Memorial Rites Honor Lounge Blaze Victims by Valerie M. Haynes
“For as many years as gay people in the country or any part of the world remain the captives and victims of hate filled societies—let the last Sunday of each Gay Pride Week each year, hold an hour or day of commemoration for the thousands who, in the missing pages of our history, died alone in fire…”
Mary Morris, a lay evangelist for the Metropolitan Community Church, dressed in a clerical collar and pants, read from the official eulogy for the 32 victims who died in the Upstairs Lounge Fire two years ago Tuesday.
The small Metropolitan Community Church was filled to capacity Sunday afternoon for the annual memorial service for the fire victims. The church is a Christian Church for everyone, with an open outreach to the gay community the church program stated.
Most of the service was dedicated to the late Rev. Bill Larson, once the pastor of the church, who perished along with other church members. An altar and plaque were dedicated to the late minister as a permanent memorial, along with a plaque for the other victims of the fire.
Funds for the memorial were raised by the National New Orleans Memorial Fund which was organized in 1973 to aid the survivors, to bury the deceased, and to erect a permanent memorial for the victims, according to the Rev. Joel Kauhl, pastor of the church.
The fund membership is comprised of the Rev. Troy Perry, moderator of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches; Morris Knight of the Los Angeles Gay Community Services Center; Marty Manford, of the Gay Activists Alliance in New York City; the Rev. John Gill, pastor of MCC in Atlanta, Ga.; and the Rev. Paul Breton, pastor of MCC, Phoenix, Ariz.
“I believe firmly that one of the greatest gifts that God has given us is sex” if it is used for love, said the Rev. William Richardson, a visiting pastor to the church. Jesus never mentioned anything in the Bible about homosexuality. He said we are to love everyone, the minister said.
A picture of Christ and a tapestry of The Last Supper hung on the walls of the small church. Two candles burned at the altar. The occasion was a solemn one—one to remember friends, relative and fellow church members who died in the fire. The Rev. Kauhl called it a living memorial of love.
There were seven fires in 1973 in the United States in places frequented by members of the gay community, according to Rev. Kauhl, the last being the Upstairs fire. The tragedy, though, he pointed out, united the whole gay community all over the country.
One could easily pass up the church at 3123 Magazine St. Only a name sign sits in the window. Other places in the area are mostly businesses.
References to homosexuality were made openly in the service. “I’m Not Afraid Anymore” will become the church’s fellowship song, the Rev. Kauhl said.
The eulogy read by Mary Morris was adopted by the Trustees of the National New Orleans Memorial Fund as their official proclamation in connection with the fire. It was written by Jeanne Cordova.
The words of the liturgy spoke of the hardships suffered by gay men and women throughout history. It also, however, gives them courage.
“Let this Sunday and one Sunday each year commemorate these deaths and remind us,
Remind us in anger, remind us in strength, and remind us in love
That we have years to go before we sleep…in Freedom.