sappho psalm Volume 21/Issue 11/2003
by Toni Pizanie
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
Five years ago, Dexter Brecht, MCC pastor, and I made a commitment to memorialize the 32 people that died in the Upstairs Lounge Fire. As a committee of two, we worked to bring awareness to the fire's importance to our community. Dexter was able to interest some energetic individuals to work on this project: Jack Carrel, Will Carter and Donald St. Pierre. Now at the 30th anniversary of the fire, we find ourselves very close, perhaps two or three thousand dollars away, to completing our goal.
I would like to answer some questions that Iíve been asked in the last two weeks so that you will attend and feel comfortable and empowered by the memorial. The most asked question was, WHY so much money? Every year our costs have increased for the making of the plaque, construction to place the plaque, permit costs to the City, rental fee for a place to hold the memorial and if there are more costs, I donít know about them. What would have cost $4,000 five years ago, costs $7,000 today.
The most important question was, WHY remember it at all? Everyone on the committee this year has different reasons and rationalizations. The Upstairs Fire is to the New Orleansí Gay movement what Stonewall is to the National Gay movement. The people who died to bring attention to the lack of equality in New Orleans did so never knowing that they changed the face of how Gay men and women were going to allow main stream homophobia to affect us.
We didnít meet police head-on and fight for our rights with bricks and bottles. We met head-on every homophobic citizen of New Orleans to demand our dead be buried with the full God given rights that straight people never question. Churches locked their doors and the Christian religion founded on love turned its head. Two men of true faith took on the hatred and gave our brothers and sisters a place to worship. The bravest was the Reverend William Richardson of St. Georgeís Episcopal Church. Opening his church to the parents, friends and a needy Gay community, he shared love and kindness to be rewarded with the fury of his congregation and Bishop.
Days later Rev. Troy Perry, founder of the Metropolitan Community Church, flew into New Orleans to assist with the healing. St. Markís United Methodist Church allowed Perry to hold a memorial service. He worked to join the cityís residents by granting television and radio interviews to explain the place of the Christian church in the Gay community.
That is a generalized explanation of why. Personally the why was guilt back in 1998 when I worked on the 25th anniversary. Twenty-five years earlier while still in the closet, I refused to attend the memorials. I told Gay acquaintances, I didnít know anyone that died. Why attend? The truth is that I was frightened. My female partner had taken a prestigious job in Ohio leaving me without a buffer. My male partner and I divorced because he and his lover wanted a baby. I didnít. There was my great job as department head of accounting for a national firm. And, I was purchasing my first house. I didnít want my being a Lesbian to mess up my future.
Today my answer to why is much more positive. I love being a Lesbian and I am proud of my GLBT community. I am thankful that these 32 individuals lead the way for me to stand up for who I am.
I thank the community for their favorable response to the 30th anniversary. Only one bitter old queen was rude when I asked if he was going to support the event. All he could think of was his money. To him and anyone that thinks like him, I have only pity and sorrow because the gifts of $5, $10 and $20 from people on social security disability are my newest heroes today.
This is an open invitation to all caring people of New Orleans. Please share a day of remembrance on Sun., June 22, 12:30pm, at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Canal Street, Lafayette Room. After a brief and positive service we will walk to Iberville and Chartres to view the Memorial Plaque. Everyone is asked to join us back at the Ritz for lunch at 2:30. The cost is $15. Mayor Nagin will join us for lunch and to celebrate the placement of the plaque.
It is our history. Donít lose it or let someone steel it from us. It has had an effect on us all no matter what your age or level of activity in the GLBT community. Support the Memorial with your presence.
We remember those that perished:
Joe William Bailey & Clarence Joseph McCloskey, Jr., partners;
Duane George "Mitch" Mitchell & Louis Horace Broussard, partners - Mitch was the MCC assistant pastor;
Mrs. Willie Inez Warren & sons, Eddie Hosea Warren & James Curtis Warren;
Rev. William R. Larson, MCC pastor, formerly a Methodist lay minister;
Dr. Perry Lane Waters, Jr., dentist - some victims were identified by his patientsí x-rays;
Douglas Maxwell Williams;
Leon Richard Maples, a visitor from Florida;
George Steven Matyi;
Reginald Adams, Jr., MCC member, partner of entertainer Regina Adams;
James Walls Hambrick;
Horace "Skip" Getchell, MCC member;
Joseph Henry Adams;
Herbert Dean Cooley, MCC member and Upstairs Lounge bartender;
David Stuart Gary, professional pianist;
Guy D. Anderson;
Donald Walter Dunbar;
John Thomas Golding, Sr., MCC member and Pastorís Advisory Group;
Adam Roland Fontenot, professional linguist - survived by Douglas "Buddy" Rasmussen, who led a group to safety;
Gerald Hoyt Gordon;
Kenneth Paul Harrington, Federal government employee;
Glenn Richard "Dick" Green, Navy veteran;
Robert "Bob" Lumpkin;
Ferris LeBlanc, Unknown White Male, Unknown White Male & Unknown White Male - these four men were buried in Potters Field after the City refused to release the bodies to MCC for burial.
For more information, contact Rev. Dexter Brecht of the New Orleans Metropolitan Community Church at 504.945.5390.
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