VOLUME 4 NO. 7
FOUR YEARS OF SERVICE TO THE GAY COMMUNITY
After The Fire^yjp stairs..
by Bin Rushton
Associated Press reporter Eric Newhouse stood
nervously on the front steps of the Metropolitan
Community Church Monday afternoon, wringing his
hands and grimacing as he asked whom he could interview about the fire at the Up Stairs Bar the night
Members of the fire-stricken congregation eyed
Newhouse with equal, if somewhat dazed and wearied,
reserve. After staying up all night together, after contacting friends and relatives of two dozen dead and
missing (including their own minister, the Rev. William Larson, the much-photographed body burned in
the Chartres Street window), they found Monday's
news coverage turned largely on the indelicate phrase
"hang-out for homosexuals." They found their tragedy compounded by an unprecedented Police Department statement in an equally unprecedented
article in the Monday States-Item that alleged that
"thieves" hung out with those helpless homosexuals,
all of them trapped together in a burning hell on a
Sunday afternoon that left their charred bodies
"stacked like pancakes."
But Newhouse persisted, worming his way into
the faded turquoise double-parlor of the shotgun
double near Coliseum Square that MCC calls its
New Orleans home. Under a faded religious print
over the mantle, seated on two aluminum and green
plastic lawn chairs facing the rest of the occupants of
the room, Newhouse had his interview with Courtney
Craighead, senior deacon of the MCC congregation
and one of the surviving escapees of Sunday's blaze.
"Well, what kind of a man was he," opened New-
house, probing for the real story about William Larson, deceased clergyman of the only Christian denomination in this country that dares openly minister to gay people.
"Well," began Craighead, "he believed in freedom
and love, because he wanted the right of the individual to make his own choice." Deacon Craighead's
remembrances continued for a sentence or two before
Newhouse broke in for another question—
"What was he doing at the 6ar?"
Suddenly aware he had stepped a bit too far,
Newhouse lamely retreated: "Had he made arrangements to go see friends?"
Craighead recoiled: "Oh . . . ," he paused.
"1 don't know . . . ."
The interview didn't last much longer, because
soon WWL was also knocking at the door. There
was a noticeable increase in tension.
No cameras inside, please, pleaded Craighead.
(One survivor had already lost his job as a result
of the inflammatory publicity.) And please, no film
or snapshots of our memorial service at St. George's
Episcopal Church later that evening, either. The congregation, its friends, and mourning lovers would prefer to remember their dead with no further damage
or losses ....
Monday morning, in one of the bars along Iberville
Street that caters to hustlers and sailors and an occasional conventioneer, a drunk and tattooed witness
of the fire has just hustled me for a whiskey and
coke. "Once again we've been used," he muttered,
tottering on his bar stool and staring wet-eyed at the
tourist throngs crowding the glass-strewn and bloodied sidewalks of Iberville at the Chartres Street corner. "That's okay," he snarled, "it's just faggots
He turned, slowly: "Gay people just got ripped
off for 45 lives." And then, a bit more angrily, looking toward the crowds again, "You can go into any
goddam place and find a ho-mo-sexual."
He fumbled with the States-Item page open to the
burned body in the window, moving it back and forth
in front of himself as if the picture might suddenly
change or go away.
"He caught the windowsill on fire."
Looking up at me again: "The smell of that
And pausing, looking down again, pulling up at
his shirt. "I've been stabbed," he pointed, "and shot,"
he pointed again, "and you can outrun those mothers.
But you can't outrun flames."
He slumped over the bar again, gripping his whiskey almost enough to break the glass.
"Hey ... look ...," he began anew, leaning near.