай возможным, чтоб мы объединили все цвета мира. Аминь.

Rainbow Christ Prayer: Перевод Елены Преображенской (Москва, Россия) и братства Cкорбященской Пустыни (Оксфорд, Мичиган).


Библия и гомосексуальность, Мэтью Вайнс (Matthew Vines)

В Великобритании вышел художественный альбом, где Иисус изображен геем ( in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

Gebet zum Christus des Regenbogens (Rainbow Christ Prayer in German)

Regenbogen-Christus, du verkörperst alle Farben dieser Welt. Regenbögen sind Brücken zwischen den verschiedenen Welten: Himmel und Erde, Ost und West, Queer und Nicht-queer. Begeistere uns, damit wir uns an die Werte zu erinnern, die in der Regenbogenfahne der lesbisch, schwulen, bisexuellen, transgender und queeren Gemeinschaft zum Ausdruck kommen.

Rot steht für Liebe, die Wurzel des Geistes. Lebender Christus, der du sagst, dass wir uns selber lieben dürfen, du bist unsere Wurzel. Befreie uns von Scham und schenke uns die Gnade eines gesunden Stolzes, so dass wir unserem eigenen, inneren Licht folgen können. Mit dem roten Streifen im Regenbogen danken wir, dass uns Gott genauso erschaffen hat, wie wir sind.

Orange steht für Sexualität, das Feuer des Geistes. Erotischer Christus, du bist unser Feuer, das Wort das Fleisch geworden ist. Befreie uns von Ausbeutung und gib uns die Gnade gleichberechtigter Beziehungen. Mit dem orangen Streifen des Regenbogens entzünde ein Feuer der Leidenschaft in uns.

Gelb steht für Selbstachtung, das Zentrum des Geistes. Offen lebender Christus, du bist unser Zentrum, Befreie uns aus den Gefängnissen der Heimlichkeit, und schenke uns den Mut und die Gnade, unser Coming out zu haben. Mit dem gelben Streifen des Regenbogens baue unser Selbstvertrauen auf.

Grün steht für die Liebe, das Herz des Geistes. Gesetze übertretender Christus, du bist unser Herz, das die Regeln der Liebe sprengt. In einer Welt die besessen ist mit Reinheit, berührst du die Kranken und isst mit den Ausgestoßen. Befreie uns von der Eintönigkeit und schenke uns die Gnade des Widerstandes. Mit dem grünen Streifen des Regenbogens erfülle unsere Herzen mit ungezähmten Mitgefühl für alles Sein.

Blau steht für Selbst-darstellung, die Stimme des Geistes. Befreiender Christus, du bist unsere Stimme, die gegen alle Formen der Unterdrückung spricht. Befreie uns von Müdigkeit und schenke uns die Gnade des aktiv seins. Mit dem blauen Streifen des Regenbogens motiviere uns, nach Gerechtigkeit zu rufen.

Violett steht für die Vision, die Weisheit des Geistes. Christus, der du mit allem verbunden bist, du bist unsere Weisheit, du schaffst und erhältst das Universum. Befreie uns von Isolation und schenke uns die Gnade der Abhängigkeit von einander. Mit dem violetten Streifen des Regenbogens verbinde uns mit anderen und mit der der ganzen Schöpfung.

Regenbogenfarben kommen zusammen und ergeben ein Licht, die Krone des universellen Bewusstseins. Vermischter und alles umfassender Christus, du bist unsere Krone, menschlich und göttlich. Befreie uns von starren Kategorien und schenke und die Gnade von Identitäten, die miteinander verwoben sind. Mit dem Regenbogen führe uns über das Schwarz-weiß Denken hinaus und lass uns das ganze Spektrum des Lebens erfahren.

Regenbogen-Christus, du erhellst die Welt. Du machst Regenbögen als Versprechen, alles Leben auf Erden zu unterstützen. Im Regenbogen-Raum können wir all die verborgenen Beziehungen von Sexualitäten, Geschlechter und Rassen sehen. Wie der Regenbogen mögen auch wir alle Farben in der der Welt verkörpern. Amen.

Rainbow Christ Prayer: Übersetzt von Axel Schwaigert, MCC Gemeinde Stuttgart.


Die Homo-Debatte: Die Bibel und Homosexualität (Matthew Vines)

Der schwule Jesus ( in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

Thursday, June 23, 2016

“I first saw the rainbow flag in a church” posted by Believe Out Loud

I first saw the rainbow flag of LGBTQ Pride in a church.

It was 1985, back when same-sex marriage was so taboo that pollsters didn’t even ask about it.

At last I was free to be fully myself, both lesbian and Christian, on my first day at Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco.

Click here to read the whole story in a new reflection that I wrote for Believe Out Loud, a group promoting LGBTQ equality in the church.

Doa Kristus Sang Pelangi: Bendera LGBT menyingkap misteri ke-quir-an Kristus (Rainbow Christ Prayer in Malay)

Warna-warni di dalam bendera pelangi menunjukkan kepelbagaian prinsip quir Kristus berdasarkan Doa Kristus Sang Pelangi berikut, hasil nukilan seorang pengarang Kristian lesbian, Kittredge Cherry dan ahli teologi gay, Patrick S. Cheng.

Bersempena dengan Bulan Kebanggaan LGBT pada bulan June, bendera-bendera pelangi akan dikibarkan di seluruh dunia. Pelangi juga adalah salah satu simbol yang penting di dalam tradisi-tradisi keagamaan dunia. Doa Kristus Sang Pelangi menghormati nilai-nilai kerohanian di dalam pergerakan LGBT.

Doa ini seiringan dengan warna-warni di dalam bendera pelangi berdasarkan buku karangan Patrick Cheng, “From Sin to Amazing Grace: Discovering the Queer Christ” yang menbentangkan mengenai keunikan Kristus berdasarkan tujuh model quir.

Kristian Progresif mempercayai bahawa homoseksualiti tidak harus sewenang-wenangnya ditanggapi sebagai suatu dosa. Pakar sarjanawan/i mengatakan bahawa Alkitab tidak pernah menyebut bahawa percintaan sama-jantina adalah sesuatu yang terlarang. Oleh itu, gereja-gereja harus menanggapi dan menerima saudara/i LGBT mereka. Doa Kristus Sang Pelangi lahir dari ilham bahawa saudara/i LGBT adalah sebahagian daripada karya ciptaan Tuhan Yang Maha Esa.

Let us pray...
Marilah kita berdoa…

Kristus Sang Pelangi, engkau menggenapi seluruh warna-warni dunia. Pelangi adalah jambatan menghubungkan alam yang berbeza: langit dan bumi, timur dan barat, quir dan bukan-quir. Berikanlah kami ilham untuk mengingati nilai-nilai murni yang terpancar melalui bendera pelangi dari komuniti lesbian, gay, biseksual dan quir:

Merah menggambarkan kehidupan, iaitu akar bagi roh. Sang Kristus yang hidup dan penuh cintakasih, engkaulah akar rohani kami. Bebaskanlah kami dari rasa malu dan berikanlah kami rahmat harga diri yang sihat supaya kami dapat mengikuti terang di dalam diri kami. Demi jalur merah pada pelangi, kami mengucap syukur kerana Tuhan Yang Maha Esa menciptakan kami seadanya.

Jingga menggambarkan karunia seksualiti, iaitu api bagi roh. Eros Kristus, engkaulah Sang Api, Firman yang menjadi Manusia. Bebaskanlah kami dari segala eksploitasi dan berikanlah kami rahmat untuk hubungan romantik yang penuh hormat dan saling memahami. Demi jalur jingga pada pelangi, semarakkan api cintakasih kami.

Kuning menggambarkan harga diri, iaitu teras bagi roh. Kristus Sang Pewarta, engkaulah teras kami. Bebaskanlah kami dari persembunyian diri yang membinasakan dan berikanlah kami keberanian serta rahmat untuk meyakini keberadaan kami. Demi jalur kuning pada pelangi, kuatkanlah keyakinan kami.

Hijau menggambarkan cintakasih, iaitu hati bagi roh. Kristus Sang Pencabar segala hukum yang sia-sia, engkau menolak hukum tegar atas nama cintakasih, engkaulah Hati kami. Pada saat duniamu begitu taksub dengan hukum kekudusan, engkau menyentuh orang yang dianggap terkutuk dan makan bersama orang yang tertindas. Bebaskanlah kami dari sikap akur yang membuta tuli dan berikanlah kami rahmat untuk menolak kekerasan hukum. Demi jalur hijau pada pelangi, penuhi hati kami dengan belas kasihan yang luar biasa untuk segenap makhluk ciptaan Tuhan.

Biru menggambarkan ekspresi diri, iaitu suara bagi roh. Kristus Sang Pembebas, engkaulah Suara kami dalam menentang segala bentuk penindasan. Bebaskanlah kami dari sikap acuh tak acuh dan berikanlah kami rahmat aktivisme. Demi jalur biru pada pelangi, berikanlah kami motivasi untuk menegakkan keadilan.

Ungu menggambarkan visi, iaitu hikmah bagi roh. Kristus Sang Penyatu, engkaulah Hikmah kami di dalam membina dan memulihara alam semesta. Bebaskanlah kami dari pengasingan dan berikanlah kami rahmat untuk saling memelihara antara satu dengan yang lain. Demi jalur ungu pada pelangi, satukanlah hati kami dengan yang lain dan segenap ciptaan Yang Maha Esa.

Warna-warni pelangi berarak bersama membentuk satu cahaya, dan menjadi mahkota kesedaran sejagat. Kristus Sang Hibrid dan Hadirat Hakiki, engkaulah Mahkota kami, penuh keilahian dan kemanusiaan. Bebaskanlah kami dari pengkategorian yang tegar dan berikanlah kami rahmat identiti-identiti yang terjalin. Demi pelangi, pimpinlah kami keluar dari pemikiran hitam-putih dan menuju kepada pengalaman spektrum kehidupan yang menyeluruh.

Kristus Sang Pelangi, engkau menerangi dunia. Engkau menjadikan pelangi sebagai janji untuk memelihara seluruh kehidupan di atas bumi. Di balik warna-warni pelangi, kami dapat melihat segala jalinan misteri di antara seksualiti, jantina, dan bangsa. Seperti pelangi, biarlah kami menghidupi seluruh warna-warni dunia, iaitu anugerah dari Yang Maha Esa! Amin.

Rainbow Christ Prayer: Diterjemahkan oleh Anak Borneo. in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts