Gay Panic in Cowtown

The police raid on the Rainbow Lounge rocked the calm world of Fort Worth gays.

Benjamin Guttery and his partner were drinking on the patio when five officers showed up and started shining their flashlights in patrons' faces.

Rainbow Lounge, the newest of six gay bars in Fort Worth, had only been open a week, and the vibe there was different from its more low-key counterparts. There were bare-chested dancers who flaunted and strutted. Guttery and his partner had not been at the bar long. The officers said they were "looking for underage drinkers," Guttery recalled. No one said anything, except one of the officers who mockingly remarked, "Oooo, it got real quiet out here."

Guttery, a 24-year-old Army veteran who manages a jewelry store, knew he shouldn't say anything but did: "That's because we are of age, officer." Immediately the officer wanted to know who spoke up, and when Guttery stepped forward, the cop told him to put down his drink and put his hands behind his back — he was being arrested for public intoxication. "I'm 6-8, 250 pounds and I had just finished my second drink," Guttery recalled. "I might have had enough to have a loose tongue, but not a loose walk or anything like that."

Benjamin Guttery spoke up when the officers came into the bar.
Mark Graham
Benjamin Guttery spoke up when the officers came into the bar.
Anyone who made eye contact with the cops at the Rainbow Lounge the night of June 28 was likely to find himself cuffed and arrested, says Chuck Potter, one of the men dancing at the bar when the raid began. Instead, Potter began snapping photos with his cell phone.
Mark Graham
Anyone who made eye contact with the cops at the Rainbow Lounge the night of June 28 was likely to find himself cuffed and arrested, says Chuck Potter, one of the men dancing at the bar when the raid began. Instead, Potter began snapping photos with his cell phone.

Guttery said he was roughly "bulldozed" through the bar crowd and loaded into a paddy wagon filled with Hispanic men from the Rosedale Saloon and Cowboy Palace, two bars that were "inspected" earlier in the evening by the same squad. After he sat in the locked van for about 30 minutes, the doors swung open and a Fort Worth police officer ordered him out onto Jennings Avenue, outside the bar. He was about to be let off the hook.

One of Guttery's drinking companions was his nephew who works for the city. He dropped the name of a police supervisor to one of the officers at the scene and led him to believe Guttery was a city employee as well. "The officer that let me go said that city employees shouldn't be hanging around this part of town, which I took to mean the gay area of town," Guttery recounted. "That's absolutely ludicrous, but that's what he said."

Guttery got off relatively lightly. At the end of the June 28 raid at the bar south of downtown, 20 people had been hauled from the bar — six were arrested for public intoxication and one was treated in intensive care with a severe head injury.

Gay rights activists labeled the raid carried out by seven Fort Worth police officers and two Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission agents brutality. This was followed by a blitz of media accounts, thousands of angry e-mails and a gay rights outcry that uncomfortably thrust Fort Worth into a national and even international spotlight.

On Sunday, July 12, a stream of gay and lesbian protesters marched down the middle of an otherwise quiet Main Street en route to City Hall.

It was an odd sight for Cowtown's gay community, normally not a militant bunch. But, then, this time they had plenty to get militant about. Thanks to the now infamous raid on the anniversary of the birth of the gay rights movement, no less, Fort Worth's gays seemed ready to make some noise. A polite noise, perhaps, and not too loud.

Taking-it-to-the-streets protests are new to Fort Worth's gay community, which has rarely appeared on the radar and has generally adopted Cowtown's low-key, live-and-let-live approach to life. Unlike Cedar Springs in Dallas or the Montrose in Houston, there is no gay ghetto, no place where flaunting one's gayness is not only countenanced but comfortable. Fort Worth gays were perfectly fine living their tranquil lives, that is, until the raid jolted them into activism, stirred the passions of the contented and perhaps changed their get-along agenda forever.

"A couple of weeks ago I never would have been in the street, let alone talking to a reporter," said Guttery. "This has lit such a fire in me. I have to defend myself."

So there he was toting a placard through Sundance Square that read: "I WAS HOG TIED BY THE FWPD." In the oversized O he had drawn a pig's face and colored it a porky pink. It was the color of the day. Rally organizers from Queer LiberAction — a group of gay rights activists from Dallas committed, as their Web site says, "to directly, visibly and publicly confronting queer inequality and oppression" — sported pink bandannas in a more shocking shade.
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A few of the men who were at the bar that night touched off the fast-rippling reaction to the raid only hours after it occurred.

Chuck Potter, 43, was at the bar dancing to the thumping music, chewing ice in lieu of drinking and was so preoccupied that it took him awhile to realize that officers were in the bar. It seemed to Potter that if you made eye contact with police, "you were the next target."

It struck him that the police were being far more physical with those being detained than the situation required. "An officer had [one man] up against the wall, and he was pulling his neck back while another one was trying to get his arms behind him. I thought they were going to break his neck," Potter says. "When they let him off the wall, he kind of stumbled a little bit and they tackled him, body slammed him into the ground face-first."

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