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Unforgotten Flames: The UpStairs Lounge Fire and its Legacy

On June 24, 1973, a fire tore through the UpStairs Lounge, a gay bar located in the French Quarter of New Orleans. In less than 20 minutes, 32 lives were tragically lost, making it one of the deadliest attacks on the LGBTQ community in U.S. history. Yet, for decades, this tragedy remained a forgotten chapter, overshadowed by societal prejudice and media neglect.

An arson attack on June 24, 1973, at the UpStairs Lounge, a popular gay bar in New Orleans, killed dozens of patrons. Photo courtesy of Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

The Fateful Day

The UpStairs Lounge was more than just a bar. It was a sanctuary for the LGBTQ community in New Orleans, a place where people could be themselves without fear. On that fateful Sunday, patrons were enjoying an evening of camaraderie, music, and celebration. But the joy was short-lived. A deliberately set fire quickly engulfed the venue, trapping many inside. The aftermath was horrifying, with victims often unrecognizable and many families too ashamed to claim the bodies of their LGBTQ loved ones.

Left: Patrons at The UpStairs Lounge | Photo: Johnny Townsend / Right: Flames burst through the exterior windows of the UpStairs Lounge with patrons trapped inside.

The Aftermath and Societal Response

The response to the UpStairs Lounge fire was a stark reflection of the times. Mainstream media either ignored the tragedy or covered it with blatant insensitivity. Some local churches refused to hold memorial services for the victims. The lack of compassion and empathy was palpable, further alienating and traumatizing the LGBTQ community.

A view inside the UpStairs Lounge following an arson on June 25, 1973. Most of the victims were found near the windows in the background. (Jack Thornell/AP)

Legacy and Remembrance

While the UpStairs Lounge fire was a dark moment in LGBTQ history, it also became a catalyst for change. The tragedy highlighted the need for safe spaces for the LGBTQ community and the importance of unity and activism. Over the years, the event has been commemorated with memorials, documentaries, and plays, ensuring that the victims are never forgotten.

Memorial plaque enshrined at the site of the tragedy, 604 Iberville Street in the French Quarter, New Orleans.

One such documentary, "Upstairs Inferno," delves deep into the events of that day and its aftermath, capturing firsthand accounts from survivors, first responders, and witnesses. Robert L. Camina's poignant direction ensures that the memory of the UpStairs Lounge fire remains a vital part of LGBTQ history.


The UpStairs Lounge fire is a painful reminder of the challenges and prejudices the LGBTQ community has faced over the years. As we reflect on this tragedy during LGBTQ History Month, let us remember the lives lost, the lessons learned, and the importance of creating a world where love, acceptance, and unity prevail.

As we journey through LGBTQ History Month, we encourage you to delve deeper into events like the UpStairs Lounge fire. Watch documentaries like "Upstairs Inferno" and engage in conversations that highlight the resilience and strength of the LGBTQ community. Share these stories, remember the past, and let's work together to ensure a brighter, more inclusive future.