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Rick Hurt would have been the envy of many a New Orleans belle. Wearing a blond wig, red dress with black polka dots, black pumps and a black, French Quarter-style straw hat with a large, black feather, Hurt hiked up his skirt to show off his pink bloomers while explaining what he was doing at Fuzzy's -- a downtown bar frequented by police officers -- last Saturday night. Hurt was one of about a dozen gay men and women who invaded the cop hangout in response to several recent raids on gay clubs by vice officers -- raids gay activists have interpreted as harassment of the homosexual community by Houston police.
Hurt was among some 15 people who were arrested July 16 during a vice raid of the Triangle Bar and Grill on the Southwest Freeway at Weslayan. Hurt, who works for a telegram service -- sometimes as a fairy, sometimes as a Bette Midler impersonator, he explains -- says he was wearing men's clothing when he arrived at the gay bar that night.
"I'm a flamer," says Hurt, as if that fact weren't obvious. "I flamed in around 11:30 and ordered a cocktail. I cruised once around the bar and then sat down at a table and read a bar guide magazine.
"Pretty soon, out of the corner of my eye, I saw this guy come up, and he said, 'You're under arrest.' I thought he was a stripper and he said, 'No, I'm HPD vice and you're P.I [public intoxication]. The way you were acting you must be drunk.' And I said to him, 'Girlfriend, I always act this way.'"
Hurt was taken to central police headquarters downtown to be booked for the misdemeanor. After he arrived, Hurt says, he asked to be given a field sobriety test, a Breathalyzer or a blood test.
"I told them I wanted everything Rudy T refused, and they told me that this wasn't West U," says Hurt, referring to the incident three days earlier when Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich was arrested by a West University Place police officer for drunken driving and then refused to submit to tests to determine whether he was intoxicated.
After he pressed his demand that he be given a sobriety test, Hurt says, one officer finally told him to recite the alphabet backwards.
"I couldn't do that," Hurt admits. "But I did start counting backwards from 100. I got to 80 before they told me to shut up." Hurt would spend 22 hours and 45 minutes in police custody before finally posting a $250 bond. He plans to contest the charge of public intoxication.
The evening at Fuzzy's, located on Milam near the Pierce Elevated, was organized by long-time gay activist Ray Hill. Sitting at a table beneath an American flag and a bullet-riddled HPD patrol car door that's suspended from the ceiling, and near a larger-than-life photo-poster of Oliver North, Hill and the other gay men and women with him did little to draw attention to themselves, aside from occasionally kissing. Mostly what they did was considerably increase the volume of business the bar did on an otherwise slow Saturday night. At times, when a cop or someone who looked like a cop walked into Fuzzy's, Hurt would raise a homemade sign with the alphabet written on it backwards and mockingly, barely out of earshot, ask the newcomer if he knew his alphabet. But for the most part, Fuzzy's regulars seemed oblivious to the contingency of gay interlopers.
Hill says the group went to the police bar to emphasize a couple of points. "First of all, anybody can invade anybody's bar," he says, "and tonight we demonstrated that we understand how to behave better than they do. More importantly, there's no need for this quarrel. Most of us are law-abiding citizens. We need the police for protection. They need us to help them do their job. We're just trying to live together."
Hill says the alleged harassment of gays through bar raids -- as well as the alleged wearing of ski masks by some uniformed officers during arrests in the Montrose area -- stems from a lack of direction in the police department. As an example, he points to the absence of a permanent captain over HPD's central patrol, which covers Montrose.
"Somebody needs to be in charge," says Hill. "Vice forgets how well we can organize in a crisis. And this is not over. We will push the cases through the courts and through internal affairs. This is not 1959 and we ain't going back."
Both Police Chief Sam Nuchia and Assistant Chief Art Contreras, who oversees the vice division, have indicated that the gay community's complaints are being investigated. Anise Parker, a lesbian and member of the Citizen Advisory Committee on police matters, has given the two officials a three-page list of complaints about raids on the Triangle and Q T's Nite Club on Westheimer, as well as complaints about random arrests in Montrose. Parker says the scope of the bar raids -- including checking the driver's licenses of all the patrons -- went much further than similar raids for liquor violations at straight bars.