This weekend marks the 40th anniversary of the Upstairs Lounge fire, the biggest mass-murder in LGBT history. Unlike many historical milestones in LGBT history such as the Stonewall Riots, or the assassination of Harvey Milk, the purposefully lit fire that killed 32, injured 12, and left 35 survivors in its devastating wake is more often forgotten than remembered. Playwright Wayne Self decided that it was time for that to change.
"32 died. No one cared. 40 years later, this is their story." This is the tagline for the newly released play UPSTAIRS: A Dramatic Musical by gay playwright Wayne Self. The play recounts the events of June 24th, 1973 – when the stairs to the Upstairs Lounge, a popular gay bar and meeting place for the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), were doused with lighter fluid and lit on fire.
The 19 minutes that followed were pure chaos and destruction. 35 quickly made it to safety, 15 got out injured but alive. 29 died immediately in the fire, and 3 died later on due to injuries sustained. Most of the people injured and killed were members of MCC, including the pastor of the church and a mother and her two children. Most stunning of all the facts is that no one was ever convicted of the crime.
To this day, this unsolved case bothers many – especially Self. The lack of knowledge of the largest-scale hate crime known to the LGBT community inspired Self to dedicate 5 years of his life to produce a musical to honor its memory on the exact weekend of the 40th anniversary in the city that the crime took place.
The recent publicity around the events that happened this weekend 40 years ago inspired TIME Magazine to write an article about the fire, bringing even more attention to the devastating hate crime that didn't get the attention it deserved when it happened.
The New Orleans world premiere of UPSTAIRS: A Dramatic Musical was Thursday, June 21st, and if you are an ally or part of the New Orleans LGBT community, consider checking out this play that will be open until Sunday, the 24th – the exact 40th anniversary of the incident. Tickets can be bought here, and merchandise can be bought here – all proceeds go toward paying for the play.