After UpStairs Lounge Fire At New Orleans Gay Bar, An Unwavering Resolve: 'We Never Ran Away' Before the Orlando shooting, the deadliest attack on LGBT people in the U.S. happened at a New Orleans gay bar. Decades later, a pastor recalls the fire's brutal — but, somehow, hopeful — aftermath.
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Out Of Ashes, An Unwavering Resolve: 'That's The Legacy. We Never Ran Away'

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Out Of Ashes, An Unwavering Resolve: 'That's The Legacy. We Never Ran Away'

Out Of Ashes, An Unwavering Resolve: 'That's The Legacy. We Never Ran Away'

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And it's time now for StoryCorps. Before this month's shooting in Orlando, the deadliest attack on LGBT people in the U.S. happened at the UpStairs Lounge, a gay bar in New Orleans. On this date in 1973, someone set fire to that bar in the French Quarter, killing 32 people. No one was ever charged with the crime.

Many of those killed were attending a meeting of the Metropolitan Community Church, a gay church founded in Los Angeles by Reverend Troy Perry. After the fire, Perry traveled to New Orleans. And when he recorded a StoryCorps interview several years ago, he talked about what he found there.

TROY PERRY: When we got to New Orleans, we heard the stories. Buddy Rasmussen, the bartender, got everybody out. And he was the real hero of the fire, but he lost his partner. I remember going to the hospitals. One of them, a school teacher, burned so badly, he said, well, the school board had just called me to tell me I'm fired from my job - who'd gotten a phone call while he's laying in the burn unit. He said, can you help me find a job? I said, absolutely. He was burned so bad, I couldn't imagine him living. I said, absolutely, don't you worry. He died the next day.

So I said, I'm not going anywhere until I hold a service for these people. But I'm trying to find a church. I called denominations and asked them. People laughed in my face. People hung up on me. But somebody said, there's a Methodist church here you may want to talk to. And so immediately, I called the pastor. And he said, you have my permission. We had no idea if anybody would show up. But you know something? They did.

They completely filled that Methodist church - standing room only. And then I had to tell them there are cameras set up across the street. I've just found out. But there's a way you can get out of here. And that's to walk down this hallway, and there's a door that'll take you out into the alley. But nobody left by the back door. And that's the legacy. We never ran away.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Reverend Troy Perry, remembering the aftermath of the fire at New Orleans UpStairs Lounge in 1973. His interview is housed at the Library of Congress.

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