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Pro-LGBT Christians to mark 35th anniversary of deadliest fire in New Orleans’ history at at September faith conference

Date: 
July 01, 2008

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Many Stories, One Voice conference will feature a jazz funeral
to commemorate the Upstairs Lounge Fire of June 1973

WASHINGTON, July 1 — Many of the hundreds of pro-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Christians who will converge Sept. 4–7 in New Orleans, La., for the Many Stories, One Voice conference will revisit the site of a devastating fire that killed 32 people at a local gay bar known as the Upstairs Lounge.

The tragedy that occurred on June 24, 1973 — 35 years ago — was the deadliest fire in New Orleans’ history. Many members of the local Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), including its pastor, the Rev. Bill Larson, died at the fire, which was widely reported as arson. The members of MCC had congregated after their religious service at the Upstairs Lounge as they did every Sunday.

“The Upstairs Lounge Fire, epitomized by the lifeless body of the Rev. Bill Larson, silhouetted in the window of the lounge, and the charred bodies of so many others, was one of those moments in history when hatred and fear seemed to hold sway. That nearly every religious leader in New Orleans refused to offer words of condolence or healing to the LGBT community at the time, but instead offered condemnation, further solidified the power of death. But, as people of faith, we know that death is never the final answer,” said Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, Institute for Welcoming Resources and faith work director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

“Amidst the deafening silence of so many religious leaders and the vocal hatred of others, leaders of the Metropolitan Community Churches were welcomed by the folks at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church of New Orleans. In a great act of courage and affirmation of life, St. Mark’s opened their doors for the memorial service for those killed in the fire,” she added. “Their witness bore life in the moment, but it also planted seeds that have, 35 years later, come to life as the Welcoming Church Movement. Now there are some 3,100 congregations across the U.S. that are publicly welcoming and affirming of LGBT people.”

One of the powerful moments that will happen at the Many Stories, One Voice conference will be when attendees participate in a jazz funeral to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the Upstairs Lounge Fire. “This jazz funeral will give participants at the conference an opportunity to both grieve and remember those killed in the Upstairs Lounge Fire. But it will also give participants the opportunity to grieve and remember all of those whose lives have been lost to injustice or oppression and those who have fought the good fight. We will remember those killed in Katrina and its aftermath, those spiritual mothers and fathers of the pro-LGBT Christian movement and all those for whom the power of justice, faith and liberation have inspired their ministry,” said Voelkel.

Many Stories, One Voice: The North American Convocation of Pro-LGBT Christians is a conference that will offer new tools and training in the areas of faith-based community organizing, media training, board development, fund-raising, research, biblical studies, theology, capacity-building and other concrete skills. Participants will also engage in discussions about issues of race, class, ability, age, embodiment, gender identity and sexual orientation.

Many Stories, One Voice is convened by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, in partnership with more than 30 pro-LGBT Christian organizations representing progressive, moderate and conservative traditions. For more information or to register, please visit www.manystoriesonevoice.org.

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The National Religious Leadership Roundtable (NRLR), convened by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, is an interfaith network of leaders from pro-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) faith, spiritual and religious organizations. We work in partnership with other groups to promote understanding of and respect for LGBT people within society at large and in communities of faith. We promote understanding and respect within LGBT communities for a variety of faith paths and for religious liberty, and to achieve commonly held goals that promote equality, spirituality and justice.

The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge. The Task Force is a 501(c)(3) corporation incorporated in Washington, D.C. Contributions to the Task Force are tax-deductible to the full extent allowed by law. (C) 2007 National Gay and Lesbian Task Force . 1325 Massachusetts Ave NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20005. Phone 202.393.5177. Fax 202.393.2241. TTY 202.393.2284. theTaskForce@theTaskForce.org.