In 1973, thirty people died in an attack on a US gay bar… and everyone laughed about it
The world is in mourning in the wake of the Orlando gay club massacre – but the last time this happened, the response couldn’t have been more different.
The Orlando attack is the worst mass killing of LGBT people in US history, with 49 dead and more than 50 injured.
However, it is not the first time that a gay bar has been targeted in the US, and it is not the first time that dozens died.
Back in June 1973, the UpStairs Lounge in New Orleans – a popular local gay bar – was set on fire during the city’s Pride celebrations.
At the time of the attack, the pro-LGBT Metropolitan Community Church had been holding a dinner inside the third-floor club, when barman Luther Boggs discovered an intentionally-set fire at the only entrance.
As the blaze spread inside, some of the patrons managed to escape – but others were trapped inside. In total, 32 mainly-LGBT people died from the fire and from smoke inhalation.
But there was no mass mourning like Orlando.
The President at the time, Richard Nixon, did not lead the nation in condemning the attack as Obama has done this month.
No government official said a single word about the tragedy.
And no-one was ever prosecuted over the attack.
To this day, the cause of the attack is listed as “undetermined origin” – and a former patron of the bar who was suspected of carrying out the attack was never charged.
Instead, the media led a wave of crude innuendo and foul jokes.
One radio host quipped: “What will they bury the ashes of queers in? Fruit jars.”
Another popular ‘joke’: “What major happened in New Orleans on June 24? That only thirty faggots died – not more!”
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It was far from the last attack.
The neo-Nazi bombing of London’s Admiral Duncan pub in 1999 killed three people and injured 70.
Just last month, seven people died in a gay bar in Mexico, when an attacker opened fire.
To quote President Obama, “If there was ever a moment for all of us to reflect and reaffirm our most basic beliefs that everybody counts and everybody has dignity, now is the time.”
That time was also in 1973. It’s just that this time, people are starting to pay attention.