The Upstairs Lounge Fire


Memorial Service in New Orleans Paper

Cleric Says Oppression a Problem for Homosexuals

Memorial Service Held for Fire Victims by Chris Segura

The voice of gay activist minister Rev. Mr. Troy Perry abandoned for a moment its sorrowful monotone.

Instead, the voice gathered power and with righteousness boomed, “As long as one brother or sister in this country is oppressed it’s our problem.”

Similarly, he said such names as “faggots, queers, freaks” are “labels (which) will never put me down.”

The founder of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches continued preaching at a memorial services for the 30 victims who perished in last Sunday’s French Quarter fire by saying,

“I’m telling you you can have dignity as a human being and hold your head high.”

The services at St. Mark’s Methodist Church, 1130 N. Rampart St., was conducted by the Rev. Mr. Perry and other ministers in the church founded for gay people.

The other ministers are: John Gill, of Atlanta, Ga., Paul Breton of Washington, D.C. and Lucien Baril of New Orleans.

Morty Manford, a member of the Gay Activist Alliance in New York, also participated in the service.

The Rev.  Mr. Perry told the gathered mourners, including the Rev. Mr. Finis Crutchfield, Methodist bishop of the conference of Louisiana, they should consider the living in their future efforts as well as mourn the dead.

In this vein a collection was taken to build a new church for gay persons and to defray the costs of funerals for those victims who were destitute or near destitute.

The Rev. Mr. Breton said the assembled mourners should become “living memorials” so that those who perished would “not have alone or in vain.” 

Social Stigma

He also commented that those who had died would never again be subjected to the “branding or the social stigma of name-calling.”

Manford said, “Many of the sisters and brothers who died at the Up Stairs (604 Iberville St.) bar were gay.

“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 as decadent.”

“The irony of it is that we know we are living, feeling, productive humans.”

The Rev. Mr. Perry said witnesses to the fire and the events which preceded it told him the last “song they sang that night” was entitled “United we stand, divided we fall.”

He became tearful as he read the words of the song—“and if our backs are ever against the wall, we will be together…”

A plea was also made for blood donations for the victims, two of whom still remain in serious condition at Charity Hospital’s new burns facility.

Near the end of the service, the Rev. Mr. Breton said, “We need a time, a time to be quiet and think and to say to God what is deepest in our hearts, and for God to say to use what we so need to hear…”

A final hymn was begun but interrupted by the Rev. Mr. Perry who said television cameras had been set up outside the church and anyone not wanting to be photographed could leave through a rear exit.

There were protestations from the crowd. Several persons said they should all leave together and at least one said the television cameras had been taken away. The activists had requested no press coverage with cameras.

The Rev. Mr. Perry said he felt sure that most of the persons there—men, women and children in arms—would want to leave through the front door, but in case there were those who would be embarrassed to be photographed, there was an “escape hatch.”

The mourners sang the last verse of the hymn over again and, with the existence of press cameras outside the church still in doubt, they all filed out.

No one was seen leaving through the rear.      

The Times-Picayune also produced a thoughtful account of the July 1st memorial service.
Source: The Times-Picayune, July 2, 1973.
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