The fortieth anniversary of Stonewall, the 1969 bar riot that kicked off the modern gay rights movement, was supposed to be a time of reflection. Judging from the gushing media coverage and flowery political speeches, it momentarily seemed that the struggle for equality had ended in victory.
Out with marches and in with museums, where gay and straight people could walk the marble corridors and gasp in astonishment, “The police actually used to raid gay bars?”
When the Fort Worth police stormed the gay Rainbow Lounge at 1AM on Sunday, June 28, the patrons could be forgiven for thinking it was a quaint cabaret show in memory of Stonewall – very much like the Civil War reenactments so popular in the south. But, no, this was the real deal – a gang of gun-wielding thugs using their badges to badger helpless patrons who committed the crime of drinking beer while gay.
It was the third such raid of the night by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and Fort Worth police. They were allegedly harassing bar customers to crack down on public intoxication, which is as ridiculous as raiding the mall for public displays of shopping. While they claim they were carrying out their duty, it sure seems to me like a band of good ole boys with too much time on their hands. Instead of fighting real crime, becoming the criminals must have provided a greater adrenaline rush.
By the time these taxpayer supported public servants reached the gay bar, they unleashed a viciousness and violence not seen at the other establishments. According to the Dallas Voice, seven bar patrons were arrested on charges of public intoxication. One customer, Chad Gibson, suffered brain injuries during the raid and is still hospitalized, reportedly suffering from bleeding on his brain, which may require surgery.
The armed hooligans tried to excuse their thuggish behavior by reviving the stereotype of gay men as sexual predators. Incredibly, they claimed that as they stormed the bar, patrons made sexual advances.
They actually want people to believe that their magnetic, sexual appeal triggered the insatiable sexual appetites of the drunken gays, who thought they were being rushed by the Village People. That’s odd, because the patrons describe the invasion as more terrifying than titillating.
Clearly, the police are insulting the public’s intelligence by offering a lame, implausible excuse, based on bigotry. As they used to say when I lived in Texas: “They are shoveling ten pounds of shit into a five pound bag.”
And, quite frankly, it is irrelevant whether sexual advances were made. If Gibson had chased the officers across the dance floor with a male blow up doll, they are still guilty of excessive use of force. The police don’t have the authority to mug people – and when they do so, they transform from protectors to perpetrators.
In many ways, such actions are worse than hate crimes. We can accept the fact that wild-eyed, crazy extremists will always exist. But, when the cops become the criminals, it creates an insecurity and raw vulnerability that affects the entire GLBT community in a substantial way.
What is troubling is that Fort Worth is a sophisticated town teeming with gays. If a raid can happen here, it can happen anywhere. The city needs to quickly investigate this outrage and punish those who planned and participated in this brutal attack on innocent beer drinkers.
This week, President Obama met with gay leaders and offered more pretty words. He should be applauded for this meeting, because it does send the right message and adds to an atmosphere of acceptance that transcends policy.
Still, we need this president to make history because the discrimination faced by gay people is not a relic of the past. The hatred is alive, it is sometimes deadly and our lives – no matter how enchanted – can take a lethal turn if we are in the wrong place at the wrong time.
While I am thrilled that Obama recognized the rainbow flag, he and Congress must take action to end discrimination, because the Rainbow Lounge is a grim reminder that the fight for justice is far from over.