On June 24, 1973 an arsonist set fire to The Upstairs Lounge. That evening, 32 people lost their lives in what still remains as the deadliest crime ever committed against the gay community.
Based on actual events and with the extraordinary backdrop of New Orleans between 1973 and 1980, Southern Knights is a gripping love story set in a time when the illusion of a “safe bubble” seemed to exist for gays in the French Quarter.
Southern Knights is the story of Jim DuFrane, who steps away from the bar momentarily and returns only to watch his lover burn to death in front of his eyes. Six years later, Jim is completely shut down, leading a safe, insulated life where everything is routine and nothing is unpredictable. Into this emotional wasteland comes Ben, a homeless eight- year old African American street kid who survives by tap dancing in the Quarter. Viola, Jim’s business partner – a devout Baptist who swears like a sailor, and Max, his overly theatrical best friend, conspire to bring Jim back into the land of the living. They introduce him to Roger, a lawyer from the north with a ten-year old son. But it’s the bond between Jim and the boy that cracks open his heart and allows him to live again.
The Upstairs Lounge fire signaled the beginning of New Orleans’ gay rights movement. In 1973, gays and lesbians were regarded as the red-headed stepchild, destined to live their lives in obscure French Quarter bars and bathhouses. Many of the victims’ families were horrified that one of their own could actually be gay and for this seemingly unforgivable reason, a handful of bodies went unclaimed.
Southern Knights examines the alchemy of healing from a hate crime. Building on Stonewall and the defeat of Anita Bryant, gays and lesbians were coming out of the closet and building lasting friendships.
Mardi Gras Krewes, originally formed in the 60’s as gay fraternal groups, became extended families for those ostracized by their blood relations. Southern Knights celebrates these pioneers and their families of choice.
Mardi Gras! The world stops on Shrove Tuesday to make way for parties, parades, food and drink. In the weeks leading up to it, costumes are sewn, ﬂoats are built, homes are decorated and the rule is, les bon temps roule – let the good times roll.
Food is the common language. It’s how locals comfort, celebrate and share themselves with all comers. Our characters ﬁnd themselves deep in the gumbo of life.
Courtesy is always the rule. Strang ers don’t remain strangers for long as folks openly greet one another on the street. Long time residents look out for one another.
Much more than a mosaic of food, jazz and Mardi Gras, New Orleans is Ruthie the Duck Girl. For almost 50 years Ruthie owned the French Quarter. She symbolized its eccentricity and extravagance but most of all, she opened the huge heart that is New Orleans.
It’s no coincidence that Southern Knights is set in New Orleans. It’s a city unlike anywhere else. As Tom Robbins says, “Its perpetual ambivalence is its secret charm.”