By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Getting the job of truth-seeking beyond the hands of the Fort Worth Police Department and an internal TABC review quickly became the chief goal of Fairness Fort Worth and Queer LiberAction, the most visible organizations giving sustained attention to the raid. But the difference in style and tactics between the homegrown group and the Dallas rights organization could not have been starker.
651 S. Jennings Ave.
Fort Worth, TX 76104
Region: Fort Worth
"We see all these events in the past month as part of our civil rights movement, our struggle," says Blake Wilkinson, who founded Queer LiberAction last November. "Fairness Fort Worth sees it differently. The message in Fort Worth is tone it down, let's calm down...It isn't time to tone it down. It's time to make as much noise around this as possible."
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' 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.
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."
On August 6, the TABC released an internal report citing 19 policy violations by two of its agents and their supervisor. The agents 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.
On August 18, the Fort Worth police issued a press release updating the results of its own ongoing, internal investigation, which has "revealed that a flawed policy created a situation that would not have occurred otherwise at the Rainbow Lounge." The eight-page press release states the Rainbow Lounge incident "has provided the police department with an opportunity to learn and grow" and police are committed to establishing "better communication" with the LGBT community. The department has already interviewed 35 witnesses, 10 officers and reviewed the TABC report. Yet four allegations remain under investigation against Fort Worth police officers: excessive force, unprofessional conduct, neglect of duty and failure to supervise. By law, the department has until December 28 to complete its investigation.
The Fort Worth council, meanwhile, dropped its reluctance to pursue an independent investigation and voted with little discussion on July 21 to ask the U.S. Attorney's Office 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 U.S. Attorney Jacks said in early August he would not conduct a separate investigation but would follow up on any violations of federal laws.
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 point of thinking that isn't good enough. We're asking Fort Worth for more."
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