The Up Stairs Lounge Arson Attack, New Orleans: 50 Years Later

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Virtual Program: The 1973 arson at the Up Stairs Lounge claimed 32 queer lives and remains the deadliest fire in New Orleans history.

Event Details:

In 1973, the deadliest fire in New Orleans’ history occurred in a small gay bar at 604 Iberville Street in the French Quarter. The UpStairs Lounge was a refuge of love and acceptance in the New Orleans community until, in a matter of 19 minutes, it became a site of tragedy and rejection. Thirty-two people perished in the fire, and the New Orleans LGBT+ community was changed forever.

At the time, local police did not consider the tragedy a top priority. One officer told a reporter, “This was, after all, a queer bar.” No elected official responded publicly to the fire. Archbishop Philip Hannan denied the victims Catholic funerals. Radio commentators joked that the victims’ remains should be buried in fruit jars. The arson at the Up Stairs Lounge remains officially unsolved.

Presented by: American LGBTQ+ Museum in partnership with the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana.



Courtney Sharp (she, her) has been a transgender activist since the mid-1990s. She served on the Board of Directors for LAGPAC, Mayor Marc Morial’s LGBT Advisory Committee, and served on the local PFLAG Board of Directors for 22 years. She actively advocated for and served in leadership positions in the efforts to include protections for gender identity in the City of New Orleans from 1995 to 1998, when the City Council passed the ordinance amending Chapter 86 of the Human Relations Code. At the same time, she lobbied the local PFLAG Chapter and the PFLAG National organization to expand their mission statement to include support, education and advocacy for transgender persons and their families. She currently serves with other long-time leaders on the Greater New Orleans Foundation’s LGBTQ fund and joins the fund’s visionary leaders’ efforts to support efforts to increase the equity of life for LGBTQ people and their families in the New Orleans area. Courtney’s advocacy and educational efforts have always included outreach to communities of faith.

Clayton Delery (he, him) is most recently the author of Out for Queer Blood: The Murder of Fernando Rios and the Failure of New Orleans Justice, which was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in LGBT+ Nonfiction. His previous book, The Up Stairs Lounge Arson, was named Book of the Year by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. He is a retired faculty member of the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts in Natchitoches, and now lives in New Orleans.

Robert W. Fieseler (he, him) is a National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association “Journalist of the Year” and the acclaimed nonfiction author of Tinderbox—winner of the Edgar Award and the Louisiana Literary Award, shortlisted for the Saroyan International Prize for Writing. Queer literary icon Andrew Holleran reviewed Tinderbox as “far more than just a history of gay rights” and Michael Cunningham praised it as “essential reading at any time.” As a Mellon Fellow at Tulane, Fieseler is presently working on his second queer history book, a finalist for the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award. He graduated co-valedictorian from the Columbia Journalism School and is a board member of the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana.


Frank Perez (he, him) is the co-founder and Executive Director of the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana. He is also a writer, historian, educator, public speaker, small-business owner, and tour guide. He has authored several books on New Orleans queer history, the most recent of which is Political Animal: The Life and Times of Stewart Butler. He is a columnist for Ambush Magazine and French Quarter Journal. His publications include a number of scholarly articles in academic journals, as well as a number of poems and short stories in various literary journals. In addition to writing, Perez owns a small business and is a licensed New Orleans tour guide. A former Associate Professor of English, Perez now teaches part-time at Loyola University.