The Murder of Fernando Rios

September 28 2017

Fifty-nine years ago, on September 27, 1958, three young men in New Orleans were wandering the French Quarter, looking for something to do. They went to a movie, had dinner at a restaurant called The Steak Pit, and went to Pat O’Brien’s. Around midnight, they still felt that they evening was incomplete, so one of them made a suggestion that they should “roll a queer,” i.e. beat up a gay man. The others agreed.

In the early morning hours of September 28, 1958, Fernando Rios left Café Lafitte in Exile with a handsome young man named John Farrell. Rios believed they were going to his hotel room for a sexual encounter. What Rios didn’t know was that John Farrell was one of the three young men out on a mission to roll a queer. While Rios and Farrell walked toward Jackson Square, Farrell’s two friends secretly followed them from across the street and at a distance.

The beating Rios received that night left him unconscious on the sidewalk. The three assailants wandered the French Quarter in a celebratory mood. When they encountered some friends, they bragged about what they had done, and waved a wallet they had stolen from Rios as proof. Rios was found in the alley, still unconscious, at about 6:00 that morning. He died in Charity hospital at 5:00 that evening.

I have written a book about this incident titled Out for Queer Blood: The Murder of Fernando Rios and the Failure of New Orleans Justice. Today, on the fifty-ninth anniversary of Rios’ death, McFarland Books has announced its publication.

In some ways, the world has changed a great deal since 1958. In some ways, it has barely changed at all. Beginning today, and going through the month of October, I will be making a series of posts about LBTQ life in the 1950’s and in the twenty-first century. My intent is to honor Rios, bring attention to his story, and observe Gay History Month, which is traditionally celebrated in October.

I hope you will join me on this journey.

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