The New Orleans City Council recently acknowledged October as National LGBT History Month by hearing a presentation on New Orleans’ queer history and passing a resolution honoring that history.
The resolution was authored by At-large Councilmember J.P. Morrell, who invited Frank Perez, Executive Director of the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana, to provide the full council a brief survey of that history. On October 6, Perez testified before the City Council about the heretofore unrecognized contributions LGBT+ people have made to New Orleans’ culture and history. He also spoke of the city’s homophobia, especially in the 1950s and 1960s.
Perez’s testimony was accompanied by a slide show which highlighted pictures and quotes from Mayor Morrison’s “Committee on the Problem of Sex Deviates,” which explicitly suggested the city adopt “a climate of hostility” toward homosexuals. There was also a quote from the police superintendent in 1955 who stated “Homosexuals are the city’s number one vice problem. They are the ones we want to get rid of most.” Morrison served as mayor from 1946 to 1961.
Perez also testified about the homophobic violence engendered by this “climate of hostility.” He specifically cited the case of Fernando Rios, who was murdered in the French Quarter in 1958 for being gay. The three assailants were arrested and went to trial on murder charges. When the “Not Guilty” verdict was read, the courtroom erupted in applause.
Councilmembers seemed genuinely shocked to learn precisely how homophobic the city government was in those years. After a period of questions and comments from the Councilmembers, the resolution was passed unanimously. Perez thanked the Council, noting, “Your action today provides a small measure of healing for the lingering wounds the city inflicted on our community so many years ago.”
Morrell also authored two resolutions earlier this year regarding the UpStairs Lounge—one apologizing for the city’s less than sympathetic reaction to that horrific tragedy in 1973 and another urging the Mayor and her administration to cut through the red tape and locate the remains of Ferris LeBlanc and three other unidentified bodies who perished in the fire and were buried in a Potter’s Field.
Watch Mr. Perez’s presentation at the #NOLACityCouncil’s YouTube page
View the resolution at https://cityofno.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=&event_id=23309&meta_id=601061