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CrimeCon: Out for Queer Blood

Out for Queer Blood
The Murder of Fernando Rios and the Failure of New Orleans Justice
By Clayton Delery
Exposit Books (2017)

Little is known about the life of Fernando Rios. He was 26, a professional tour guide in New Orleans’ French Quarter. He was Latino, working for a travel service based in Mexico City. He had no known family in the U.S. He was gay.

But his death, and the trial of his assailants was headline news in late 1950s New Orleans.

On a September evening in 1958, three white Tulane University undergraduates went out for a night in the Quarter, decided they should “roll a queer,” and went looking for a gay man to assault. They encountered Rios in a bar, offered to give him a ride back to his hotel, and beat him to death in an alley in Jackson Square.

In perhaps the earliest example of the “gay panic” defense, the defendants argued they were within their rights to attack Rios because he had made an “improper advance.” When the jury acquitted the three, the courtroom cheered.

The trial took place against the backdrop of a full-swing “drive against the deviants,” a city-wide campaign against New Orleans’ sizeable gay community, in particular those in its largest “gayborhood,” the French Quarter.

Clayton Delery’s Lambda Award-winning book provides a deeply researched account of the anti-gay hate crime and the trial, and chronicles the social and political climate of a time and place in America where such a crime was inevitable. An interview with the son of one of Rios’ assailants is included.

Delery’s previous book, The Up Stairs Lounge Arson, named Book of the Year by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities in 2015, examines the 1973 fire in a New Orleans gay bar that killed 32 people—three decades before the 2006 Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando—and stands as the deadliest fire in the city’s history. Though arson was suspected, and police identified a likely culprit, no arrest was ever made