When I saw the headline about a raid on a gay bar in Ft. Worth on my email last Sunday, I assumed some enterprising reporter was making a point about Stonewall. I expected to read about how everyone remembers what happened on June 28, 1969 in New York, but that no one recalls some obscure similar episode in Cowtown.
When I started reading, I realized the story was a current day news article about cops busting into a gay lounge, beating heads and arresting people. Ah ha, I thought. This is one of those essays that reminds people of what it was like 40 years ago and invites us to consider how we would feel if that long ago brutality still characterized todayâ€™s law enforcement.
Letâ€™s just say that it took me awhile to recognize that the Ft. Worth police indeed just raided a gay bar last weekend, grabbed people at random, handcuffed and arrested them on public intoxication charges, and hurt one of them badly enough to send him to intensive care with blood on the brain. Yes dear readers, this actually something that happened on July 28, 2009. Two Thousand Nine.
Three days later, the Dallas/Ft. Worth GLBT community is up in arms, the police chief is promising a full investigation, vigils are planned in coming days and money is being raised to help pay the medical bills for Chad Gibson, a patron of the Rainbow Lounge whose head was smashed against a step during his arrest. Gibsonâ€™s injuries may require six months to two years of recuperation, his sister told the Dallas Voice (their coverage appears on page one of this issue of the Bay Times).. Gibson, who cannot remember the violence, has a blood clot in his brain, which will gradually dissipate if all goes well. Under the worst case scenario, he could die from his injury.
At first, officials explained that police and officers of the Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission (TABC) made surprise inspections of three bars that evening, but that several men in the Rainbow Lounge were drunk and groped the cops, leading to their arrests. But witnesses without exception described a different scenario.
Several of those witnesses, including the bar owner, were familiar with TABC bar checks, where the lights are turned on, the music is turned off, and officials verify all the paperwork and licenses. No one is arrested.
In this case, six police officers and two TABC men entered the bar and immediately began roughing up customers and making arrests for public intoxication. The lights stayed low, the music stayed high, and it was apparently not clear what was going on. The officers had brought handfuls of plastic cuffs with them, and were making arrests seemingly at random, including men who had not been drinking and those who were not drunk. Some 20 people were forcibly rounded up and taken outside, several were pushed to the floor and seven were arrested, including six men and one woman. In a community meeting Monday night, witnesses described being â€śterrorizedâ€ť by the cops and the notion that patrons had made sexual advances at the officers was roundly ridiculed.
The motive for the raid is unclear, particularly since far from being a trouble spot, the Rainbow Lounge had only been open for two weeks. Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead has authorized an internal investigation, asking all witnesses to call a special number and provide detailed reports. Local politicians have issued statements of outrage, and hundreds of GLBTs have been rallying and calling for accountability. And while itâ€™s tempting to tie the assault to the anniversary of Stonewall, most people seem to think the date of the raid was a coincidence.
I donâ€™t really know what to say about this. Every week my email contains stories of discrimination, or hate crimes, or well, you know the list. But I canâ€™t really recall if in 15 years of writing gay news that Iâ€™ve ever encountered the news of a classic 1950s-style gay bar raid conducted in an American city by uniformed police.
Progress or More of the Same?
Maybe itâ€™s my imagination, but I have the feeling that things are improving in our relationship with the Obama administration. The President held that reception the other day to celebrate the Stonewall anniversary, repeating his various gay rights campaign pledges, but adding, significantly, that he expects to be judged - not by his promises, but by his accomplishments. When all is said and done, he predicted, the gay community will be more than satisfied with the Obama presidency.
I think some 200 GLBT luminaries were in attendance at the White House, where someone forgot to turn off their cell phone duck ring tone, which quacked loudly during Obamaâ€™s remarks. â€śWhere do you guys get those ringtones?â€ť asked the President good-naturedly, apparently unaware that we select our downloads off the barnyard animal list on the secret gay ringtone Web site, accessible to community members through a code known only to card carrying members of the Human Rights Campaign.
By the way, my dog jumped on my keyboard the other day and dislodged the â€śPâ€ť key. I put it back in but I have to stop and hit it very carefully every time I have to type â€śP,â€ť which is distracting for a fast stream of consciousness typist like myself. My effort to produce the word â€śCampaignâ€ť took me four taps on the recalcitrant button and I totally lost my train of thought.
There are a couple of moves in the right direction. For one thing, the administration will not appeal the federal ruling in favor of transwoman Diane Schroer who successfully sued the Library of Congress for discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The decision to step back from the lawsuit and let Schroerâ€™s victory stand comes on the heels of another commitment to transrights. As we mentioned last week, the administration just spelled out gender identity protections in a handbook for federal employees.
(As an important aside, because this has nothing to do with Obama and company, a federal judge in Georgia issued an important trans rights decision last Thursday, ruling that a state employee who was fired from an editorial position in the Georgia Assemblyâ€™s Office of Legal Counsel after she transitioned can proceed with her equal protection claim against the state. According to New York Law professor Arthur Leonard, the decision was such a strong one that the case will probably be settled.)
So back to the Obama administration. A few days ago, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that it has finished drafting regulations that will drop the ban on HIV travel and immigration, a lengthy process that in my mind was just one of the many Things Not Getting Done in Washington. So thatâ€™s coming along.
Then, the other day, Defense Secretary Gates said he is looking for ways to slow down enforcement of Donâ€™t Ask Donâ€™t Tell without actually skirting the anti-gay law itself. Gates, who spoke to reporters during a trip on Tuesday said, for example, that the military should not necessarily follow up on third party reports on sexual orientation, or other hearsay. Quite frankly, I thought the law actually prohibited that kind of pursuit, but whatever. I was most encouraged by news stories that mentioned Gates had been discussing the issue with the President and advisors last week. Again, my impression up to now has been that no one was talking about these matters at all.
Iâ€™m watching Wimbledon with the sound off as I write and Roger Federer is in the interview room wearing one of his fancy looking outfits with gold trim, looking more like a prince out of a fairy tale than a champion athlete. Paging Queer Eye for the Straight Guy! Come on Rog. Butch it up a little bit please. Youâ€™re a tennis player, not a golfer.
Iâ€™m tired and behind schedule, and as a matter of fact, I think I may have to shorten my column this week. I feel so dull witted.
But letâ€™s just suck it up and turn our attention to the federal court hearing scheduled in San Francisco on Thursday as the kickoff to Ted Olson and David Boies case against Proposition 8.
Judge Vaughn Walker issued a preliminary ruling of some sort, indicating that rather than issue an injunction, he will move for a speedy trial on the merits of the case. That means that we are not likely to see Proposition 8 suspended during this litigation, but nor are we going to sit through a tedious series of appeals concerning an injunction.
Over recent weeks, the main GLBT legal groups weighed in as friends of the court, so whatever the misgivings about a federal court challenge to Californiaâ€™s marriage ban, theyâ€™re jumping onboard rather than sitting on the sidelines. Thatâ€™s good news, and I hope Olson, Boies, and their backers have the sense to take advantage of our communityâ€™s experience in gay rights litigation.
Meanwhile, weâ€™ve got a few harebrained marriage lawsuits popping out of the woodwork, one of them in California, where an eccentric attorney is challenging Prop 8 under state law. This despite the fact that Californiaâ€™s highest court has already ruled on the underlying constitutionality of marriage (a year ago May) and on the status of Proposition 8 a month or so ago. There are no more issues up for debate under state law. The lawyer, whose name I forget, inserted himself into the main marriage cases, and now claims to be one of the key attorneys responsible for winning gay marriage rights last year. In fact, he is one of these preposterous egomaniacs who enjoys grandstanding on the backs of gay couples and fortunately is too clueless to do much damage.
Then we have a marriage lawsuit filed in federal court in Louisiana that I just read about. I canâ€™t comment with any expertise since I havenâ€™t researched the case or the lawyers, so Iâ€™ll just tell you off the top of my head that I assume itâ€™s another wannabe civil rights lawyer or maybe a couple of kids with the legal acumen of a beignet. Iâ€™ll check it out.
Oh, and there was a good ruling of Washington D.C., where a court turned thumbs down on the prospect of a referendum on the cityâ€™s new marriage recognition policy. Washington just joined New York as one of the few places where same-sex marriages are recognized and respected, even though they may not be contracted within city or state borders. New York, as you know, was poised to enact marriage equality up until the juvenile antics of the state senators brought all legislative activity to a halt several weeks ago.
I think this is enough for one day. I am exhausted, and you dear reader must also be tured having faithfully slogged through this column. Tomorrow, by the way, newshound Rex Wockner tells us that the high court of India will decide a major challenge to the sodomy laws that could finally legalize homosexuality. Current law penalizes gay sex with up to 10 years in prison, stiff punishment indeed.