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

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A new group calling itself Fairness Fort Worth, led by lawyer Jon Nelson, formed around the goal of conducting this independent inquiry. At the same time the group moved to pressure city officials, it also hoped to tone down the media's rhetoric. As business tycoon Warren Buffett has said, "It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it." Gay Fort Worth, as much as any segment of the community, was horrified by the city's newly minted reputation as a homophobic backwater. And yet as angry as they were at the place where they lived, they found themselves coming, in some ways, to its defense.

"I had an L.A. Times reporter call me and say, 'It must be tough to be you, to be gay and live in Fort Worth, Texas,'" says Burns, who works in real estate and moved to the city from Lubbock. "I told him I chose this city. We looked at Portland and Seattle and Austin and Washington before we moved here. It's a wonderful place."

Camp, who some have begun calling the mayor of gay Fort Worth because he is so plugged into the arts community, says, "It didn't take long for this anti-Fort Worth sentiment to build on the blogs. It was, 'Fort Worth sucks. We should boycott the city.' It wasn't fair or accurate to blame the entire city or the police. This was not typical of the police."

Fort Worth had been given "a big black eye," Camp adds. As someone whose film festival brings people in from around the country, he says gay interests, including his, may end up suffering most. "We were just starting to get somewhere," Camp says. "Now Fort Worth is the place where they beat up queers and drag them out of bars."

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Low-key, coupled-up, confined to no one neighborhood but not so bold as to head into Billy Bob's honky-tonk holding hands, Fort Worth gays live somewhat cautiously. There is an annual gay rodeo and a gay pride parade with floats one participant called pathetically middle-school. Locals like to say Fort Worth people will look past most anything "as long as you don't do it in the street and scare the horses," but hard-edged attitudes are easy to find.

"I get called 'faggot' at least once a week," says Bruce Wood, 49, whose life in Fort Worth has taken him into the two sides of the city it promotes most heavily: cowboys and culture. For 10 years, until 2006, he ran the Bruce Wood Dance Company, a modern dance outfit that performed in the city's best venues. He grew up in small-town Jacksboro, Texas, where he learned to rope and ride "when I wasn't getting beat up." Today he works in a high-end Western wear shop downtown.

Raising money for an arts organization is never easy, but doing it as an openly gay man in Fort Worth is harder still, Wood says. "One donor asked me over and she said, 'Of course it isn't me, but my friends think you act too gay in public' and that I really needed to fire all the gay men who worked for me," he recalls. "I said no, and it cost us $25,000. Of course, there are some gracious, wonderful people, but there are a lot of homophobes who want nothing to do with you at all."

Frank Provasek, a coin dealer who has been involved with Tarrant County Lesbian and Gay Alliance since it was formed in 1980, says that in the '70s and earlier, gay bars were randomly subjected to raids "with police putting everyone in paddy wagons and taking them off not only on public intoxication charges but for same-sex dancing, holding hands or maybe there was a lady who had hair too short, wearing pants, and she had to prove she wasn't a cross-dresser."

In the 1980s, he says, police moved on to placing fake personal ads in gay magazines to entrap homosexuals on sodomy charges. The police chief at the time, Thomas Windham, put an end to that tactic "and relations with the police have been good for at least 20 years," he says.

The Lesbian and Gay Alliance was instrumental in getting Fort Worth in 2000 to amend its anti-discrimination ordinance and prohibit discrimination against gays in employment, housing and places of public accommodation. It became the second city in the state to pass a gay protection measure, 25 years behind Austin. Dallas followed suit in 2002. The Texas Legislature, dominated for more than a decade by social conservatives, has not joined in.

Life in the city means confronting "the occasional redneck," "one asshole neighbor" or "some of the old folks down at the beauty parlor who are prejudiced against gays, blacks, everybody," a smattering of interviews reveals. Mostly, though, it's a place where people politely hold their tongues, making it difficult to tell what they think.

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Thomas Korosec
Contact: Thomas Korosec