Orlando mass shooting is a haunting reminder of Upstairs Lounge arson

Orlando mass shooting is a haunting reminder of Upstairs Lounge arson

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The Orlando mass shooting brings back memories of a massive fire that killed 32 people inside a gay club in New Orleans.

"I did not think this would happen again," filmmaker Royd Anderson said. "The Upstairs Lounge fire was the worst mass murder of gays in U.S. history until the Orlando shooting."

Anderson produced a documentary about the Upstairs Lounge arson of June 24, 1973.

Someone set fire to the stairwell at the entrance of the bar and the fire quickly spread throughout the building killing those people trapped inside.

Decades later the city placed a plaque along the sidewalk as a reminder of those who died, but the treatment the victim's received in 1973 was not full of condolences nor sympathy.

"Political leaders of our city and our state they did not acknowledge, they did not say anything,"  Anderson said. "No public statement of sympathy for the victims of the Upstairs Lounge, and they need to be called on that because that was completely terrible."

No one was ever prosecuted or arrested for the arson. The prime suspect committed suicide a year after the fire, according to Anderson.

Some of the victims were never identified because family members were too ashamed to come forward. 
"Some of them had to be buried in paupers field. There has been a tremendous change for the better as far as recognition and giving them the compassion they need and deserve," Anderson said.

Now, a small plaque marks the scene of one of the major tragedies in New Orleans.

"I never knew this was the actual location, which is kind of scary and I get goosebumps just being here," tourist Tom Smalley said.
The charred reminders of Upstairs Lounge mixed in with the Orlando shooting come as the city is set to host the New Orleans Pride Festival.

To prepare for the crowds and the uncertainty, the city is increasing the police presence in the quarter this weekend.

Those in town for the event feel as though the tragedies of the past, serve as a reminder of the struggle of those before them.

"It's sort of bigger than New Orleans. It's really wherever these sort of crimes happen, they shouldn't," Grant Perler said. "People should grow up and stop committing horrible acts upon each other over very childish differences."

"We can all talk about our sob stories, whether you're gay or straight, but I think in the gay community unfortunately you get so much of it that often times you have to hide and these places become safe havens," Ed Popil said. "When that becomes threatened, that's where we become maybe a little more passionate and sometimes angry, and we want to get out and be proud and show we are just like everybody else."

A memorial is held at the building on the corner of Iberville St. and Chartres St. each year on the anniversary of the fire.

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