A history of the 1973 events that set a club in New Orleans—and the gay community—on fire.
Gay liberation movements are often associated with the Stonewall riots or ACT UP’s transgressive and vital actions during the AIDS crisis. It’s not often that the Up Stairs Lounge, a gay bar in New Orleans, is placed within the narrative of gay uprisings and the reinforcement of community values. In this significant debut, journalist Fieseler has effectively made himself the authority on the subject. On June 24th, 1973, as men and women of all ages enjoyed a coveted evening in the safest place they knew, a gay man, angry after getting in a fight with patrons, poured lighter fluid on the steps leading to the Up Stairs Lounge. The events that ensued were horrific: “Lambent flames reached the back corner of the bar area, and the street lit up with the sound of seventeen people shrieking. Seeing faces burn in the windows, [a patron] yelled for them to jump. Fire ate them up.” That night, 32 people lost their lives, but their deaths set fire to a different kind of flame. Fieseler discusses in great detail the conditions in which gay men were forced to live: in hiding, constantly afraid of discovery, putting a straight mask on in public. At the time, homosexuality was still illegal. More shocking, however, is what the author’s rigorous research shows about how authorities, the media, and legislators mishandled the fire and aftermath. Through a series of systemic dismissals, linguistic omissions, and general complacency, the event has been largely erased from American history. Fieseler’s work is an essential piece of historical restitution that takes us from 1973 to 2003, when homosexuality was finally decriminalized in Louisiana. Powerfully written and consistently engaging, the book will hopefully shed more light on the gay community’s incredible and tragic journey to equality.
A momentous work of sociological and civil rights history.