Strange Fruit: ‘Tracking Fire’ Documentary Tells Story of Deadly Anti-LGBTQ Attack in 1973

It’s one of the deadliest attacks on LGBTQ people in U.S. history – and even if you’re an activist or scholar, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of it.

 

Louisville filmmaker Sheri L. Wright is bringing a story to light that can be difficult to hear. If you’re up on your history, you know that in this country’s history, it’s often been unsafe for LGBTQ folks to gather and socialize. We all know about the bar raids and wrongful arrests that are part of our story.

In her new documentary now in progress, Tracking Fire, Wright tells the story of the Upstairs Lounge, a gay bar in New Orleans. In June of 1973, as the city was concluding its very first Pride celebration, someone set fire to the club, killing over 30 people who were inside. Security bars on the windows made escape difficult – there was one back way out that wasn’t widely known about.

In the days following the fire, some suspected investigators weren’t being as thorough as they should have (in fact, no one was ever convicted of the crime, though there was a credible suspect). Remains were left publicly visible for longer than necessary. Some families of the victims never came forward to identify their loved ones and claim the bodies. The media did little reporting on the crime. Clergy were largely unwilling to perform memorial services, and the one who did was sanctioned by his church and received hate mail.

In short, the lives of these gay and lesbian New Orleanians did not seem to have much value. That’s why Wright said she felt it was so important for their stories to be told. “The more that I looked into this, the more outraged I became,” she explained. “These people [...] needed to be acknowledged.”

Wright joined us this week to tell us about the project, where her crew is with production, and how we can keep up with and support their efforts.

In our Juicy Fruit segment this week, we talked about donning our “fun” apparel for the holidays, and how Target recently became one of the largest retailers to “ban the box,” or refrain from asking about criminal history on initial job applications.

Laura Ellis

Laura is the producer of Strange Fruit, a weekly talk show focusing on race and gender, and produces other news & feature programming.

@funambulator

Comments