In 1958, a gay man named Fernando Rios was murdered in this alleyway. Although the three college students responsible for his murder were identified, they were all acquitted due to the homophobia surrounding the trial. This event stands out as an example of the past failure, and even refusal, of the New Orleans justice system to protect its LGBTQ citizens, which lead to protest and activism in the following decades.
This alleyway was the site of the 1958 murder of a gay Mexican tour guide named Fernando Rios. On the evening of September 29, 1958, three fraternity brothers from Tulane University decided to go out to the French Quarter to “roll a queer”, or find a gay man to beat up. John Farrell, one of the students, went into the gay bar Cafe Lafitte in Exile, where he met Fernando Rios. When Rios invited Farrell home with him, the two left the bar together, and when they were unable to get a taxi, Farrell led Rios into this alley, where Farrell’s other two friends were waiting. The students viciously beat Rios, stole his wallet, and left him in the alleyway, bleeding and unconscious. The 26-year-old Rios was discovered in the alleyway the next morning and taken to the hospital, where he died from his wounds. The three students were indicted for the murder but were soon acquitted, due to both the homophobia surrounding the case and the students’ wealthy, respected status. While the ‘not guilty’ verdict was celebrated by the press and by broader New Orleans society, this brutally homophobic hate crime and the failure of the equally homophobiclaw enforcement and court systems to serve justice sparked anger among gay and lesbian residents of the city. This murder, and the outrage it engendered, marked one of several key events that eventually led to the formation of a more coherent and organized LGBT community in New Orleans.