Memorial Services Held for N.O. Blaze Victims by Eric Newhouse
Gay leaders collected money Sunday to bury some of the 30 fatalities of the June 24th French Quarter fire, to aide the hospitalized and to build a church for homosexuals here.
More than 200 persons attended church services at St. Mark’s Methodist Church, during the “National Day of Mourning,” including Bishop Finis Crutchfield, bishop of the conference of Louisiana.
“The bishop should be commended for having the guts to be here today,” said the Rev. Troy Perry of Los Angeles.
Perry, founder of the Metropolitan Community Churches for homosexuals, said numerous New Orleans churches had refused to let the congregation use its facilities for public memorial services.
“We had been prepared to go out in the streets because we were turned away right and left by the Sunday Christians, who are even Christian on Sunday,” added Morty Manford, one of the founders of the Gay Activist Alliance in New York.
Just One Stigma
But he said that was just one of the stigmas of being homosexual.
“Many of our sisters and brothers who died at the Up Stairs Lounge bar were gay,” said Manford during the services.
“They knew what it was like to live in a condemning society where churches call us sinners, psychologists call us sick, legislators call us criminals, where capitalists denounce us as subversive and Communists denounce us a decadent,” he said.
“The irony of it is that we know we are living, feeling productive humans.”
Perry told the congregation he had visited the Up Stairs Lounge a year before the flash fire, because the Metropolitan Community Church here had used a back room of it at one time.
“It was no den of iniquity,” he said. “People were happy, they were smiling. There were not fistfights.”
According to people who were there last weekend, the last song they ever sang was the one they always sang at the end of Sunday brunch,” he added. “They all joined hands and sang ‘United We Stand, Divided We Fall.’”
During the final song, Perry broke in to tell the mourners that a local television station had disregarded his request and had set up cameras outside the church to film people leaving.
“For those of you who don’t want to be seen with us,” he added, “this door will take you out through the rear of the church.”
No one used the rear door.
“In light of the real fear of recrimination felt here, I’m jubilant,” said Perry after the services.