(film strip running)
(footsteps) (serious music) – What I believe is one
of the pivotal moments in LGBT history here with us today, tonight, to talk further about the fire and the impact that it’s had on him, so please welcome to the
front, Ricky Everett. (applause) – Ricky, once again, it’s an honor. Thank you for trusting me with your story and helping in my efforts to remember your friends and to remember this
reaction to the community and help future generations learn from it, so thank you very much. I’m gonna start the Q
and A with a question, a question that’s been
asked of me because you… Ricky’s from Dallas, but he did come to New
Orleans for the screening. – Originally from New Orleans. – Yes, he’s originally from New Orleans, but he lives here now, and at the screening,
Ricky was one of many survivors, family members of victims, witnesses, many people who were touched personally by the fire. And the question that
has been asked of me, and since you and I haven’t talked, when you and I sat down for the interview, you mentioned that talking
about the fire was cathartic and the possibility of
meeting other people who were affected by the fire would be cathartic for you all. What was your experience at the screening, meeting, seeing people you
haven’t seen in decades, and do you think, in a
way, it was cathartic? – I found it rather bittersweet, of course, remembering all that and seeing all the people
who I remembered who died, and saw them burning up. For many, many years, I
couldn’t talk about it. Anybody who was involved in that, it took us about 40 years, took me about 40 years, to actually be able to talk about it without just breaking down and crying. But working with you, and
there’s another individual working on a documentary
who I’ve been working with, and just getting it out
and talking about it has been a healing process for me. Am I still suffering from it? Yes, I am. I think I will, probably, all of my life. It’s just a horrible nightmare that just, I can’t describe it. Even though I’ve gone through it, I can’t describe it. After the fire, like it was
pointed out in the documentary, that after the fire, it
was like months afterward, when I would go to sleep at night, I would just start dreaming, and I would see those people that I saw burning up in the fire, and it was rough, I’m here to tell you. Thank God I don’t have
those dreams anymore, but it’s helped me out a lot, talking about it, working
with you and the other people, and I can actually talk about it now, and when I was at the
documentary there in New Orleans, I found it good. I really…it was… Basically it was just… I thought it was amazing, you know? Like I could sit there and see people who had passed on in the fire and people who were able to get out and people I hadn’t thought
about for many years. That part of it was good. And even sitting there seeing
them again, it was just… I was sitting there, “Oh, yeah, yeah.” It’s good. It’s helped me a lot, and I’m trying to reach out to people who went through the fire, who’s going through the same emotions that I’ve been going through and try to reach out and get them to start talking about it between each oth… I’d like to just have a
group of us to get together. I don’t know what they’re called, but kind of like a group where you– – A support group? – Yeah! Thank you. And just start talking to each other because there are people, they don’t want to be
involved in the documentary, and they should be. Because they’ve got important
things to add to it. And so we all need to get
together and discuss it and work with each other and just come out of it together. I’ve got God that put me here. You know, He sav…literally
saved my life in that fire. And like it was pointed out in… ‘Cause I went back in with Mitch Mitchell ’cause I was looking for friend of mine who was visiting from Atlanta, long-distance boyfriend, and because I thought
he was still in there, and Mitch and I went back into some rooms just completely engulfed in flames. It was just like slow-motion swirling. I was surrounded, and
Mitch just disappeared. Once we were in there, I just didn’t know where he went to because all
I could see was the flames. At the same time, I felt that experience of something physical covering me, and of course I’ve known God all my life. I knew it was God
covering me with Himself, and I knew Bill Larson had died. He was one of my very, very dear friends. And I knew Ronnie, my friend, was outside looking frantically for me. And so I went back out, but I think that they
estimated the fire being what was it, like 2,000
degrees, is that correct? – It burned really, really hot. – Yeah, it was very hot. But I didn’t have a burn on my body. I didn’t even have a singed hair. I didn’t even feel the heat, and so I’m grateful. I was talking…Am I going
in the right direction? – Yeah! – Oh, okay, I didn’t want to–
(laughter) – You’re good! – There goes one of those rabbit trails. I lost my place. I don’t know where I was. – You were talking about being in the fire and not having a singe. – Yeah. Oh, okay, now I’m back. I used to pray, after the fire, and I would just plead with God, “Why did you let me get out? “Why did you protect me?” And for years I’ve asked the
same question, over and over. After Katrina, I moved here to Dallas, and I finally got an answer. What I received in my
spirit was the Lord saying, “You have a story to tell.” And it’s not just about the fire, although it was the most horrible thing anybody could imagine. But it’s a fire of love, and it’s God’s love. We’ve been taught all of our life, “God hates you. You’re gonna go to hell.” People at that time were saying that the bar was burned because
God destroyed it with fire because of the homosexuals, and my answer to them is, “Hey, look. I’m a homosexual. I was in the bar. God protected me.” Why? Because He gave me a message to give to everybody in the LGBT community and anybody else who wants to hear it. God does love all. He created every human
being equally in His eyes, In His eyes we are all perfectly created, and so we are. And He loves us. Scripture even says He loves us as much as He does Jesus, and that’s a lot, and He loves all of us,
every one of us, that much. And it’s a story that I feel
that I’m taking from that fire that it wasn’t destroyed
because of the sexuality. It was just a crazy man
who was angry and drunk, wanted to get even. And like it was said, and I believe, too, I don’t think he planned it
and wanted to kill anybody. Somebody asked me not long ago, “Can you forgive him for that?” I looked at them, I
said, “I already have.” And I do, I really forgive him, and that’s the way we all have to be and forgive all those
people in New Orleans that said all the bad things and did all the bad things at that time. They didn’t know what
they were doin’ or sayin’. We’re humans. We’re
people, just like they are, with feelings, and anyway… – Thank you.
(applause) Yes! Absolutely! (applause) I’m going to open up
the floor to questions for either Ricky or myself. Yes, Jack. – [Jack] How many people survived? – It’s tough to say how
many people survived because of the time period. People may have escaped, but they didn’t make a statement or didn’t say anything because again if they said that they
were at this queer bar, they could’ve lost everything, so it is impossible to say with accuracy how many people survived. – [Audience Member 2]
Robert, I have a question. You say that there were three unidentified male victims of it. Was there any attempt to identify them, or any photos people have looked at and said it might’ve been this person? – They have looked. There have been efforts
over the past 40 years, and nothing has come up. Yes. – [Audience Member 3] I see online the building is still there. What is upstairs now? – The bar that’s on the
bottom floor is The Jimani. It’s still the same bar
that existed in 1973. The owner is the son of
the owner that was… That owned the bar in 1973, And his name is Jimmy Massacci, Jr., and the family is very passionate about the preservation of this story. Jimmy is a strong ally
and has been instrumental in telling the story. The second floor is
basically a storage room for the bar that’s below. That’s where his office is, but around the windows there’s still char. In the stairwell, you can
still see burned out wood, and he wants to keep it that way as a reminder of the history because he’s very passionate about it. As a child, him and his dad came down to the building ’cause at first, they thought it was their
bar that was on fire, and he remembers as a child
seeing the bar burn down, so he’s very emotionally connected and pays respects to everybody that was touched by that fire. Yes? – [Audience Member 5] What are
your hopes and plans for the documentary and how can other
people help spread the word? – The question is what
are my hopes and plans for the documentary. We want to share this film
with as many people as possible because this story has been in the shadows for far too long. I thought I knew my LGBT history until David Golden, who
became an associate producer, came up to me after “Raid
of the Rainbow Lounge” and said, “Hey. I like what
you’ve done with that film. “You’ve told it with responsibility, and you’ve helped educate
and enlighten people. I think you would be
the perfect team to tell the Up Stairs Lounge fire story and help educate people.” And that’s what we really want to do, so we’re just really
in the beginning stages of a film festival process, look to share the film with
audiences around the world, and ultimately, get distribution
on some bigger platforms. And to help that, you can
go to the Facebook page and like it, and also
just spread the word. If you have friends in other cities, tell them about this film
and have them contact their local film festival so they can say, “Hey, we want this film.” They like to hear from their
potential audience members, and that this is a film
that they want to see, both mainstream and LGBT film festivals. And if you ever have
anything to jump in and say, just feel free to jump in. – Well, I want to just
express first of all my appreciation for what you’ve done. It’s a major thing, and it’s kind of brought
me back out into life. Where I was just kind of, well anyway, I won’t go
into that.. (speaks softly) You’ve done a great, marvelous thing, and he deserves a great applause. (applause)
– Thank you. – You all need to applaud yourselves. I applaud you for being here because you’re loving people, you’re caring about what
happened in our community and the people’s lives who
were affected by the fire, and I just want to thank you. I appreciate you being here tonight. (applause) – I’ve got a question for you, Ricky. One of the favorite moments in the film that I’ve seen as I’ve
traveled across the country, is when you talk about the Nelly Dramas. (laughter)
(applause) What was your experience like? You can elaborate a little bit more than we talked about in the film. Talk a little bit about Nelly Dramas. – Well, they were fun. Of course, you know, they
were all old-fashioned melodramas, which called
them Nelly Dramas, that Bettye McAnear would
write all the scripts. You saw her picture and her husband. It was just a fun thing that we would do, and I don’t know who thought of the idea, but we had several
different plays that we did, and I was part of it, and I loved it. We would have the same people who would come back every weekend. Same crowd. They learned the script. They would sit there, and I mean they would throw
the popcorn at the villain. They learned the script, and so when we went to
go deliver that punch, that punchline, the audience would just all of a sudden they would… So we wound up having to
do a lot of ad-libbing to try to throw them off, but that’s where all the fun came in because the audience
was trying to outdo us. And I don’t know who won that. And what closed it was
Bettye and her husband, they had been out of
town for quite awhile, and they came in, we didn’t
know they were there. And they were sitting there watching, and we were just totally off-script. And all of a sudden, Bettye just got very
temperamental and stood up. “I wrote this stuff, and I don’t…” Well, I’m not gonna say
the words she used, but “I wrote this stuff, and
I don’t have to sit here and listen to it.” She
got up and walked out, and someone clean back in the back said, “Well if she wrote it
and doesn’t want it…” He walked out, and all of a sudden, everybody… We were just standing there on stage like, “What just happened?” (laughter) But they were fun. We had a lot of fun with it, and it got…it was just a lot of fun. – Well, I have a special surprise. Karen Bartlett? Are you here? Ricky, Karen Bartlett back there is Bunny’s granddaughter, and sitting next to him, Devin is her great-grandson. – Oh, wow!
(applause) We’re gonna have to– – We need you two to talk after the show. I’m very honored to have you here. And thank you for all
your help here, locally, to help this film get made. This was a community effort, so thank you so much. Other questions?
Yes! – [Audience Member 6] Have
any of the congregations of St. George’s Episcopal Church
or St. Mark’s Methodist had an opportunity to see the film or voice their opinions and thoughts about the church 40 years ago
and the church today? – Yes. Members and
clergy from both churches came to the screening in New Orleans on the 42nd anniversary, and from what I’ve heard,
they really appreciated the depiction of it and their role because Father Bill Richardson and the entire St.
Mark’s Methodist Church, Finis Crutchfield, those were real heroes to be able to stand up and say, “Hey, we are going to hold
these memorial services because as it was said in the
film, in the time of death, you hope to turn to
the church for comfort, and many churches turned their backs, and both of those churches welcomed the grieving with open arms, and so those are some of the
true heroes of the event. Other questions? Yes? – [Audience Member 7] Since
there’s a lot of mention about religion and the like
in the film and whatnot, I was curious to know if
part of your intention, besides just providing
the history of the event, was to also help kind of bridge the divide between religion and the LGBT communities because there seems to be a vast divide, as a whole, between the two. – It was always an intent to have religion be a theme to this because it did play such a huge role, both as an antagonist and as a protagonist in this because the church was not accepting. And it’s been a journey, and Troy Perry started that with Metropolitan Community
Church as an affirming church and welcoming people, and
so that was the founding of the church in New Orleans. Ricky, I believe you were
one of the founding members of the congregation. It really helped open the doors and showed that God does love you, even though you are gay
or lesbian, transgender. So it was always a goal of mine to help educate people and like you said, bridge that gap and
understanding with religion, that religion and the LGBT
community can coexist. – Can I throw something in here? Kind of backing up a
little bit before the fire, I’m not sure how long it was, but I had a conversation
with Bill Larson at church, and I told him, I said, “Bill, I don’t know what it is, but I just feel like for some reason you’re not gonna be in
the pulpit much longer.” And I don’t remember what he said, but anyway, at the day of the fire, he, a couple other people, and I had lunch together after church, down in the French
Quarter at a nice place. And while the four of us
were sitting at the table, I looked at Bill, just
right dead in the eyes, and I said, “Bill…” I said, “For some reason, I just feel like you’re gonna die.” And he looked right back at me, and he said, “I know it.” Anyway, with that, you know, talking about the religion,
I don’t want to say religion. I’d say experience with God is totally different from religion. Buy you know, God has all kinds of angels with different positions
and responsibilities, and one of them are observing angels. What they’re supposed to do, I’m not sure. I don’t know too much about it. They day of the fire,
before the fire happened, there was a little bar downstairs on Chartres Street, Gertrude’s. I don’t know if you knew about it. – I’ve heard of it. – It had a picture window
overlooking the street and a table, and a friend
of mine and a friend of his were sitting there having a cocktail, and you could see through the
window down to the corner, across the street from the Up Stairs. And they saw this man they said, well, Gil, the friend
of mine was telling me some time after the fire, they saw this most
incredibly beautiful man that they just couldn’t even describe, and they were just so curious about him. They put their drinks down, started walking down to
the corner to talk to him. I don’t know what their intentions were, but they were just drawn to him, and as they were walking,
they had their eyes just dead set on the man, and all of a sudden, Gil was telling me, all of a sudden he wasn’t there. And he said he didn’t walk away because they were watching him. He just wasn’t there anymore. I believe that’s one of
the observing angels, and you know, I feel in my heart, that if God sent angels
to surround the place, God knew what was gonna happen. He gives us our own free will. He can’t stop us because it
would go against His word, and He had these angels
there he had already seen. He knew what was going to happen, just couldn’t stop it, and when He sat there in Heaven, and all the creation, all
the beings that He’s created, angels and creatures that are in Heaven. They all sat there and watched God’s perfected creation being burned and suffering,
and I really believe that that’s the day, God
and all of Heaven wept. Because He saw His creatures, His people that He loved so much to be tortured and burned, and so now, leave out religion, but just, there’s a relationship
that I have with God. I’ve…all my life–
(applause) have learned as a child to take, want to take their
toys to church to show God. My parents would have to
say, “No, leave ’em home.” “He already saw them.”
(laughter) And so it’s a relationship that… My relationship’s not a book, based on religiosity
or different religions. It’s just my relationship with God, and even as a teenager, when
I’d go to bed at nighttime I’d pray, and I’d ask Him
to just hold me in His arms. He did, and He still does. – Thank you.
(applause) We have time for a couple more questions. – [Audience Member 7] I
just wanted to say a couple of things to you in appreciation
for what you’re doing, and that stories like this are important, especially for a chronicle
of what has happened in the past and where we are today. Because I think people in
the future are gonna forget about things like what you’ve done. And the other thing I wanted to say is that beyond the LGBT community, this is of graver importance
in terms of understanding what hatred and looking at people, looking down on people does and how it hurts people. – Oh, absolutely. I think it has a greater implication. As Ricky says in there,
“Look what hatred can do.” “It can kill people.” And we’re seeing that today. So it’s not just the LGBT community. It’s a message that
crosses all communities. People ask me what the takeaway, what I want audiences to
take away from this film, what I say is that I hope it’s
a call for more compassion. Compassion for people who are in pain. Compassion for people who are in need. Compassion for people who are not like us, because they did not receive
that compassion back then. So I hope this is a
wake-up call and a reminder that we need to share more compassion among ourselves, despite our differences. We need to share more compassion. So, thank you for the
comment about LGBT history. It has been an honor to tell this story. I believe that we have come a long way in very recent years in our
effort for LGBT equality, and we risk losing our history. And if we don’t tell
our history, who will? So it has been a great
honor to present this story and pass on to future generations. – [Audience Member 8] Thank you, Robert. (applause) – [Robert] Thank you, guys for coming out, supporting the film,
supporting LGBT history. Don’t forget there’s “Raid
of the Rainbow Lounge” DVDs for sale in the lobby. We’ll also be out in the lobby
for any additional questions. And always we’re accessible on Facebook. So everybody, Happy Holidays. Ricky, thank you so much. This is the only screening we’ve had a Q and A with one of the survivors. So Dallas, here you go. Thank you so much, guys!
(applause)