The Forgotten Tragedy: Before Pulse, there was the UpStairs Lounge in New Orleans

In New Orleans’ French Quarter, countless people walk the intersection of Iberville Street and Chartres Street, perhaps to grab a drink at The Jimani, a bite at the Backspace Bar & Kitchen, or breakfast at Daisy Dukes.

But look down, and a bronze plaque is embedded in the brick sidewalk, one with a flame and the names of 32 perished souls. Beneath a neon sign reading Dixie Divas, it sits at the feet of a burgundy door that houses the story of the UpStairs Lounge.

It was June 24, 1973 — nearly four years to the day of the infamous raid at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, when a gathering of LGBT people and their allies were laughing over drinks. By the end of the night, 29 were dead and another three would later die from their injuries.

The next day, The Times-Picayune devoted its front page to the fire, headlined “29 KILLED IN QUARTER BLAZE” and printed a photo of onlookers in front of the charred building, as well as a portrait of a man in horror as he took in the damage.

“I was 11 years old and I saw the front page of the newspaper,” remembers Johnny Townsend.  “There was that picture of Rusty Quinton on the front cover looking up in horror at the bar. The expression on his face really struck me deeply.”

To this day, no one has been arrested for the fire, and until recently, the tragedy disappeared into history.

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LGBT History Month: The Johns Committee – State Sanctioned Homophobia


Art Copleston during his University of Florida days in 1958

For many people, their memories of their college years are filled with football games, parties, and cramming for exams. For others, it’s horrific flashbacks of being stalked on campus, hours of interrogation, and questioning if everyone they interacted with was an investigator.

For students and teachers at some of the top universities in the state, this is a part of their history, the harassment of the Johns Committee.

“While generally speaking we live in a society that’s accepting of people and their private lifestyles, the Johns Committee left us a legacy of intolerance,” said Jim Schnur, the special collections librarian at USF St. Petersburg. “It was just how abhorrent they were; how many lives they attempted to destroy.”

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A Brief History of the Stonewall Riots

June 28, 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in New York City’s West Village started like any other night — until the bar went up in flames.

Gay men, lesbians dressed in men’s clothes, and drag queens were dancing the night away at the dingy bar, where you knocked to get inside, the windows were blacked out, music blasted from a jukebox, and the good liquor was stored under the bar (you had to ask Johnny or Mario for that).

Then the cops came.

Read more at South Florida Gay News.