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The Upstairs Lounge Fire

French Quarter, New Orleans: June 24, 1973

The Upstairs Lounge Men Before the FireAmerica in 1973 was not exactly a refuge for same-sex lovers. In fact, for men who loved men, establishements like The Upstairs Lounge were more than just secret social clubs or simple "gay bars." They were sanctuaries - places where men could be friendly - even affectionate - without fear.

The Upstairs Lounge, in particular functioned as a theatre for elaborately-decorated drag cabaret shows, a watering hole for local gay men and a place of worship for the Metropolitan Community Church.

The Fire

The Upstairs Lounge PatronsAt just after 8pm, the bartender sent one of his regulars to find out who was buzzing the front door. When he opened the door, a fireball shot past him - catching the walls on fire and sending The Upstairs Lounge (and the nearly 70 people inside of it) into panic.

Nearly 20 people followed the bartender through the back entrance to safety. Some squeezed through metal bars to leap from the windows. Others simply had nowhere to go.

In the end, 32 innocent people lost their lives and no one was ever charged for the crime.

Finding Ferris

On June 24th, 1973, Ferris LeBlanc lost his life in the UpStairs Lounge fire. Ferris's body remained unclaimed for over 40 years until his family - who had been searching for some sign of him since his disappearance - learned of his death in January of 2015.

This clip from Tracking Fire illustrates the emotional journey his family took from the scene of the fire to be reunited with him for the first time among many unmarked graves at Potter's Field.

Ferris's family loved him. It was absolutely clear that his sexuality was not an issue, and that he had not been abandoned. How unfortunate that no one had contacted them about his death so many years ago...

You can learn more about The UpStairs Lounge Fire here: Read Time Magazine's Article "The Horror Upstairs."

The Silence Continues

The Upstairs Lounge PlaqueUntil the 2016 Pulse Nightclub Shootings in Orlando, the Upstairs Lounge Fire stood as the deadliest attack on the American LGBTQ community. It is still the deadliest fire in New Orleans history. Yet, to this day, very few people even know the story. The victims were buried in unmarked graves. In fact, the only monument commemorating this tragedy was put in place nearly 40 years after the flames - an afterthought used more for paranormal tours than as true recognition of the lives lost. Tracking Fire will break the wall of silence, honor the victims and make sure the World knows what happened that tragic night in June.