Longform

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

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He could have easily reached a more innocuous conclusion—say, the boss told the dancer, "Break's over, get to work!" Only he didn't; he was law enforcement and his suspicions were aroused.

Aller is the same agent who, during the bar "inspection" two nights later, claimed Gibson "slapped" him in the groin in a hallway near the bathroom, which he said prompted what turned into a struggle over his arrest. One sober witness at the bar that night who scribbled down several pages of notes immediately after the incident says that's not true. Tom Anable, a CPA who was waiting for the bar to close that night to go over its books, says Aller "walked straight through the bar near where I was standing and tapped Chad Gibson on the shoulder. At that point Mr. Gibson turned. I was about 12 feet away...I could not hear him, but I could see him mouthing the word, 'Why.' They were in perfect profile to me where I was standing. There was at least 18 inches of space between them. I can tell you Chad Gibson never groped that officer."

Anable then saw Aller "grab Chad's hand, twist, turn him around, grab his collar and drag him off that step...There was no resistance from Mr. Gibson. After he had him pinned to the wall, he called for assistance. He stepped back, turned and threw him very hard on the floor."

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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.

"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."

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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.

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Thomas Korosec
Contact: Thomas Korosec