In a funeral home on the edge of the French Quarter, 12-year-old Patrick Schoen refused to accept his cousin’s dare to look inside the body bags that were lined up in the carriageway of the family business. His cousin was an embalmer, and the funeral home had received dozens of anonymous bodies of men who had died in an arson attack on a gay bar, the UpStairs Lounge, in New Orleans on June 24, 1973. Before the Orlando mass shooting in 2016, it had been the largest massacre of gay people in U.S. history, leaving 32 dead and 15 injured.
The history of this massacre has only been recently documented. I first came across details of it in 2006 when reading through brittle copies of 1970s newspapers at the William Way Community Center in Philadelphia, the only place that held gay sources in the city. I remember seeing a headline about a “blaze” in New Orleans that reporters compared to the Holocaust; but in 2006, there were no books at the Philadelphia Public Library about it, nor were there articles in the scholarly databases at Princeton, where I was teaching. In fact, in 2006, Google was in its infancy, and it produced no hits.