Partner Alfred Doolittle

Queer Places:
1308 Esplanade Ave, New Orleans, LA 70116

Stewart Perry Butler (August 21, 1930 - March 5, 2020) was a longtime New Orleans gay-rights activist. He was a resident of New Orleans since 1965. He was predeceased in 2008 by his soul mate of 35 years, Alfred Doolittle.

Born August 21, 1930 in Mobile, Alabama, the son of the late Bertha June Perry and Stewart Harrison Butler. Butler grew up in New Orleans and at the age of 12 moved to Carville, LA, where his father took a job at a leprosarium. Coming of age in a colony of Hansen’s disease patients gave Stewart a unique understanding of marginalized communities and helped shape an abiding compassion for the less fortunate. After a stint at Louisiana State University, Butler served in the army before moving to Alaska, where he finished his education and became involved in labor politics. He was elected to the Alaskan Territorial Senate, but Alaska’s admission to the union nullified his election before he could take office.

Upon returning to New Orleans in 1964, Stewart lived from pillar to post for a few years. From 1965 to 1968, he lived in a total of 12 different places, including five in the French Quarter, four along Esplanade Avenue. Several roommates came and went. During this time, he worked various odd jobs as a busboy, waiter and a draftsperson for three land surveyors.

Butler met Alfred Doolittle in 1973 during Carnival season. Stewart and a friend were bar-hopping in the French Quarter when they ran into Alfred, who had just arrived in town. At Café Lafitte in Exile, the venerable old watering hole located at the corner of Bourbon and Dumaine, Alfred whispered sweet obscene nothings in Stewart’s ear. Stewart was smitten. “He looked just like Prince Valiant,” Butler recalled. The two left Lafitte’s and made their way back to Stewart’s home. Alfred told him, “You’ll probably throw me out in the morning like the rest of them.” But Stewart didn’t throw him out. Alfred and Stewart remained together until Alfred’s death in 2008.

Alfred and Stewart, photo courtesy Ron Joullian

The Faerie Playhouse

Alfred hailed from a prominent San Francisco family. When Alfred was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a young man, his family put him in an institution. Alfred had other plans and escaped. He had always loved to travel. A few years earlier, in Paris, he lived briefly in the fabled Beat Hotel, where he met Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, Brion Gysin, Ian Sommerville, Gregory Corso, Harold Norse and William S. Burroughs. He had an affair with Norse, who gifted Alfred with a few of his famous acid drawings. Alfred’s period as a global flaneur ended when he came to New Orleans and met Stewart.

A few months after connecting, Stewart and Alfred were at the Up Stairs Lounge at the corner of Iberville and Chartres streets the night an arsonist set fire to it. Butler was a regular at the bar and often took his dog, Jocko, to the Up Stairs. The dog, much to the delight of the other patrons, liked to drink vodka and milk out of a bowl. On the fateful night of the fire, Stewart and Alfred left the bar just minutes before flames erupted. A few doors down, at Wanda’s bar, Stewart and Alfred had not even settled in when they heard the sirens. The scene they encountered outside was horrific. Word of the fire had spread quickly, and a throng of people gathered in the streets as mayhem ensued. Years later, Stewart recalled that one of the most difficult things was going to work the next day and pretending to be unaware or unconcerned with the tragedy. Most workplaces at the time doubled as closets and while the demimonde of the French Quarter knew Stewart was gay, his boss and co-workers did not.

Surviving the fire that night was just one of a lifetime of remarkable moments in Stewart Butler’s life. Butler, with Alfred’s help, would go on to become one of the most consequential LGBT+ activists in New Orleans history. When Alfred inherited his fortune, Stewart retired and became a full-time activist. He joined the Gertrude Stein Society, which served as a forerunner of sorts to LAGPAC (Louisiana Lesbian and Gay Political Action Caucus). Butler was a charter member of LAGPAC and played a key role in the 1991 passage of a New Orleans City Council non-discrimination ordinance. LAGPAC was the first gay rights group in Louisiana and Stewart was at its heart.

From 1979 the Creole cottage of Butler and Doolittle, known as the Faerie Playhouse, was the site of many organizing meetings in the LGBT civil rights movement during the late XX Century and early XXI Century. The garden behind the home contains the cremains of many significant leaders in the struggle for equality, including Charlene Schneider, John Ognibene, Blanchard (Skip) Ward, and Cliff Howard, as well as artist John Burton Harter. The large wooden hearts that adorn the front of the house are said to be a tribute to his life partner, Alfred, who loved Valentine's Day and all that it meant.

Stewart Butler died on March 5, 2020.

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