Monday, June 13, 2016

We Haven't Come Very Far

(By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari)
The Pulse night club shooting in Orlando, Florida on Saturday night has been called the worst terrorist attack on US soil since 9/11, the largest mass shooting in US history and the single deadliest one man attack ever in America. And that is all, sadly, true. But there was one other attack on the LGBTQ community, this one committed nearly 43 years ago. And it was known as the Upstairs Lounge Arson Attack.
     Less than four years after Stonewall, when the Gay Rights movement was still awaiting its turn to get some serious traction, New Orleans' gay community had just concluded the final day of Pride Weekend and Mr. Massacci, the owner of the Upstairs:Lounge, a popular gay bar, had given free drinks to over 120 patrons. It was Sunday, June 24th and the patrons and members of the Metropolitan Community Church had gathered to discuss a charitable drive intended to benefit the local Crippled Childrens' Hospital.
     When a buzzer went off, AF veteran Buddy Rasmussen told Luther Boggs to answer the door. Instead of the cab driver he was expecting, Boggs instead was greeted with a wall of flames and the smell of lighter fluid.  With moments, the entire mid 19th century building was fully involved. At the end of the horrific day, 32 men had died from being burned alive, smoke inhalation or (in a hideous reprise of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire) jumping out of windows.
     In its subdued way, the city's reaction was almost as horrific. From the relatives of the victims, the media, the fire and police authorities and political and religious leaders, tried their mightiest to act as if this act of arson never happened. The surviving relatives were so ashamed their kin were found in a gay bar they'd never bothered to claim the bodies, condemning them to be buried in unmarked mass graves. The police did an inadequate investigation and the New Orleans Fire Dept. shrugged its shoulders and declared the fire to be of unknown origin.
     The print media and right wing talk radio had made light of the massacre because of the sexual orientation of the victims. And only one man of the cloth in all New Orleans, Reverend William P. Richardson of St. George's Episcopal Church, was willing to hold a small prayer service for them. Richardson's boss, Iveson Noland, the city's Episcopal Bishop, tore him a new one. The reverend's mailbox was soon filled with hate mail. His fellow minister Bill Larson of the MCC burned to death while clinging to the barred windows that would've offered the only escape route once all the stairwells were fully involved. His charred corpse was still plainly visible to onlookers for hours on end.
     In a heartbreaking postscript, another minister, Rev George Mitchel, escaped the blaze, only to run back in to rescue his boyfriend Louis Broussard. Both died, their burnt remains found in an embrace. It was the last of three such fires that targeted the MCC that year alone. Several years ago, TAPS investigated the Upstairs Lounge four decades after the fire to investigate paranormal experiences, helping to elevate it back to the public mind.

     As stated, the police and fire authorities (including the state fire marshal's office) conducted, at best, a perfunctory investigation and hastily concluded that they couldn't find the cause of the fire and had no suspect. But they did.
     Rodger Dale Nunez, a local troublemaker and hustler, had been ejected from the bar earlier that night and witnesses claimed he'd confessed no less than four times to setting the fire and even admitted he'd used Ronsonol lighter fluid bought at Walgreen's and squirted it on the bottom steps. Nunez, who'd been seen in the bar for at least 10 minutes before the 16 minute blaze began, said he hadn't known the entire building would go up. Nunez at least had the consideration to commit suicide the year after.
     What happened at the Upstairs Lounge that day and what happened at the Pulse were done by two very different people for two very different reasons. Yet they are of a piece. Both of the mass murderers had specifically targeted gay men on which to visit unimaginable acts of horror.
     What happened at the Pulse two nights ago, however, touches on so many different hot button issues it's difficult to conjure a coherent narrative addressing and unifying them all. It could touch upon the gay rights issue, since Mateen obviously targeted the LGBTQ community. Or one could focus instead on the rise of Islamic terrorism in the west or the ongoing problem of sensible gun ownership versus sovereign rights.
     However, it cannot be said we've been making serious inroads toward solving any of these problems. Giving the gay community gay marriage, obviously, does not stop their being targeted and punished in fits of homophobia. It cannot be said we've taken any meaningful strides toward curbing gun ownership under the wishy-washy Obama administration. And that same administration cannot be credited with making us safer with countless drone strikes in seven foreign countries that target terrorist leaders when they cannot even stop the ones in this very country.
     Yet all we can get from out elected leaders are "thoughts and prayers" that are about as efficacious as our toothless gun control laws. Donald Trump has made the shooting all about him. Hillary Clinton, herself a recipient of NRA largesse, offers her own "thoughts and prayers". Bernie Sanders, considering his own defense of the gun industry, would do well to shut the fuck up.
     For now, all we can do is recommend that all gay bars and clubs beef up their security since their elected officials aren't willing to do anything to prevent senseless, massive tragedies from taking place.
     In the meantime, we'll have to suffer more kneejerk reactions from gun-clutching ammosexuals who hoarsely scream, "Don'cha dare get between me an' mah guns, Obama!". You know who I mean. They happen to the same sovereign citizens who blithely dismiss rights to privacy for gay people to the point of telling them they haven't the right to get married or even have gay sex.

(Update: Firstly, it appears as if several of the victims of the Pulse massacre were female patrons. I was going by what the MSM was saying but I take full responsibility for that oversight.
     Secondly, new reports are now saying the shooter was not only a regular at the Pulse but that he'd also exchanged several messages with at least one other gay man on a gay dating app. Gawker broke this news and later tonight it will be explored more deeply on Chris Hayes' All In on MSNBC.
     Thirdly, this new development shows there was much more of a parallel to the Upstairs Lounge fire than I'd hitherto thought. It appears as if Mateen, who'd reportedly been a patron of the Pulse for upwards of three years, had perhaps taken revenge on it and its patrons for being ejected one night for being drunk and abusive.
     This is exactly the same reason Rodger Nunez burned the Upstairs Lounge in 1973. He may have called the Orlando PD and announced his support of ISIS or that may be a fabrication. It could also be it was a convenient cover for him to decide to wage jihad on a nightclub filled with innocents: A butt hurt, self-loathing gay man who was thrown out for being drunk.
     His father told media today while he didn't condone his son's actions, gay people should all be killed, any way, only by Allah.
     It seems he got his wish. I'd like to hear his thoughts on the subject of gay genocide now.


At June 14, 2016 at 10:54 AM, Blogger Stan B. said...

Another self hating, closeted gay male/religious fundamentalist. Utterly confused, utterly conflicted, taking out his repressed self loathing and self hatred on those who already made peace with themselves.

He would have been much "happier" as yet another bigoted, closeted Republican legislator.


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