THE UPSTAIRS LOUNGE ARSON FIRE

Written by on June 6, 2019

Story by Chuck Tackett

THE UPSTAIRS LOUNGE ARSON FIRE

Several years ago, I wrote a Chuck’s Chat article in KC Exposures magazine. I had never heard of this incident. With the responses and feedback I received back then I knew I wasn’t alone. We didn’t know this about our LGBTQ history.

Since we’re in the month of June and this tragic incident happened in June 1973, I thought I would write about it again since now my Chuck’s Chat is seen worldwide and there is a new generation of LGBTQs who have no idea this happened like I didn’t.

On June 24, 1973, a Gay bar called the UpStairs Lounge that was located on the 2nd floor of a three-story building located in the French Quarters section of New Orleans an arson attack occurred.

As a result of the fire, smoke inhalation and panic, 32 Gay men and 1 woman were murdered. 15 people suffered non-fatal injuries. The incident happened on the final day of Pride Weekend in 1973 era New Orleans. From what I understand the UpStairs Lounge held 125 patrons. There were free beer and dinner that day. At the time of the fire, there were 60 customers in attendance that came to listen to pianist David Gary perform and to discuss an upcoming MCC church fundraiser for the local Crippled Children’s’ Hospital. So 25 patrons were able to escape from the fire. They either suffered from non-fatal injuries, or they escaped unharmed.

From what I understand, news outlets, politicians and talk radio hosts made light of the situation because the victims were Gay. If I heard correctly, jokes were made to put the remains of the deceased in fruit jars. City officials mostly ignored the tragedy. There were no city-declared days of mourning like in other tragedies.

The only suspect was Roger Dale Nunez who was a local troublemaker and street hustler.
Earlier that day, Nunez was kicked out of the bar after having a fight with a fellow customer. Some patrons have reported that Nunez claimed that he ought to burn the bar down and he was being kicked out. Nunez was diagnosed with “conversion hysteria” in 1970. He was in and out of several psychiatric facilities. Nunez finally escaped from one psychiatric facility and the cops never bothered to pick him up again even though he was seen numerous times at the French Quarters. A friend of Nunez claimed he told him 4 times that Nunez admitted to setting the fire, but he had no idea the whole place would go up in flames, especially so quickly. Nunez committed suicide in 1974. In 1980, the Louisiana Fire Marshall officially closed the case because of no leads.

For the longest time, The UpStairs Lounge was the deadliest known attack on a Gay club until 2016 at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

Chuck’s Chat operates under an open authority. Opinions and comments are welcome. Send them to soultraindancing@yahoo.com


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