The Workhouse was a really neat idea, Tony. Perhaps that needs to be reinvented too.
As I read Greg Herren’s Murder in the Rue Chartres (Alyson 2007) I couldn’t help thinking the central incident, the actual murder, had a ring of truth to it, though the book’s account of who did it and why is clearly fiction. I was right.
Although New Orleans had long been home to a large gay population, it was slower than most other American cities to produce a gay political movement. Partly this was due to being a rather small, conservative city dominated by the Roman Catholic Church.
But there was another factor that had a chilling effect on gay visibility. For New York, 1969 was the year of the Stonewall riots. For New Orleans, 1969 was the year District Attorney Jim Garrison brought prominent gay businessman Clay Shaw to trial, charging him with conspiring to assassinate President John F. Kennedy. Shaw was perceived as a particularly vulnerable target because of his homosexuality.
Although Shaw was eventually acquitted of all charges, the experience destroyed his life. The targeting of Shaw had the effect of reminding gay and lesbian citizens of their vulnerability even in a place as famous for its live-and-let-live attitude as New Orleans.
Local gay political activism nevertheless emerged in 1970 with the short-lived Gay Liberation Front of New Orleans…
Tragedy and Protest
Two years after the Gay Liberation Front came and went, very little visible community structure was in place when, on June 24, 1973, a fire engulfed the Upstairs Lounge, a French Quarter gay bar. The deadliest fire in the city’s long history, it killed 32 people.
The horror of the Upstairs fire was compounded by the undisguised homophobia of the time. Some churches refused to allow funerals for the victims, and some parents refused to claim the bodies of their children for burial.
The tragedy, however, did motivate a handful of activists who launched another publication, Causeway, and established a Gay Crisis Phone Line.
But gay activism in New Orleans did not mobilize substantial numbers until June 1977, when Anita Bryant arrived to perform in concert…