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Gay History – July 21, 1958: New Orleans Launches Raids Against Gay Bars in the French Quarter

The City of New Orleans might be known as he Big Easy  today but as  in many cities throughout the country during the
1950s, members of the homosexual community in New Orleans were often victims of violence and were often arrested because of their sexuality.   The  “Laissez les bons temps rouler” mindset didn’t extend to the city’s gay citizens, and much like other major cities across the nation, anti-gay campaigns often heated up ahead of local elections.

In n 1958, city councilmen complained that the police were sitting on their hands while the French Quarter was being invaded by roving bands of homosexuals, allegedly from other cities since, apparently, such a thing was unheard of there, the city’s storied tolerance for sexual eccentrics in music, literature and the arts notwithstanding. One councilman complained of “men with blondined hair and awful looking people all day and all night in the French Quarter,” and wondered why police had only made 86 arrests in two years on charges of lewd behavior or wearing women’s clothing. Police Supt. Provosty A. Dayries responded, “You can’t just point to someone and say he or she is a deviate — that is one of the frustrating things about the problem.”

Amid complaints about lax police enforcement and courts that insisted that those arrested should be charged with something specific and based on real evidence, Mayor Morrison appointed his half-brother, Jacob Morrison to head a citizen’s committee to look into the problem. With pressure increasing across all sectors of city government, Supt. Dayries launched a raid against known “deviate bars,” arresting eighteen people (mostly bar employees) on charges of vagrancy, disturbing the peace, and “no visible means of support.” Thirty others were warned to stay away. While most of the charges were dropped the next day the city’s principal newspaper, the Times Picayune, would publish (their) names and address…under the heading, ‘Crimes Against Nature.

Two months later in September  three Tulane undergrads wanted to  partake of “time honored tradition, for fraternities” called “rolling a queer.”.  Fernando Rios a Mexico City-based tour guide was thier chosen victim. He was beaten and robbed in an alleyway, left unconscious on the sidewalk, and died later that day. During January of 1959, his assailants were charged but acquitted under the “gay panic” defense, and the courtroom cheered.

Source: Box Turtle Review

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Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, journalist and owner of Back2Stonewall.com. A longtime gay activist, Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced in notable media venues as MSNBC and BBC News, The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, and Raw Story,

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