Gay Panic in Cowtown

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

Wilkinson's group, which has organized "queer kiss-ins" on downtown Dallas streets, received little support from the audience of gays and others who packed the Fort Worth City Council chambers for its July 14 meeting, its first after the raid. A few minutes into the proceedings, Wilkinson began interrupting, demanding that the Rainbow Lounge matter be moved up on the lengthy schedule. "We're tired of being told to sit at the back of the bus," Wilkinson shouted over calls for order by the mayor. "We're sick and tired of being put at the end of the list." A man wearing a yellow Fairness Fort Worth button stood up next to Wilkinson and began shouting: "You're embarrassing me."

A few minutes later, at Councilman Burns's urging, the mayor ordered Wilkinson and five others to leave the building. "I thought the mayor was more than generous before encouraging him to go back to Dallas," Burns says later. Not only would the issue be hashed out by Fort Worth people, he suggests, it would be done without the shouting that has come out of Dallas meeting rooms over the years, where race often generates the heat.

Near midnight, Nelson of Fairness Fort Worth, dressed in a suit and tie, got down to the business of making his organization's case for an independent investigation, one that would overcome the doubts cast by Chief Halstead's initial remarks.

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.

The 63-year-old lawyer, who came out as gay five years ago after being married 34 years, prefaced his comments by telling the council about a hate-filled e-mail someone sent to lawyers around town recently. It came from an anonymous person upset over a lawsuit Nelson had been working on for the national Episcopal Church, which sought to strip the breakaway diocese in Fort Worth of its property. The subject line read, "How does Jon Nelson find time to sodomize his gay lover?"

Fort Worth has made a lot of progress toward inclusiveness, he told the council. "But as with any city, there remains an underbelly and the events of the Rainbow Lounge brought that to light."
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As of mid-August, the Fort Worth police have an internal affairs investigation in progress, and the major case squad is investigating the use of force against Chad Gibson. TABC has released an internal report citing 19 policy violations by two agents and their supervisor. They did not have their supervisor's approval to go to the Rainbow Lounge, and failed to submit paperwork establishing a reasonable cause to enter the bar, the report concludes. The state agency's report did not draw conclusions about the use of force, which is the subject of a second TABC probe.

The Fort Worth council, meanwhile, dropped its reluctance to approve an independent investigation and voted with little discussion on July 21 to ask the U.S. Attorney to take the job. "They'd been concerned most about appearing unsupportive of the police," council member Burns says, but the mayor had received advice from the city attorney and others about the need for an outside investigation. The plan they approved was left in the air, however, when Jacks said in early August he would not conduct a separate investigation but would follow up on any complaints of federal laws being broken.

Gibson hired a lawyer and stopped giving comments to the media. A new gay liaison was installed at the police department and a diversity task force geared up at the city.

The anger and frustration Fort Worth's gay community displayed in the weeks after the raid has abated somewhat. The give-no-quarter, continual revolution of Queer LiberAction doesn't fit its style. But something has changed. It is difficult to go back to acting as though nothing is wrong.

"We've accomplished a lot," Camp says. "This city as a whole has been very live-and-let-live. The way this thing has blown up, a lot of us have gotten to the point of thinking that isn't good enough. We're asking Fort Worth for more."

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