Showing posts with label NYC. Show all posts
Showing posts with label NYC. Show all posts

June 8, 2019

NYC Police Commissioner Apologizes For The Actions of Police in 1969 Outside a Gay Bar

Crowds near the Stonewall Inn several days after the raid on June 29, 1969.
Larry Morris/The New York Time

By Michael Gold and Derek M. Norma (New York Times)

The commissioner, James O’Neill, said he was sorry on behalf of the New York Police Department for officers’ actions during a seminal 1969 clash outside a gay bar.

The violent police raid at the Stonewall Inn in New York City in 1969 is widely regarded as a seminal event in the gay rights movement. But police officials had long refused to admit that officers’ behavior and the raid itself were not justified, leaving a rift between law enforcement and gay-rights supporters that seemed to deepen distrust over the years.

On Thursday, as people around the world began commemorating the 50th anniversary of the clash, New York’s police commissioner took a step toward making amends, issuing an unusual official apology on behalf of the Police Department for the actions of officers during the Stonewall uprising.

“The actions taken by the N.Y.P.D. were wrong — plain and simple,” the commissioner, James P. O’Neill, said during an event at Police Headquarters.

It was an admission that gay rights leaders said was momentous and unexpected, if overdue.

“To have the N.Y.P.D. commissioner make these very explicit remarks apologizing, it’s really moving,” said Corey Johnson, the City Council speaker, who is gay and who had a day earlier called for a police apology. 
Still, some cautioned the Police Department that its future actions needed to back up its words.

“The history of police violence and criminalization of L.G.B.T.Q. people sadly continues to this day,” said Richard Saenz, an attorney at Lambda Legal, a national civil rights organization.

Politicians and gay rights leaders had stepped up their calls for Mr. O’Neill to apologize in recent months, urging a public reckoning as New York hosts World Pride, a global gathering that is taking place in the city this year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising.

During a safety briefing related to World Pride at Police Headquarters, the commissioner offered the formal apology that Police Department officials, including Mr. O’Neill himself, had said for years was unnecessary.

“I think it would be irresponsible to go through World Pride month, not to speak of the events at the Stonewall Inn in June of 1969,” Mr. O’Neill said. “I do know what happened should not have happened.” 
“The actions and the laws were discriminatory and oppressive, and for that, I apologize,” he added.
The auditorium erupted in applause.
New York’s police commissioner, James P. O’Neill, apologized on Thursday on behalf of the Police Department for officers’ actions during the Stonewall rebellion. 

The Stonewall uprising began shortly after midnight on June 28, 1969, when officers with the now-defunct Public Morals Squad raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village.

The police said they had arrived to disperse the bar’s patrons because the Stonewall Inn had violated liquor laws. Eight officers and an inspector arrived at the club and ordered about 200 people to line up and show their identification. Some were asked to submit to anatomical inspections.

The officers’ behavior that night would quickly become a stain on the department and an electrifying force for the L.G.B.T. movement.

“They came to the bar. They slammed people against the wall. They shoved people, and they hurled insults that you can probably imagine,” said Mark Segal, 68, who participated in the protests that night.    

Stonewall patrons, fed up with longstanding harassment at the hands of law enforcement, pushed back.

As officers conducted the raid, a crowd gathered outside, shouting “gay power.” Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who were forced out of the bar that night taunted the police. Some threw bottles and stones.

The ensuing clash lasted for about an hour, but days of street protests followed, resulting in arrests, injuries, and property damage.
Celebrations followed a rebellion that lasted for several days.
Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images 
Celebrations followed a rebellion that lasted for several days.CreditFred W. McDarrah/Getty Images
Mr. O’Neill’s comments signaled a remarkable moment in the city’s history, a long-awaited acknowledgment of the Police Department’s role in harassing gays in past decades.

In the 1960s, it was common for the police to raid gay bars, arrest cross-dressers and harass customers, often on the pretext of cracking down on prostitution or other organized crime activities. 

Over time, the department’s attitudes toward L.G.B.T. people have shifted, but anti-gay attitudes remained rampant in the police force for decades after the Stonewall uprising. In 1978, the president of the city’s largest police union said in an op-ed in The New York Times that having gay police officers was an “unworkable” idea.

As social attitudes and norms changed, so did the Police Department. In a watershed moment in 1982, Sgt. Charles H. Cochrane started the first Gay Officers Action League chapter, an association of gay police officers.

The department now boasts of hundreds of L.G.B.T. officers in its ranks, and since 1996, gay police officers have marched in uniform in New York City’s pride parade — an event that started to commemorate the uprising at Stonewall.

In his remarks on Thursday, Mr. O’Neill proclaimed that times had drastically changed since the raid.

“I vow to the L.G.B.T.Q. community that this would never happen in the N.Y.P.D. in 2019,” Mr. O’Neill said. “We have, and we do, embrace all New Yorkers.”

The Police Department had resisted calls for an apology in the past. In 2016, at a news conference discussing security for that year’s Pride March, William J. Bratton, the commissioner at the time, said he did not believe an apology was necessary.

The following year, a day after the Pride March, Mr. O’Neill also declined to apologize. “I think that’s been addressed already,” he said. “We’re moving forward.” 

Still, allegations of bias have persisted in the department.

“A lot more action has to be done to undo the history of discrimination and current N.Y.P.D. practices,” said Tina Luongo, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society.

In 2017, an internal watchdog found that the city’s police officers still lacked proper training in how to interact with L.G.B.T. victims and complainants.

A lawsuit filed in January by a transgender woman accused police officers of ridiculing her during her arrest and charging her with incorrectly filling out her gender on an official form.

Mr. Saenz said that transgender people, especially transgender women of color, were particularly vulnerable to police misconduct.

A national survey of nearly 28,000 transgender Americans conducted in 2015 found that 58 percent of respondents had experienced some form of mistreatment by police.

Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement that she believed those police officers in New York continued to harass and abuse transgender people.

“The N.Y.P.D. must commit itself to the true change in practices and policies necessary to address the crisis of violence facing transgender people,” she said. 

Even so, she thanked Mr. O’Neill for his apology.

At the Stonewall Inn, now a national monument, dozens of people were present on Thursday paying homage to the history that had taken place there.

Stacy Lentz, 49, a co-owner of the Stonewall Inn since 2006, called Mr. O’Neill’s remarks a strong first step toward improving relationships between the police and the L.G.B.T. community.

“For the police commissioner to apologize like that — it’s just incredible,” Ms. Lentz said.

But she said there was room for improvement.

“The battle that was started here is not over,” she added. “But today was about visibility, and visibility saves lives.”

Ali Watkins contributed reporting.

December 28, 2018

9pm, Suddenly Parts of NYC Turned Unnatural Blue, People Thought It was A UFO or The 2d Coming

An explosion at a Con Edison substation caused the New York sky to turn blue. Social media users from across the city posted videos of the eerie light, with some fearing an alien invasion.There was a boom; then a hum. The lights flickered. A giant plume of smoke filled the New York City sky around 9:12 p.m., and turned it blue.

The New York Times

 “A sort of unnatural, fluorescent shade of blue,” said Bill San Antonio, 28, who was watching Thursday night from inside a terminal at La Guardia Airport.

“We thought it was a U.F.O.,” said Yiota Androtsakis, a longtime Astoria resident.

Ms. Androtsakis was not the only one. In the earliest moments, hundreds of Twitter users from across the city posted videos of the eerie lights, causing many on social media to fear an alien invasion.
By late Thursday night officials said the event was caused by nothing more than a transformer explosion.

 “No injuries, no fire, no evidence of extraterrestrial activity,” the New York Police Department tweeted, adding later that the explosion was not suspicious. There was one Con Edison employee nearby when the fire started, and the authorities said he was unharmed.

Still, Deputy Inspector Osvaldo Nuñez, the commanding officer of the 114th Precinct, conceded that the episode “was spectacular.”

“You could see it from the precinct, and the precinct is about a half-mile away,” he said. “You felt it in your chest, the explosions, and the night sky turned an electric blue.”
All the excitement caused plenty of problems. Inspector Nuñez said the bright lights and loud bangs caused a surge of 911 calls, with residents reporting explosions and one person calling in a plane crash.

The power went down briefly at La Guardia Airport, forcing a ground stop and causing delays. And the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said in a tweet that No. 7 train service had been disrupted by the power failures. 

Even the Rikers Island prison complex, which houses about 10,000 inmates, lost power for about 25 minutes, according to a woman who answered the phone at the North Infirmary Command.

“There’s been confusion pretty much from the start,” said Mr. San Antonio, who was waiting to board a flight to Dallas when the power went out at La Guardia. After the power came back on, he got a text message. His flight had been canceled.

Philip O’Brien, a spokesman for Con Edison, at the site of the explosion in Astoria, Queens. La Guardia Airport was briefly shut down when the power went out there.
In a statement on Twitter, Con Edison said there had been “a brief electrical fire” at one of its substations in Astoria, “which involved some electrical transformers and caused a transmission dip in the area.” Mayor Bill de Blasio said the blue light was caused by an electrical surge at the substation.

On Twitter, utility officials apologized to dozens of alarmed customers, saying they were “aware of this situation.” Although power failures were reported in parts of Jackson Heights, the utility said late Thursday that “all power lines serving the area are in service and the system is stable.”
Nonetheless, residents on Thursday night were shaken. Ms. Androtsakis said she heard the “weird noise” even through closed windows; after it ceased, she said, she could still hear it in her ears.

The lights were so bright, she added, that in some places an otherwise dark night was as bright as day.

“It was scary,” said Ms. Androtsakis’s neighbor, Mickey, who declined to give his last name. “It was like something from outer space like we were invaded.” 

Closer to the power plant, Peter Dipietrantonio said he and his girlfriend heard a bang and then saw a “green aura” fill his window. Moments later, he said, he saw people rushing away on the street.

“Once we saw people running, we decided to get out,” he said. His girlfriend, Dana Jefferson, stood on the street, carrying the duffel bag she had quickly packed. “She was ready to go,” he said.

December 12, 2018

In A Gay Hate Crime A 20 Yr Old Young Lady Was Pushed From Behind Causing Broken Spine

The New York City Police Department is asking for the public's assistance in ascertaining the whereabouts of an unidentified male
The New York City Police Department is asking for the public's assistance in ascertaining the whereabouts of an unidentified male who fled the train and the subway system at the Forest Hills 71 Avenue station in the Queens borough of New York.NYPD
By Tim Fitzsimons

A 20-year-old woman was hospitalized and suffered a broken spine after being attacked in the subway by a man using anti-gay slurs, according to the New York City Police Department. 
“The unidentified male used a slur based upon his interpretation of the victim's sexual orientation,” the NYPD said in an emailed statement to NBC News. “As the victim walked away from the unidentified male, he approached from behind, punched the victim in the back of her head and shoved her to the ground, causing her to strike her head.” 
Police said the man fled the scene of the Nov. 30 crime, exiting the subway system at a stop in Forest Hills, a neighborhood in the borough of Queens. The NYPD released a video clip and image of the suspect and is now seeking the public’s help in identifying him. Police described him as “black, 5'11", 220lbs, and 50-60 years old.”
The New York Daily News provided additional details about the attack, reporting that the suspect became incensed after he saw the victim kiss another woman aboard the E train in Queens, adding that he then called the victim a “dyke” before physically assaulting her.
The NYPD Hate Crime Task Force is investigating the incident, and police are requesting that anyone with information about the identity of the attacker call 1-800-577-8477, visit or tweet at @NYPDTips. 
This latest incident comes just weeks after a Queens man was charged with several hate crimes after allegedly beating two gay men unconscious in Brooklyn. The suspect, Brandon McNamara, faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
Hate crimes against LGBTQ people in the U.S. continued to rise in 2017, jumping 3 percent from the year prior, according to hate crimes data released by the FBI last month. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people make up more than 16 percent of all hate crime victims, according to the FBI’s report, despite comprising an estimated 4.5 percent of the general population.


November 19, 2018

Di Blasio Fires Police Investigations Chief (He Got Weinstein) Over Abuse of Power

                               Image result for Chief Mark Peters,

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday took the extraordinary step of firing his embattled investigations commissioner, Mark G. Peters, the culmination of a fierce rivalry between the two powerful men.
It was a rare and consequential action by a mayor to remove an investigations commissioner: The position is understood to come with a large degree of independence that allows impartial scrutiny of all areas of government, including the executive branch.
But the relationship between Mr. Peters and the mayor had severely deteriorated over time, and the last straw was an independent investigator’s report that found that Mr. Peters had abused his powerand mistreated underlings, and said that he was “cavalier with the truth.”
Mr. de Blasio will name Margaret Garnett, the state’s executive deputy attorney general for criminal justice and a former federal prosecutor, to replace Mr. Peters at the Department of Investigation. Her appointment must be approved by the City Council.
Mr. Peters had produced numerous investigative reports that exposed significant failings in city agencies that were highly embarrassing to Mr. de Blasio, including lapses in performing lead paint inspections at the New York City Housing Authority, and the lifting of deed restrictions on a Lower East Side nursing home that permitted its sale to a developer of luxury condominiums.
Mr. de Blasio on Friday said those investigations did not influence his decision.
“D.O.I. is meant to be critical of city agencies,” Mr. de Blasio said at a news conference, before delineating the “mistakes and abuses of power” detailed in the independent report on Mr. Peters. “The D.O.I. commissioner is supposed to be the most pristine of all.”
Mr. de Blasio said that he was not influenced by any continuing investigations. Mr. Peters had begun an investigation into whether City Hall sought to influence a review of the educational quality at some Jewish religious schools.
He also said, however, that he regretted hiring Mr. Peters in the first place.
Mr. Peters said in a brief statement that he would issue a fuller written response to his firing in coming days. He said that under his direction the department “exposed corruption and misconduct and forced serious systematic reforms in multiple agencies.”
But in an email to his staff sent about two hours after he was fired, Mr. Peters suggested that the mayor fired him to prevent him from carrying out investigations.
He wrote that he did not want his staff to take the firing as a defeat, “but rather as proof that the excellent work you do makes a difference — indeed, so much of a difference that “it appears the mayor felt compelled to act.”
The City Charter says the mayor has the power to remove the investigation commissioner, as long as he gives an accounting of his reasons for the firing and allows the commissioner “an opportunity of making a public explanation.”
The mayor prepared a one-page written statement that cited the independent investigator’s conclusions, including that Mr. Peters had conducted himself “in a manner indicating a lack of concern for following the law,” had made “deliberately misleading statements” in testimony before the City Council, and had engaged in “intimidating and abusive behavior.”
Margaret GarnettCreditNYC Mayor’s Office
Margaret GarnettCreditNYC Mayor’s Office

It said Mr. Peters’s removal would take effect after three business days, a period ending Wednesday that is apparently intended to allow time for Mr. Peters to make the public explanation mentioned in the City Charter.
Mr. Peters fell far and hard. A longtime friend of the mayor, he served as the treasurer for Mr. de Blasio’s 2013 mayoral campaign. When Mr. de Blasio appointed him as the commissioner of the Department of Investigation, the choice was greeted with skepticism, with critics asking whether someone so close to the mayor would be independent enough to pursue investigations into the administration.
Mr. Peters ultimately quieted those critics with a series of hard-nosed reports, such as the exposure of failings at the housing authority and a recent report highly critical of the Police Department’s sex crimes unit.
Mr. de Blasio often took issue with the findings and defended agency heads who came under Mr. Peters’s scrutiny.
But Mr. Peters finally overreached: Earlier this year, he staged a takeover of an independent office that conducts investigations of the school system. When the head of the office, Anastasia C. Coleman, resisted the takeover, Mr. Peters fired her.
She then filed a whistle-blower complaint, which led to the appointment of an independent investigator: James G. McGovern, a former federal prosecutor.
Mr. de Blasio had considered firing Mr. Peters at the time but decided against it; city officials seemed leery of the possible backlash over firing an investigator who had taken a critical look at the mayor’s governance.
The McGovern report, which was completed in early October, finally gave the mayor the impetus and evidence to force Mr. Peters out.
The City Council was a strong ally of Mr. Peters in his clashes with the mayor’s office, especially under the current Council speaker, Corey Johnson. But the whistle-blower report undermined that support, including the allegations that Mr. Peters had misled the Council.
Mr. Johnson provided a statement on Friday that credited Mr. Peters for exposing “significant issues” at the housing authority and in other agencies, but said “the McGovern report raised questions about his ability to continue in his role.”
But the chairman of the Council’s committee on oversight and investigations, Ritchie Torres, praised Mr. Peters for his independence, adding that he “strongly disagreed” with the firing.
Mr. de Blasio, in a statement released after the dismissal, thanked Mr. Peters for his service but saved his praise for Ms. Garnett.
“Margaret has spent decades protecting the public’s interest, prosecuting criminals both inside and outside of government,” he said.

July 18, 2018

Cop Leaned Over Urinal At Grand Central and Took a Look a Man's Genital and Busted Him

                                                                                                                             👀 👮
 Men's Room at Grand Central (built 1934)

A man who was busted by an MTA police officer while using a urinal in Grand Central Terminal in April 2017 has sued, claiming false arrest. (Susan Watts / New York Daily News)

A Harlem man claims an MTA cop “leaned over and looked at” his genitals at a urinal – before arresting him on bogus allegations of indecent exposure, new court papers allege. 

William Campbell was using the restroom at Grand Central Terminal about 10:40 p.m. on April 17, 2017, when a “man using the urinal next to petitioner leaned over and looked at petitioner's penis,” he claimed in Manhattan Supreme Court papers filed late Friday. Campbell “pushed the man away,” but the stranger jumped on him and said “What are you doing, you f------g f----t?” his state civil lawsuit alleges.
Campbell said “nothing,” and the man then called him a “dirty h—o,” court papers claim.

The man, who turned out to be a Metropolitan Transportation Authority cop, cuffed Campbell so tightly his “wrists bled.”

The cop then shouted to another officer “another pee-pee case” while leading Campbell out of the restroom, court papers charge.

Campbell was taken to Midtown South Precinct stationhouse and charged with endangering the welfare of a child, criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree, exposure of a person and public lewdness.

The criminal complaint “falsely stated that there were children in the restroom at the time petitioner was using the urinal, there were no children in the area; that petitioner unlawfully exposed his penis, he did not, he was using the urinal; and that petitioner was carrying in his backpack a knife with a 10-inch blade, he was not in possession of a knife,” Campbell’s suit says.

Because Campbell couldn’t immediately make the $1,000 bail ordered at his arraignment, he spent 72 hours in lockup. After repeated court appearances, and a trial, Campbell was cleared, he said.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office said this case is sealed, so official information on the outcome is not available.
Campbell, who claims he suffered an “unlawful arrest,” is seeking unspecified damages.

Asked for comment, MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said, “We cannot comment on the specifics of this case or any pending litigation. MTA police officers are vital to maintaining a safe environment for Metro-North customers and all who visit Grand Central.”


June 30, 2018

New York City Gave Me The Courage to Come Out As a Gay Man

James Lambert 

James Lambert: ‘It took me time to be okay with who I am.’
 ‘It took me time to be okay with who I am.’ 

This week I celebrated gay pride in New York, at a parade that saw two million people take to the streets to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ with “Defiantly Different” theme.
It moved me. It made me immensely proud to be part of such a diverse, bold and resilient group of people. It also made me reflect and look back to growing up in Ireland and my experience coming out.
Everyone has a different path, and sexual orientation is a complex thing. I remember in my teenage years having a feeling I was different in some way, and it terrified me. I had a good mix of friends, boys and girls, the word “gay” was one thrown around to describe something undesirable, made idiomatic, little to do with its definition.
In primary school, sexual education did not account for heteronormative variables. There were few gay role models growing up, and representations in media were often exaggerated, hyper effeminate men who served as fun accessories to the main characters.
I always prided myself on being entrepreneurial and had an innate desire to work in a big city, a powerful company, someday with a seat at the table. But I was ignorant and thought as a gay man I would be restricted in what I could do, so I squashed the thought. Who I thought I was and what my aspirations were, could not allow me to be gay. The thought was unacceptable.
Being raised Catholic I always had faith growing up and would pray every night. I would pray to keep my family safe, and at the end I would pray that I would not be gay. I would never dwell on it for long or even think about it, for the very thought would make it that bit more real. I did not want to be different. Somehow, I managed to compartmentalise that part of myself and continued to go on lads nights out and shift a girl and whatever else to keep going. I was relatively happy, had friends, and my studies were going well. But deep down, something was not clicking.

Double life

Four years ago I moved to America.I was part of a dual-degree programme with 12 other Irish people, studying at Northeastern University in Boston at the cost of Dublin City University fees. My inner conflict came to the fore when I graduated in 2016. It was the final semester of senior year. I was effectively leading a double life. I met guys for dates, one who became my boyfriend for a time. aIt felt extremely right, and, in those stolen moments, I felt completely at ease with myself.
In Boston I lived with friends from DCU and there the double life began to cause real stress. I was juggling two identities, and trying to keep up an act. I felt like I a phony. I was scared that these friends, who had become like brothers and sisters, would think less of me. That the James they knew was in actual fact someone else. I was worried everyone would feel I had betrayed them, that I was weak for keeping this secret. These thoughts were bull, of course; misinformed internal perceptions, far removed from reality.
My family came to Boston for graduation in May 2016. They were immensely proud of me (and relieved) that I was finished my third-level education. My parents, both then primary school principals, had always supported my education. But during this happy time, I felt a deep sadness that was difficult to reconcile: I was starting a new job and moving to New York City, a place I dreamed about since I was a kid, graduating from university and harboring this big (gay!) secret. I chose not to tell them during graduation, in fear of eclipsing the moment.

James Lambert (left) with Dan Manning: ‘I met people who broke down my own ignorant perceptions of what I thought it meant to be gay.’
James Lambert (left) with Dan Manning: ‘I met people who broke down my own ignorant perceptions of what I thought it meant to be gay.’ 

Coming out

A few months into my new New York life, I began to live more openly as a gay man. It was new, exciting and eye opening. I met people who broke down my own ignorant perceptions of what I thought it meant to be gay. I experienced romantic love and met new people who have since become my best friends. Seeing people be unashamedly themselves ignited something in me and gave me the confidence to be more okay in my own skin.
I put together a message, had it peer reviewed and sent it to my family Whatsapp group explaining everything. My dad had no idea, my mam and sisters understood, and to my youngest brother it made absolutely no difference. They all came back to say they loved me and supported me. I told my Irish friends face to face while home that Christmas, and they were happy for me.
It took me time to be okay with who I am, and I hope my story can help even just one person still struggling to find some support to realise that being gay does not make a difference to what matters. I am excited for the next generation, that they never for a minute should be scared to hide who they are. I am grateful to those far braver than me who faced the cruel hand of discrimination and demanded equality. I am proud to be an Irishman and have the highest-ranking seat in our Government filled by an openly gay man.

Irish Times

June 1, 2018

47 Yrs Before Pulse A New Movement Was Born After A Massacre of Gays in NYC

Passersby review the badly damaged building the morning after the fire at the Up Stairs Lounge.
Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

Adam Fontenot was visibly sauced. Having imbibed hard liquor for more than five hours without a bite to eat, Adam took on the role of a resident lush at the Up Stairs Lounge. He was, witnesses recall, able to giggle and nod in agreement with a speaker’s words but unable to participate more in the conversation. Nor did his compromised balance enable him to stand or move much from his bar stool. Buddy Rasmussen was busy, if also slightly annoyed with his lover. He was accustomed to seeing Adam in such a stupor, but he also felt partially responsible for serving him too many drinks this afternoon.
Buddy and his busboy, Rusty Quinton, had their hands full tending to the crowds, facing the ceaseless call for pitchers and mugs, and they soon forgot Adam. The beer bust was in full swing, with ninety or so patrons laughing and carousing on a carefree Sunday evening. Some patrons needed babysitting more than others. Plus, those not satisfied by bottomless beer were placing drink orders that needed to be filled. During hectic hours at the Up Stairs Lounge, one had to shout drink orders to Buddy, but they needed to be simple. Anything beyond a rum and Coke, a Bloody Mary, or a Cape Cod (vodka, cranberry juice, and lime juice) would be laughed off.

Nursing a drink, Steven Duplantis ran his eyes over the bodies around him, looking for a new squeeze. Prospects abounded, many in a condition that made them amenable to a pickup line. Steven tended to drink straight rum, as did many in the armed forces. Stewart and Alfred drank whatever and whenever the fancy struck them, but they usually sprang for vodka. Above their heads, a haze of cigarette smoke hung in bilious clouds that wafted just below the ceiling tiles. Window units pulsed with air conditioning, and Buddy tried to preserve the coolness by shouting “close the door” whenever patrons entered. Coins jangled in pockets or rolled across the bar, as many paid the beer bust fare in change. 
Nursing a drink, Steven Duplantis ran his eyes over the bodies around him, looking for a new squeeze.
It felt like everyone was at the Lounge tonight. Robert Vanlangendonck, a newbie, kept his sunglasses on indoors. Perhaps he 

was closeted, people said, or maybe he was just so foggy from hours of drinking that he didn’t notice the shades on his face. Vanlangendonck’s friend Jim Hambrick, a toupee-wearing regular who looked more than a few decades Robert’s senior, had provided a ride to the French Quarter and was ordering drinks. Seeing a crowd form at the bar, Hugh Cooley agreed to pitch in a few hours early as a second busboy for Buddy. The MCC crew arrived in trickles: Deacon Courtney Craighead, around 5:00 p.m.; Deacon Mitch Mitchell with Horace after they’d dropped the kids off at the movies; and Pastor Bill Larson and the rest from the Fatted Calf. Witnesses recalled how they all looked primed for fun.  
Ricky Everett, with out-of-towner Ronnie Rosenthal, snagged a table in the dance area so that they could talk with fewer interruptions. In an era when televisions had fewer than eight channels, bars were forums where people commonly struck up banter easily with strangers. “I just never could sit still in a bar,” explained Ricky. “I was too hyper. I would have a cocktail and, if I was not having a conversation, then I’d drift off to another bar.” Bartenders would often serve as conduits by making quick introductions. Ricky called Buddy Rasmussen a renowned “promoter” of dialogue, capable of juggling multiple exchanges and a telephone conversation at once. Buddy’s talents worked to Ricky’s advantage. Ricky’s mother, who lived across the river, was known to call the Up Stairs Lounge with messages. As a self-confessed “mama’s boy,” Ricky was still in and out of the family home as a tenant, and his mother insisted that Ricky give her a place to call when he was out, in case of emergencies. Despite all the shenanigans surrounding him in the bar, Buddy was known to play it cool when the phone rang. He kept people’s cover. One time when Ricky was out barhopping, Ricky felt a tug on the shoulder from a cute stranger — just over from the Lounge — who leaned in and whispered a message from Buddy Rasmussen: "Call your momma, Ricky."

Today, Ricky relaxed in a nook with Ronnie. Closer to the bar, Luther Boggs leaned on Jeanne Gosnell, his best friend and occasional beard — a female companion used as a ruse to conceal one’s homosexuality. They sat near the couple Reggie Adams and Regina and the inebriated Adam Fontenot. Perry Waters, the gay dentist, joked with a group. Was that sweet-voiced Francis Dufrene in from Harahan? Dufrene was known to catch two buses from the suburbs to reach the bar. He lived for these nights. And there was Willie Inez Warren, a gay mother “hen,” and her two “gay for pay” sons, the part-time hustlers Eddie and James; they were considered shabby but honest folk, always off duty at the beer bust. Courtesy of Johnny Townsend 

Worlds inevitably intermixed. Stewart Butler chatted with Horace Broussard, Mitch Mitchell’s lover and Stewart’s regular barber. “That’s where I’d make a barber appointment,” recalled Stewart. “I’d just made an appointment with him that night.” Jason Guidry, sometimes called the “bar dingbat,” was present as well (Guidry was a very common surname in Louisiana, and Jason was no relation to the hustler Mark Allen Guidry). The place seemed to darken a bit toward the grand piano in the corner, which was lit up to provide a stage for performers. Some of the windows on the Chartres Street side were shuttered to accentuate the feeling of privacy. Patrons like John Golding, who’d recently celebrated twenty-five years of marriage to his wife, appreciated these precautions.
John had much to lose by drinking at the beer bust. He was a prototypical blue-collar breadwinner, working as a salesman at a cigar shop and living with his family near the Lower Garden District. For decades, John and his wife, Jane, had had an understanding. She didn’t venture with him downtown, and he didn’t let his fun creep back into their marriage. “She clearly accepted Dad for who he was,” explained their son, John Golding Jr., who was eleven years old in 1973. “Yes, there was this void of homosexuality linked to Dad. That was always there, but Mom was accepting of it and clearly very attached to him. They shared a bed. It wasn’t just a black-and-white, ‘it-was-all-deception’ dynamic.”
Although their arrangement was loving, it wasn’t ideal. Months before, John had been fired from his well-paying job at a public utility after being caught in a homosexual act. This wasn’t his first such incident, but luckily this one stayed out of the newspaper and didn’t become neighborhood gossip. That night in June, Jane had served her husband spaghetti as part of their family’s Sunday ritual. Before he walked out the door for the evening, they kissed goodbye. They had three children together, but two were already out of the house. With John off to do whatever he did, Jane readied John Jr., their youngest, for sleep. Now John Golding mingled at the beer bust with Dr. Waters and other men, whom John called “lovers” but Jane thought of as her husband’s “friends.”
These patrons wished, beyond all else, to avoid public declarations of their lifestyle. Individuals caught by the police and charged with offenses would be outed when their names were routinely published in the “Orleans Parish Records of the Day,” a popular section of the Times-Picayune. In this police record, names would be listed beside alleged crimes and alleged attempted crimes — indeed, according to Louisiana’s criminal code, an attempted crime against nature could be prosecuted. A gay man didn’t actually need to commit a homosexual offense to face a penalty; conspiracy, or intent to commit, could be sufficient, if proven. The state’s sodomy law, ostensibly on the books to prosecute any type of nonmarital sex from adultery to bestiality, was most often employed to prosecute same-gender sex and at one time prescribed a mandatory penalty of life imprisonment with hard labor for a single offense. By 1973, the charge had been reduced to a felony with a minimum two-year prison sentence. And, even in the event that a charge was dropped due to lack of evidence, a name would often still appear printed in the newspaper beside the annotation “nol prossed,” meaning not prosecuted. “That pretty much ended your life in New Orleans,” recalled John Meyers, the gay seminarian who lived near the Up Stairs Lounge.
These were the stakes, pressing in from the outside world. But all seemed different inside the Lounge, as if freedom reigned to the tune of David Stuart Gary’s piano. Piano Dave was tearing it up to the delight of partygoers. A crowd gathered as melodies poured forth. The twenty-two-year-old performer paid his rent through the tip jar, posted on the bench, as well as through a steady gig across the street at the Marriott. He took some gigs for the money and others for the soul — the Up Stairs Lounge was clearly such a soul gig. Dave grooved on his instrument. Notes reverberated into the dance area, where Ricky and Ronnie laughed and boogied. A gay pied piper, Piano Dave played, and New Orleans’s gay working class turned out in force. Rooms overflowed, though the Lounge always seemed to keep within its fire code capacity of 110 people. Rooms overflowed, though the Lounge always seemed to keep within its fire code capacity of 110 people. 
Circulating closer to the piano was George “Bud” Matyi, a semi-famous musician who performed under the name “Buddy Stevens” and appeared with the house band on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Bud Matyi was what was considered an “A-gay,” a sophisticate who owned a condo near the lakefront. Bud’s lover, folks whispered, was Rod Wagener, an afternoon talk show host on radio stations WDSU and WGSO. Given their public personae, Bud and Rod were forced to hide their relationship from fans. Most who knew them understood that public exposure of their lifestyles would destroy their careers. Nevertheless, Rod and Bud lived in conspicuous luxury. They drove a 1966 Chevrolet Camaro convertible, a “muscle car” that turned heads. According to a blurb in Billboard magazine, Bud Matyi had just signed a management and recording deal. Not unlike Clay Shaw before his downfall, Bud was a man on the verge of celebrity, a person with something to lose.
As Rod steered their convertible down Iberville to drop off Bud at the Up Stairs Lounge, he couldn’t hide his agitation with Bud’s desire to visit such a dingy block. Of course, there were personal complications. Despite being only twenty-seven, Bud Matyi had three young kids — Tina, Todd, and Shawn — back in California from two previous marriages. Bud had, in fact, parted ways with his second wife, Pamela Cutler, when he met the handsome Rod Wagener. “She said my dad left her for a guy,” Tina Marie Matyi recalled her mother telling her. “And I feel that she felt betrayed in that aspect of it.” As an innocent lie to help the children, Pamela Cutler explained that Rod Wagener was now important to their father because he was a “business manager.” Bud Matyi filed for preliminary divorce in 1972, but the proceedings were still pending. Emotions stayed raw as Bud and Rod attempted to negotiate some form of custody arrangement with Pamela. All the while, Rod formed emotional attachments on the phone with Bud’s kids. “I was told by my grandmother that Rod and my dad were going to come and get us,” recalled Tina Marie. “And they were going to take us and fight for custody for us. And they were going to raise us.” This impossible dream of a gay family made whole, with gay lovers at the helm, seemed tantalizingly within reach.
But Bud had promised that he’d pitch in on the piano that night. Unable to dissuade his lover, Rod had slowed to a stop beneath the Up Stairs canopy. They kissed before Bud hopped out. A medal of a dove clutched by two hands, the Catholic symbol of the Holy Spirit, swung around Bud’s neck as he climbed the stairs.  
Polyester, that mainstay of 1970s fashions, clung to male bodies as patrons sized one another up and likely chatted about such topics as Secretariat’s recent Triple Crown triumph; Deliverance, a hit movie from the previous year starring the hirsute Burt Reynolds (whose arousing poster in the bar made “purty mouth” jokes a go-to); or whatever cantankerous jibe Archie Bunker, a beloved if also bigoted character, had gotten away with on All in the Family, the top-rated series of the season. Maybe they chatted about the movie being filmed down the street, My Name Is Nobody. Or about effete television personalities like Paul Lynde on Hollywood Squares or Charles Nelson Reilly on Match Game, game-show contestants whose double entendre–laden wisecracks helped them play the “nancy,” a vaudeville-era term for an effeminate male jester. Nancies were, in fact, caricatures that society had been trained to laugh at: fey, limp-wristed, speaking with a lisp, with no social defense but a quip. Lynde, particularly, had perfected his shtick and made it family friendly enough for the sitcom Bewitched. Even though Lynde’s sexuality might have seemed obvious, especially in retrospect, many of his fans lacked the context in his heyday to question whether he was actually gay. There were few other gay icons to chat about. David Bowie’s audacious claims of bisexuality, recently said while wearing epicene attire, were more the mechanisms of courting controversy than candid affirmations of difference. In the literary world, Gore Vidal and Truman Capote both walked a clever line and played off their affectations as the eccentricities of brilliant minds. 
Roger Dale Nunez stumbled through the door of the Up Stairs Lounge and into the beer bust. Through his forays in and around Iberville, Roger had visited the Up Stairs Lounge on several occasions, although the regular patrons, nonjudgmental as they were, hadn’t exactly welcomed him. Roger, who was more of an outsider in a jovial society of buddies, functioned better in the hustler bars, where men went alone. Although many on Iberville had seen his face, few had taken the trouble to learn his name. Ricky Everett vaguely remembered seeing Roger at the Lounge, but it’s telling that even kind-hearted Ricky didn’t consider Roger a friend. 
Roger looked rough and drunk enough that night to be a hassle. Steven Duplantis remembered hearing an audible reaction to the guy’s presence, as if people were saying, “He’s here again?” Behind Roger walked Mark Allen Guidry, the younger hustler. Ignoring the wisecracks, Roger headed straight for the bathroom before he could be served, which left Mark Allen Guidry standing alone. Mark must have felt stranded, socially speaking, after the less than enthusiastic reception, and he didn’t stick around long. Roger didn’t seem to notice. He stationed himself in one of the two men’s room stalls and began gawking through a peephole at patrons using adjoining facilities. 
Close to the altercation, Steven Duplantis heard Roger say, "I'm going to burn this place to the ground." 

According to those present, Roger whispered comments of encouragement or harassment to those in the neighboring stall, perhaps hoping to win a friend or torment a quick lay from someone with a fragile ego. But his tactic created a bottleneck. The line to the bathroom soon backed up past the bar, and patrons began to get testy. Buddy seemed preoccupied. An eighteen-year-old named David Dubose, a youngster not in the bar’s employ, was gathering empty beer mugs and attempting to return them en masse. Dubose wanted to claim the fifty-cent deposit on the mugs and use the proceeds to further imbibe. But Buddy and Hugh caught him in the act and refused the extra coinage. In retaliation, Dubose began “pouring beer on the floor, kicking the customers, and being loud.” It was teenage revenge.
After a raucous but hardly uncommon afternoon-into-evening session, the beer bust ended at 7:00 p.m., and people stood and sang “United We Stand.” Beer pitchers returned to ordinary prices, and half of the crowd had departed as Dubose headed for the bathroom. He cut in line, to the chagrin of other patrons like Robert Vanlangendonck, who had been waiting his turn. Dubose began pounding on the occupied stall door, the one holding Roger Nunez. He repeatedly cursed at whoever was inside and refused to come out, but then he noticed Steven Duplantis standing at the sink.
Dubose grabbed at Steven and proposed a blowjob for five or ten dollars. Although they were around the same age, Steven was unimpressed. Steven rebuffed him with a “No, you’re just trash,” but Dubose failed to take the hint. “He wouldn’t leave,” remembered Steven. “So he stayed in the bathroom. I went straight and told Buddy.” Hustling was a rule violation, and Steven’s report would mean immediate ejection. However, just as Steven blabbed, Michael Scarborough entered the empty bathroom stall and heard Roger Nunez’s whispers.
Evidently, Roger said the wrong thing to Scarborough, a man who had grown up tough. Michael’s father was one of the biggest bail bondsmen in the city, a strongman who made employees call him “sir.” Having learned to stand up to that domineering figure, Michael wouldn’t just accept the taunts of a drunken stranger. Enraged at the Peeping Tom, Michael left the bathroom and reported the conduct. Buddy Rasmussen weighed whether to act first on the Peeping Tom gumming up the bathroom or the hustler pouring beer, and decided to start by clearing Roger out. Buddy and Hugh Cooley entered the bathroom, pulled Roger Nunez from the stall, and told him to leave people alone.
Suspicious of a snitch, Roger began looking for Michael Scarborough. Spotting Michael by the piano, the highly inebriated Roger ran at him. Michael was sitting at a table with his lover, MCC patron Glenn Green. Born on All Saints Day, Glenn was a gentle soul and the steadier of the two lovers. He had grown up in Michigan with two macho older brothers serving in the army. Glenn himself enlisted in the navy. He’d been stationed in Okinawa and spent three years in the service of a high-ranking admiral. But, according to Glenn’s sister, Naoma McCrae, he was caught having sex with another man and discharged for “medical reasons.” Now in New Orleans, Glenn worked as a clerk at the International Trade Mart. On his off days, he helped elderly neighbors.
Glenn Green likely tried to ignore Roger. Michael, however, would let no one insult him. So when Roger shouted a few epithets, Michael stood up and leveled Roger with a punch to the face. “He came over and started agitating me,” Michael said later, “so I jumped up and just knocked him down.” Roger fell to the floor and, groaning in pain, stayed on his back for a minute, until Buddy and Hugh gathered him up. Now Buddy had another decision to make: eject Michael for fighting Roger, or eject Roger for inciting the fight. Since Michael was popular at the bar and Roger was too intoxicated to be served anyhow, Buddy moved to eject the injured man, who would probably bother more patrons if they let him stick around. Before he could stand up on his own, Roger yelled something Michael heard as “I’m going to burn you all out.” Close to the altercation, Steven Duplantis heard Roger say, “I’m going to burn this place to the ground.” It’s worth underscoring that, even above the teeming noise of the bar, both men heard the word “burn.” Buddy and Hugh proceeded to drag Roger toward the bar entrance as Roger kicked and spat. “It took two or three people to get him to the upstairs door,” recalled Steven. “There was an altercation to get him out,” Steven continued, “even out on the landing.” 
Firemen and rescue workers outside the remains of the Up Stairs Lounge.
 Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Firemen and rescue workers outside the remains of the Up Stairs Lounge.
The violent scene shook Steven out of his reverie. He checked his watch and realized it was time to leave. He knew he had to go right then to reach San Antonio by sunrise. He’d be driving at top speed through the night to make it back to base, but something about that guy screaming “burn” felt wrong. “Especially the way that he said it,” Steven remembered. He turned to Stewart and Alfred and told them, “Y’all need to leave here,” to clear out and head elsewhere. “Stewart was having fun and hearing none of it,” Steven continued. Alfred took Steven’s side immediately, but Alfred suffered from frequent bouts of paranoia that made Stewart roll his eyes. “Alfred says, ‘I want to leave,’ ” recalled Stewart. Steven tried to persuade Stewart further, but he couldn’t wait any longer. Having passed the message, Steven kissed his friends and took off. With Steven gone, Stewart tried to dismiss any notion of leaving, but Alfred persisted until Stewart had to listen.
Meanwhile, Buddy and Hugh dragged Roger down the staircase and out the front door by his shoulders. They returned to find David Dubose, the teenager, as defiant as ever, dancing with two beer mugs that he hadn’t paid for. Having hustled and attempted to steal, Dubose was clearly not welcome anymore. They dragged him, mugs in hands, down the front stairs. Buddy told Dubose to “leave and never return” and tossed him onto Iberville Street. Realizing that he was still holding the mugs, Dubose threw them at Buddy in a rage. They shattered in the bar’s entryway, littering the inside foyer with glass.
Dubose stumbled away, and Buddy asked Hugh to sweep the entrance while he went back upstairs to man the bar. Perhaps sensing an opportunity in an out-of-control teen, an older man named James Smith left the Lounge and caught up with Dubose. Smith proposed a sexual fling, and Dubose accepted. They staggered back to his apartment, where Smith cooked Dubose a meal and then gave him a blowjob for ten dollars. Eventually, Smith drove Dubose to the Golden Slipper Lounge on the northern edge of the Quarter.
Back upstairs, the Nunez altercation and Dubose’s ejection had certainly caught the attention of patrons and become fodder for conversation, but the ruckus in no way ruined the evening. No one would mistake the Up Stairs Lounge for a high-toned establishment, and Buddy and Hugh had handled things quickly and efficiently. “The fight was over just like that,” recalled Buddy. Still, Mitch and Horace must have been glad that they dropped off the kids. They tended to think of the Lounge as a family place and, the previous year, had held their holy union ceremony and reception in the bar area. As such, they sometimes brought Duane and Stephen along on beer bust night, but this evening’s violence would have been confusing for children to witness.  
A view inside the Up Stairs Lounge following the fire that burned through the space on the night of June 24, 1973.
  Jack Thornell / AP

A view inside the Up Stairs Lounge following the fire that burned through the space on the night of June 24, 1973.
Down the street, at the Walgreens on the corner of Iberville and Royal, a white man in his midtwenties walked through the doors. He had dark brown hair, a ruddy complexion, and a medium build. Standing behind the register, cashier Claudine Rigaud made a practice of greeting her regular customers by name, but she’d never seen this man. He walked directly to the counter and asked to buy a can of lighter fluid. He appeared to be heavily intoxicated. Rigaud showed him where the fluid was kept and noted the sizes available. Ronsonol, the iconic lighter fluid in a yellow can with blue letters, had long been sold at French Quarter drugstores. It’s a petroleum distillate commonly used as fuel for Zippo-style lighters.
Rigaud thought nothing of the man’s request. This store did a good bit of business in tobacco products, in this era when smokers could light up almost anywhere. But something else did pique Rigaud’s attention: the man’s hands were visibly shaking, and he seemed to be, in her words, “emotionally upset.” No stranger to Iberville Street culture, Rigaud assessed that this man—soft-spoken and “feminish”—might be gay. Nevertheless, a customer was a customer, and Rigaud was about twenty minutes from her evening break. Apprised of the can sizes, seven and twelve ounces, the man asked Rigaud if a smaller can was for sale, but she informed him that the smallest and cheapest of cans, four ounces of Ronsonol, had recently sold out. So the customer reluctantly purchased the medium-size can and left.
Meanwhile, aggravated to be departing from the bar so soon, Stewart tramped down the staircase with Alfred, whom Stewart thought must be experiencing another emotional episode. They halted at the landing and shouted in a couple’s row very likely witnessed by William White and Gary Williams—two teens poking their way around wild French Quarter bars. White and Williams, jittery youths, bolted as Stewart and Alfred took their argument down the stairs. Trailing them all was Regina, born Richard Soleto. She and Reggie had dinner plans with Buddy and Adam, but they needed money. Reggie offered to run back to their apartment, but Regina insisted that she do so. They pecked, and she left.
At the bar, Buddy counted out his register and prepared to formally hand over duties to Hugh Cooley at 8:00 p.m. The night had been wild, and Buddy just needed to go to the storeroom, secure his money in the safe, and call it a day. By the Chartres Street wall, Piano Dave was chatting up patrons, perhaps speaking with a few frequent tippers who had taken a liking to him, and Bud Matyi played exuberantly at the bench. A few of the drag queens scheduled to perform for the charity benefit for the Crippled Children’s Hospital had yet to arrive, but time was loose on beer bust night.32 Matyi’s hands danced across ebony and ivory. Hammers hit piano wires as, down below the Up Stairs Lounge, someone stood at the base of the stairs. This person — very likely the Walgreens customer but unwitnessed in the act — proceeded to empty seven ounces of lighter fluid from a yellow Ronsonol can onto the left side of the second step and then drop the canister. The porous wood of the staircase, more than a hundred years old, drank the fluid effortlessly. The red carpeting, running like a ribbon over lumber, sopped up the rest. On the second step, a patch of wet carpet sat ready like a wick. Searching pockets for a lighter or match, the assailant then dropped two ten-dollar bills, which floated down unnoticed. A spark was lit. Then the unmistakable smell of smoke. ●

Excerpted from TINDERBOX: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation by Robert W. Fieseler. © 2018 by Robert W. Fieseler. Used with permission of the publisher, Liveright Publishing Corporation, a division of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Robert W. Fieseler is a journalist and a recipient of the Lynton Fellowship in Book Writing and the Pulitzer Traveling Fellowship. He lives in Boston.
Robert W. Fieseler is a journalist and a recipient of the Lynton Fellowship in Book Writing and the Pulitzer Traveling Fellowship. He lives in Boston.
Contact Robert W. Fieseler at
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