FORT WORTH — Nearly a year after protests erupted over a law enforcement inspection at a gay bar on the near south side, some people think the city has made historic progress in forging ties with the gay community.
Communication between the Police Department and gays is stronger than ever despite the pain that the Rainbow Lounge incident might have initially caused, Fort Worth Police Chief Jeff Halstead says.
The bar had been open only a few weeks when police officers and agents from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission suddenly appeared on the night of June 28 to check for possible alcohol-related violations. They arrested five people on suspicion of public intoxication. One man wound up in a hospital with a serious head injury.
Almost immediately, gay advocates were on the Internet and on the streets, angrily questioning why police were at the bar at all and denouncing the force that officers used.
After internal investigations, the alcohol commission fired two agents. Halstead suspended three officers for one to three days.Halstead has said he was looking forward to the anniversary because he believes relations between the police and gay community have improved markedly.
On Thursday night, Halstead and his wife attended the opening night of Q Cinema, Fort Worth's Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival. They watched a preview trailer for a documentary about the Rainbow Lounge uproar.
The Dallas documentarian who is making Raid of the Rainbow Lounge is more cautious than Halstead.
"We will just have to wait and see how much progress sticks," Robert Camina said.
Camina wrapped his caution inside his perception of how Fort Worth was, and perhaps still is, perceived by much of the rest of the world: conservative, mostly Republican-voting, where the West begins and the rest blend in.
In fact, the gay community is not in hiding. Besides the film festival, Fort Worth has a gay-pride parade and a gay rodeo. There are gay and lesbian bars and gay churches. And openly gay men serve on the Fort Worth City Council (Joel Burns) and Fort Worth school board (Carlos Vasquez).
Still, for years, many gay people have adhered to an unwritten compact with the civic establishment that goes something like this: Don't draw attention to yourselves, and you will get along fine in Fort Worth.
That all changed, Camina said, after the June 28 bar check at the Rainbow Lounge.
"I think this was a laid-back community that will never be that way again," Camina said. "People have realized the power of their voice, and they have learned to use it."
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