The Upstairs Lounge Fire


Changing Attitudes on Homosexuality

A Subculture Surfaces

‘50s ‘Climate of Hostility’ to Gays Gone—Now What?

‘Queer Capital’ War? Or ‘Getting Along Fine’?   by Joan Treadway (Last of a Series)

Civic groups working in and through City Hall launched a drive 15 years ago to reduce the local homosexual population. They recommended that a “frigid climate of hostility” be cultivated.

But the campaign started then obviously had no long-term results. Some homosexuals marched outside City Hall a few years ago, demanding “liberation” and an end to alleged police harassment. This year, others walked inside.

Attorney Jacob Morrison, who headed a citizens’ committee which was an offshoot of the drive, said “The same person is here today that wanted to stop the influx of homosexuals then—what’s happened to him?”

Answering himself, he said, “Some people feel ‘What’s the use?’ The public authorities just wink at it. One reason the city lets them get by with it (homosexuality) is that people won’t do anything about it.”

He added, “Homosexual activity is tolerated now. There’s not a frigid atmosphere at all. So many people accept homosexuality without being horrified that the homosexuals have lost all restraint.”

Morrison said he and others “think the influx of these persons is making New Orleans the queer capital of the U.S.—they flock to their own kind here. If I was mayor and they came to me, I’d have a heck of a time to keep from throwing them out bodily.”

One of the prime backers of the drive 15 years ago was the Vieux Carre Property Owners and Associates Inc. The group is still receiving complaints about homosexuals “who congregate on the streets screaming and hollering,” said its current president John Dedt.

However, it receives equal numbers of complaints about “hippies, Jesus freaks, beggars and the Bourbon Street barkers,” he said. “There are probably enormous amounts of homosexuals who are decent, law-abiding people in the Quarter and throughout the city.”

Dedt says he believe homosexuals in the city are more overt now than in past years, but that their numbers haven’t increased. Many people with long hair simply look homosexual to some people, he said.

He said the Vieux Carre “is the playground for New Orleans and all of Louisiana, and most everyone gets along fine, if people don’t make themselves conspicuous, especially by being noisy.”

Opinions on homosexuality held by civic groups and the persons in them range from Morrison’s negative feeling through Dedt’s laissez-faire attitude to Harry J. Blumenthal Jr.’s views.

Blumenthal, a member of New Orleans Human Rights Committee made a recently-passed motion that the group investigate the problems of local homosexuals. This action had been requested by members of the Gay People’s Coalition.

“If they’re being discriminated against, it deserves to be looked into—that’s what the Human Relations Committee is for,” Blumenthal said. The Coalition asked for study into discrimination in the law, social services and employment.

Blumenthal said he personally feels “whether you take the attitude that homosexuality is an alternative life-style or that it is some aberration, there’s no call for discrimination such as not allowing homosexuals in bars or not selling them houses.”

Part of his motion was that a subcommittee of HRC look into the situation and report back to the whole HRC. The subcommittee reported back Monday night and the HRC adopted its three recommendations.

The recommendations were: 1) that the subcommittee continue in existence and meet with the Coalition at least once a month to discuss the problems of local gay people and possible solutions.

2) That the HRC’s Answer Desk at City Hall coordinate its referral services with services provided by the Gay People’s Coalition, meaning that Answer Desk volunteers will routinely be provided with information on the Coalition.

3) That when and if there is a staff person available at the HRC, this person would prepare an exhaustive report on the problems of local homosexuals. Bill Stewart, HRC deputy director, said, “We don’t have the staff for this now.”

Gay activists are working on other fronts in New Orleans and one of these is set up at Tulane University. There, the Gay Students Union is fighting for official recognition against administration opposition and even threatening court action.

Wherever the gay liberation movement springs up here, it is apparent that some New Orleanians no longer feel that the homosexual subculture is hidden and is itself a community problem, but that it is surfacing and that is has its own problems.

The last of the newspaper series relates the dramatic change in policies and attitudes toward homosexual persons in New Orleans over the previous 15 years.

Source: The Times-Picayune, September 16, 1973

Close Close