The Upstairs Lounge Fire


Paper Highlights Gay Church Connection

Church Slates Mourning for Victims of N.O. Fire
by Eric Newhouse

Morris Kight, Gay Liberation Movement founder, and the Rev. Troy Perry, pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church for homosexuals have declared next Sunday a day of mourning for ”our dead brothers and sisters.”

Police said 29 persons died in a second-floor bar here Sunday night, many of them trapped behind burglar bars.

Kight confirmed the Up Stairs Lounge was a gay bar, and said his office in Los Angeles had suspended other operations and was organizing gay leaders across the country to help in the catastrophe here.

One of those killed was William Larson, interim pastor of a local gay church.

Not On Lists

Larson does not appear on the official police casualty lists, but several witnesses, including Linn Quinton, said the pastor was last seen caught in the burglar bars across the front window, screaming “Oh, God, no!” to the skies as he burned to death.

Other members of his church remember him as a dedicated pastor who brought new members to the newly founded Metropolitan Community Church, located in a converted small home here.

 “We’ve been a small, struggling congregation since we were founded here in May 1971,” said a church deacon who asked not to be identified.

“Since Brother Larson took over as interim pastor, we’ve been a thriving, promising congregation” he said.

His creed was innocent.

Believed in Love

“He believed in freedom and love” said the deacon. “He wanted the right of individuals to make their own choice—without any harm to anyone.”

When the fire struck, Larson was sitting at a table with a party of eight friends—two others perished with him.

Members of the church credit the bartender, Buddy Rasmussen, with saving their lives by trying to lead them out through a rear door as flames shot through the room.

“Someone tried to go out the front door and the stairwell was on fire,” he said. “Flames raced in and across the ceiling. Buddy came running across the room, shouting ‘Follow me!’

“We had to go out a back door, onto a roof and down the stairs,” he said.  “I’m sure few other people knew about it.”

The Morning Advocate, on the second morning after, reports presence of national gay leaders Kight and Perry and focuses on MCC interim pastor killed in fire.
Source: The Morning Advocate, June 26, 1973.
Close Close