Fort Worth's drowsiness more than a century ago led to an urban myth of sorts that a panther had wandered up from the Trinity River bottoms and was spotted sleeping on a downtown street. Even today, this carefully rebuilt and shiny place always seems to be waiting for more people to come and wake up to its wonders. But on a recent Sunday, any panther looking to catch a catnap would have had a tough time as a stream of 300 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 June 28 raid on a gay bar south of downtown—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.
The July 12 demonstration was one in a series of protests following the police raid on the Rainbow Lounge in which six Fort Worth officers and two Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission agents hauled 20 people from the bar and arrested six of them for public intoxication; one was treated in intensive care with a severe head injury, the result of police tactics that gay rights activists would label brutality. The incident 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.
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 Benjamin Guttery, a 24-year-old Army veteran who manages a jewelry store and who was detained in the raid. "This has lit such a fire in me. I have to defend myself." So he is toting a placard through Sundance Square that reads, "I WAS HOG TIED BY THE FWPD." In the oversized O he has drawn a pig's face and colored it a porky pink. It's 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"—sport pink bandannas in a more shocking shade.
Guttery's detention provides a glimpse of the harsh view one officer at the scene held toward the Rainbow Lounge and the gay-leaning South-side neighborhood where it's located.It was a new bar, open for just more than a week and different from the five other gay bars in town. There were bare-chested dancers who flaunted and strutted. Guttery and his partner had not been at the bar long. They were drinking on the outside patio when five officers arrived and began shining their flashlights in patrons' faces. "They 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 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 said. "I might have had enough to have a loose tongue but not a loose walk or anything like that."
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."