The Upstairs Lounge Fire


Support Grows for Memorial Fund

New  Orleans officials still silent on the fire

by Bill Rushton

NEW ORLEANS - The “official investigation of the Up Stairs Lounge fire continues to drag along without any announced findings, despite widely quoted evidence here about a lighter fluid can being found in the stairway of the bar.

“They’re keeping lid on things.“ said a New Orleans Fire Department spokesman,.“ until they have definite conclusions.”

Participating in the investigation are the Fire Prevention Division of the NOFD, the state fire marshall, and the New Orleans Police Department.

Meanwhile, seven survivors remain hospitalized,  most of them in serious condition, at six  hospitals in three states.

Lucien Baril, worship coordinator for the Metropolitan Community Church here, and a spokesman for the newly formed Gay People’s Coalition (GPC), says cards, money, and blood are still needed.

The survivors, their locations, and condition:

Sidney Espanche: Southern Baptist Hospital, New Orleans, satisfactory.

Espanche comes from suburban New Orleans, lost a companion in the fire. He is expected to leave the hospital within one month.

Eugene “Earl” Thomas: Gulfport Memorial Hospital, Gulfport, Miss.:

fair.   Thomas’ family is from Gulfport, and he is with his companion in the hospital. Thomas, who is 42, suffered third-degree burns over 90 percent of his back.

Fred Ohway: Gulfport Memorial Hospital, Gulfport, Miss.: fair. Progressing well in spite of third-degree burns over 90 per cent of one arm. He is 22.

Jean Gosnell, U.S. Public Service Hospital, New Orleans: serious. Girlfriend of one of the victims of the fire, she has one son in New Orleans  and is in the most serious condition of all the survivors, Cards and letters, particularly from women, are especially needed, She is 36.

Eddie Gillis: Veterans Hospital, Boston, Mass; grave condition. Gillis; family is from Boston and his ‘future’ prospects are rated “fair.” He is 52.

Roger “Dale” Dunn: West Jefferson Hospital, Grepta, La.: fair. His parents are keeping him in seclusion, without visitors, and his future prospects are termed fair. He is 26.

Michael Scarborough: Our Lady of the lakes Hospital, Baton Rouge, La., serious. Scarborough’s family is from Baton Rouge and he lost his companion in the fire. He is 27.

The newly-organized GPC is meeting weekly now, with a core group f about 40 ad a variety of projects planned or under way, Active projects include a gay men’s VD clinic opened July 27; a political push to have the city government’s Human Relation Committee establish a “Gay task force” for future emergencies, and establishment of an office at 1375 Magazine Street, new Orleans, 70130.

Coming soon are a gay switchboard, a newsletter-guide, an alcoholics anonymous group, and counseling services for both men and women participating, with hopes that a strong Gay Liberation movement can be generated here in the aftermath of the Up Stairs tragedy.

Meanwhile, the gay community here has been caught up in a bizarre episode of rumors involving a police search for a specific arson suspect.  The rumors – some of which originated with “unofficial sources” inside the NOPD – centered on a short and slightly built Latin-American.

 The rumors spread and multiplied through the French Quarter bars and Laundromats toward the end of July, leading to fears that vigilante action might be taken against innocent persons, and ultimately led to a GPC special committee on the matter, which met with police officials and issued a rumor control statement pasted on French Quarter walls.

“All these rumors are absolutely false, to the best of our knowledge and we will keep you informed of future developments,” pledged the GPC rumor control bulletin.

NATIONAL OUTPOURING Aid mounts for New Orleans

Response from across the country to the June 24 fire which claimed 32 lives at the Up Stairs Lounge in New Orleans continues to grow, with efforts under way in most cities to raise more money and blood for those affected by the fire.

A remarkably successful fundraiser was held July 12 at the Warehouse VII bar in Miami, where a show by a sizable entourage of top female impersonators raised over $2500.

A tour of major cities by Morty Manford, special delegate to the New York Gay Activists Alliance to the New Orleans Emergency Task Force, is also expected to greatly aid fund-raising efforts in Denver, Chicago, Washington, Philadelphia, New York, ad New England,

At the Miami benefit, organized by tiffany Jones, headliner at the Warehouse VIII, 300 turned out forte the sellout house.

 The Rev. Troy Perry, moderator of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, was among the featured guests. 

Included in the show were Dee Connors and the Femme Jesters, appearing at the Carib Hotel in Miami Beach; Emore, the 1973 Miss Gay Florida; ‘Tiffany Jones’ “Les Girls” review, including Adrian St. Clair, Daphne Delight aand Scaggnolia the Great.

Little Lil. From Patsy’s did a comedy routing. Torchy Love, whose bar burned in April, made the first public appearance since the fire, and Big David, who is appearing at the Bayou Landing in Dallas, flew in for an appearance. Norby, an impressionist,  performed, as did Ambrosia Crawford. Formerly of the Warehouse VIII,  Camille, Sugar, Alicia, Tracy Leigh, Crickett Blake, Jan Button, and Rick Rivera.

Major donations made a good part of the funds raised, which reportedly included $1000 from Rheims Mainer and Bob Stickney of the Warehouse VIII and the show’s cast; $500 from Jack Campbell of the nationwide Club Baths chain, headquartered in Miami; $200 from the Miami Gay Alliance; $100 from Ron of the Bachelors II and Bachelors West; $50 from the Femme Jesters; and $50 from Malcolm of the Nook Bar.

The MCC Study Group of Jacksonville, Fla. raised $405 for the memorial fund, including $100.62 from patrons of the Commodore Lounge; $35 from the owner and patrons of the Little Dude Tavern; $61.43 from the study group; and other donations, plus $192.46 from a benefit.

The benefit was a show at the Commodore Lounge emceed by the club’s manager, Bobby Gee, Female impersonator Sandy Howard donated over $35 in tips.

Manford, who stayed behind in New Orleans with the Rev. Paul Breton, Northwest District coordinator for the MCC, when other leaders left the week of the fire, is one of the trustees of the National New Orleans Memorial Fund.

Other trustees and officers of the fund include Mr. Breton; Mr. Perry; Morris Kight, board president of the Gay community Services Center, Los Angeles; Lucien Baril, worship coordinator, MCC of New Orleans; Dick Michaels, publisher of the Advocate; and the Rev. John Gill, Southwest District Coordinator for MCC.

Two nonvoting officers for the fund have also been named; Ken Bartley, administrative director of the GCSC, as treasurer; and Jack Monroe, CPA, as auditor for the fund.

The Advocate has received $4920.36 by press time July 26, which includes $1439.75 reported July 13.

There is no doubt that the fire has had great ramifications in gay consciousness in the Deep South city. Mr. Baril said the ADVOCATE disappeared immediately after it went on sale, despite the fact that 200 extra copies were shipped to the New Orleans distributor. ADVOCATE sales are often a thermometer of local gay activism. Baril reported that one almost had to “pitch a tent” in front of a bookstore to get a copy of the latest issue.

We have a New Orleans Gay Peoples Coalition,” Mr. Baril noted. “It’s pretty much a cross-current  of all the various life-styles in the community. Everywhere from the church, which is taking an active part in it, to the Marxist women’s groups. It’s going over pretty well, we’re gaining strength and gaining acceptance.”

“I’m one of the two spokespersons for the coalition and I’ve got letters on my desk from television stations wanting us for talk shows, which is something that you just didn’t consider before.”

Mr. Baril reported being concerned about stories reaching New Orleans on the activities of San Francisco street minister, the Rev. Ray Broshears, who has denounced the ADVOCATE-administered fire fund as being a “rip-off” of the gay community.

“I talked to Morris Kight, the other night. He briefly mentioned that there was a good bit of talk in San Francisco that this was just a chance to rip off the gay community, “Mr. Baril reported.

Mr. Broshears said he was very distrustful of the fund’s administrators, singling out Kight, Mr. Perry, and Michaels, and saying that the treasurer, Bartley, had “sticky fingers.”

The Tenderloin minister said that he had not been able to learn the names of victims still hospitalized and waited to be certain that any funds raised went to the victims, rather than the GCSC, ADVOCATE, of MCC – all of which he distrusts to varying degrees.

Despite his statements opposing the funds, however, Mr. Broshears said that he had plans for fundraisers, and would probably disperse the funds directly in New Orleans .

“We want the names, he particulars of how bad they are burned; we want to know how to locate them, what hospitals – some of them are out of hospitals. We’d like to take a personal interest in each and everyone, and we would like to co-sponsor them. Morris is against this sponsorship idea – but the POW-MIA thing was a very good thing, and this is what we would like to do, and I think it’s very healthy, and I think it’s very good.”

“Should the situation be such that their metal state and their emotional state – I’m sure, in working with burn victims over the years, I know some of them just go bananas, speaking realistically – would be such that they could not remain in New Orleans, and we would possibly want to sponsor one or two of them to come and live here in San Francisco, All we are asking is for some plain truth.”

Other organizations, however, have continued to channel funds through the National New Orleans Memorial Fund.

The San Jose MCC donated $276, Philadelphia MCC gave $121.81, New York MCC sent $137, Oklahoma
City MCC donated $30.80, and Boston MCC sent $20. Those monies are in addition to the funds reported in Issue 117 of the ADVOCATE.

Plans have made for a big benefit party at the Trip lounge, 27 E. Ohio, in Chicago on August 18, The Trip, one of Chicago’s best-established gay bars, will be turned over to the benefit at 8PM, before the peak of the usual land-office Saturday night business.

Additionally, monies have been sent directly to New Orleans from Miami and Washington D.C. MCC’s, as well as other organizations.

The only dispersal from the fund up to  July 26 was $200 to establish an account in New Orleans to deal with day-to-day emergencies.

Additionally, $1000 has been dispersed in New Orleans from contributions made before the National New Orleans Memorial Fund was set up. Most of that money – went to pay hotel bills for gay leaders who flew to New Orleans after the fire, Mr. Baril said.

Mr. Perry said that the money for the hotel bills came from MCC’s Miami congregation, noting, “the money was well spent. We managed it as best as we could. We had to have a place so we could have telephone service, which we did. The hotel was very nice and very good, We had to have two separate rooms for that many people to sleep, too….that was supplied by the Miami congregation of our church. We praise the Lord for that.”

Kight noted that the leaders who originally went to New Orleans, which he calls the National New Orleans Emergency Task Force, “went into New Orleans, turned potential vigilante action into concern, turned apathy into compassion, turned anti-gay feelings into mass social concern. To be able to do that, the people coming there had to have enormous amounts of confidence and trust from the communities from which they came.”

“We had to use our good offices to appeal to the overground media of the South to understand what if was all about. To do that, we simply had to have a base of operation, and that had to be a quick and efficient one. We had little money.  I used my airline ticket that took me to New York, which had been contributed by friends ….to bring me and Morty Manford to New Orleans. We had $6 left when we got there.” 

The extent of the response to the call for blood for the victims has yet to be established, Mr. Baril reported.

The collection, being channeled through Charity Hospital in New Orleans, will not be totaled until August 1, Mr. Baril said.  But he reported that the hospital’s administrator said he had not heard of a response so successful before.

Blood donation efforts are in full swing in Los Angeles and many other cities.

Bartender, Eddie Storcz of the Brass Rail in San Diego, a contender for Emperor I in San Diego, has organized a blood drive which was set to begin July 30  and was to run for three weeks with a goal of 600 pints.

In Los Angeles, a very aggressive blood campaign has been mounted by the bars.  If a person donates a pint of blood at any one of three designated Red Cross centers, designating it for MCC of Los Angeles, and gets a receipt for the blood, he can take the receipt for a free drink at 34 participating Los Angeles gay bars.

If the donor is into bar-hopping this means a free drink at 34 participating Los Angeles area gay bars – resulting in a sizable amount of alcohol. Te drive, organized by Buddy, manager of Ken’s River club, has already been quite successful according to the local bar owners and managers.

Alan Steward, Emperor I, de South Bay, said that a blood drive had also been launched in the Inglewood, Calif. Area, which had gathered some 23 pints of blood by July 19.

A blood donation effort has also been mounted in Denver, following the appearance of Manford there.

The Denver meeting was attended by 35 representatives of various gay organizations, sponsored by the Denver Gay Coalition.

The August 15th edition of The Advocate includes a detailed account of events around the U.S. raising funds for the New Orleans Memorial Fund as well as the slow progress of the official investigation.

Source: Source: The Advocate, August 15, 1973.

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