NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Forty-five years after the Up Stairs Lounge arson fire, family members of victims, city leaders and strangers gathered to remember those lives lost and the progress made.
"He was wonderful, absolutely wonderful."
Marilyn Downey LeBlanc remembers her brother as a happy, carefree guy who always had a smile on his face.
"He was handsome, loving, caring, laughing. He just, I don't remember ever seeing him grumpy," she said.
Ferris LeBlanc is one of the more than 30 people who perished in the Up Stairs Lounge Fire. The fire occurred just a day after Ferris's 50th birthday.
Marilyn and her son Skip Bailey flew in for the service honoring those who lost their lives 45 years ago.
"This is wonderful," said Marilyn. "This is absolutely wonderful. And it's not just my brother, it's all of them, each and every one."
Organizers say the memorial is not only meant to remember the 32 who died and 15 who were injured, but it's also to recognize progress.
"Honoring, remembering and celebrating the strides we have made as a community since 1973. Strides, I might add the victims of the fire never could've imagined," said LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana President Frank Perez. "It was a seminal moment, not only in the cities history, but national, gay history that never really got the attention it deserved."
The Up Stairs Lounge arson is one of the deadliest fires in New Orleans history and was the deadliest crime against the LGBT community until the Pulse Nightclub massacre two years ago.
"We won't forget, but every single day we will take steps to be better because of it. We have to remember in order to move forward," said Mayor Latoya Cantrell.
Mayor Cantrell points to the rainbow banners now hanging along Rampart as a sign of the times but says we still have a long way to go.
For the family of Ferris LeBlanc, his sexual orientation was never an issue, but they believe it was the prejudice surrounding homosexuality that they were never notified of his death. It's why this memorial means more to them than most.
"He never had a funeral or mass or anything. We're going to pretend like this is in his honor as well as everybody else," Bailey said.