Until the 2016 gun slaughter of 49 people at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, a little-discussed arson case in New Orleans was considered the deadliest attack on a gay bar. On June 24, 1973, a fire set at the Up Stairs Lounge caused a harrowing inferno, taking 32 lives. From its outset, journalist Robert W. Fieseler's Tinderbox distinguishes the Up Stairs fire from other galvanizing incidents in the fight for gay rights. For starters, there is no evidence that this was a hate crime. Moreover, the Gay Liberation uprising that followed was led largely by outsiders like Troy Perry, founding pastor of the gay-friendly Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in Los Angeles.
The Up Stairs Lounge fire marks a complicated moment in LGBT history, between 1969's Stonewall riots and 1983--when "about five new AIDS cases were being reported every day in the United States" and the FDA banned blood donations from men who have sex with men, still in effect today. It's indescribably moving to learn in a final author's note that survivors hesitant to speak on the record for Tinderbox came forward with urgency after the Pulse massacre. Their testimonies, Fieseler's rigorous research and his amiable prose make this a vital, inspiring volume in the annals of gay history. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness