COVER STORY: Six Flags Over the Rainbow

Posted on 19 Jul 2012 at 6:30pm

High-profile hate crime against lesbian couple draws attention to lack of LGBT groups, protections in Arlington — region’s 3rd-largest city

MARY WORLD  | The city’s only gay bar, foreground, is a cozy dive west of downtown called Club 1851. It’s ‘like Cheers: where everybody knows your flame,’ according to Billy, a patron who declined to give his full name. (Photo illustration by Kevin Thomas/Dallas Voice) (Photos by Patrick Hoffman)

DANIEL VILLARREAL  |  Contributing Writer

ARLINGTON — A knock on the door woke Kim Lovering at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, June 10.

Walking downstairs, she wondered if someone had come to ask her to church and feared that maybe one of her friends in the military had been hurt.

An Arlington police officer greeted Lovering at the door. After apologizing for waking her so early, he said some vandalism had occurred in the neighborhood and walked her out to the cars in the driveway.

Spray-painted in pink across the side of her partner Mandy’s car was a 5-foot-long penis with a smiley-face cannonball coming out of its tip.

Lovering was aggravated, but she knew their insurance would cover it, and she said the drawing itself gave her a bit of a chuckle.

But then they walked to the back of her Subaru, where — beside a sticker on the back window showing two moms holding hands with their son and a dog next to them — the vandals had spray-painted the words “faggot”  and “queers” in blue, foot-wide letters.

“My heart kind of went up into my throat,” Lovering said. “It went from this is kind of stupid-funny and aggravating to wow, OK, that’s not cool. Somebody knows who I am, my son is 25 feet from where I’m standing right now, sleeping. It went from being ‘this is an aggravation’ to this is a threat.’”

The teens who committed the vandalism had tagged not only Lovering’s car, but also the property of 12 of her neighbors, leaving crude drawings, drug references and calling one of them a child molester.

Lovering and her partner have lived in their house since 2007 and had never experienced homophobia of any kind in Arlington.

And when she went back inside and checked on her 1-year-old son, she felt grateful that he couldn’t grasp what had happened: He and his mothers had just become victims of a hate crime — the first anti-gay hate crime in Arlington since 2008.

WAKEUP CALL | Tom Anable, president of Fairness Fort Worth, praised the Arlington Police Department’s handling of the hate crime — in which the couple’s car was spray-painted in the early-morning hours of June 10 — but also lamented the fact that the city doesn’t have an LGBT group of its own.

 

Almost immediately, Lovering reached out to Tom Anable, president of the LGBT advocacy group Fairness Fort Worth. Coincidentally, Anable had helped train Arlington police about the federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in a November 2011 conference he organized with the U.S. Department of Justice at the University of Texas at Arlington.

“Since the training, the Arlington police chief has remained very open and supportive about dealing with the LGBT community and keeping the lines of communication open,” Anable said.

After Lovering contacted Anable, he spoke with Arlington police and helped advise them on how to address the crime’s anti-gay aspects throughout the investigation. They even coordinated press releases and held a joint press conference on the matter. By June 20, police had identified all five teenage suspects.

And by June 27, all five were in custody.

Anable praised the department’s “absolutely textbook perfect” handling of the hate crime, but he said he also laments the fact that Arlington has no local advocacy group of its own to help Lovering and its other LGBT citizens.

With a population of 373,698, Arlington is the third-largest city in the D-FW Metroplex and the 50th largest in the nation, according to the 2010 Census. The city generates $90 million annually from tourist attractions like Six Flags and Cowboy Stadium.

The most recent Census figures show that Arlington’s households include 718 same-sex couples — with a high percentage of them raising children — but the city remains politically conservative, lacking an organized LGBT community or the legal protections enjoyed by people in Dallas and Fort Worth. And unlike the next-largest city in the region, Plano, Arlington has no LGBT advocacy group.

In addition to UTA’s Gay-Straight Alliance and a weekly men’s meet-up called the Arlington Supper Club, the city has one gay bar — a cozy dive west of downtown called Club 1851.

The bar gets crowded on Wednesday evening beer busts and on weekend nights, when UTA students and other locals come to watch the show hosted by drag queen Kiana Lee. But on a Monday night it’s just a handful of regulars, quietly chatting as the TV behind the bar drones on.

Longtime patron and 51-year-old Arlington resident Billy, who declined to give his full name, said that Club 1851, “is like Cheers: where everybody knows your flame.”

Billy said he’s lived in Arlington for almost his entire life and can recall when the city had two other gay bars — one called Britches and Bloomers and another called The Mad Hatter — in the late ’70s and early ’80s. These days, he said, most gays folks in Arlington go to Dallas or Fort Worth on weekends; the rest of Arlington’s gays are raising kids and don’t go to bars at all.

Billy said most local bars would happily accept gay clientele, but that the city was much more anti-gay in the past. One needs only peruse old headlines to see the proof:

• In July of 1985, the Ku Klux Klan visited Randol Mill Park to “clean out” the homosexuals allegedly cruising there for sex. Less than a year later, around the time of UTA’s 1986 homecoming, the campus gay and lesbian association had their banners and signs defaced and their parade float set aflame by unknown vandals.

• In May of 2002, Martin High School senior Jesse Brown received national attention after his teachers refused to sponsor a campus gay-straight alliance. In May of 2004, anti-gay local Reverend Dwight McKissic held a “Not On My Watch” rally at City Hall to protest same-sex marriage. In August of 2007, High Point Church canceled the memorial service of Navy Veteran Cecil Howard Sinclair after discovering that he was gay.

• As recently as last June, openly gay city council candidate Chris Hightower lost his election after an anonymous robo-call lied to voters by calling Hightower “a convicted sex pervert.”

And even today, Arlington is home to the Living Hope Ministry, a so-called “ex-gay” church that helps congregants overcome their homosexual tendencies, a practice that the American Psychological Association has called psychologically harmful.

But parts of the city have begun showing greater LGBT support more recently. Last month, in conjunction with a production of The Laramie Project, Theater Arlington teamed up with Amnesty International to commemorate Matthew Shepard and other victims of anti-LGBT violence in a candlelight vigil.

In March, UTA hosted the White House LGBT Conference on Safe Schools and Communities to discuss bullying. UTA also just invested $42,000 to organize increased LGBT cultural programming on campus through a group called the Pride Peer Task Force.

Alohi Valdez, current president of UTA’s GSA, has begun planning ways for the GSA to engage local politicians on LGBT issues.

“I think it’s part of my responsibility as president of the GSA to rally up all the people that I can — gay and straight, all my allies, everyone — to do this,” Valdez said. “To start a letter writing campaign, to go to City Hall and say ‘Dallas has [passed LGBT anti-discrimination laws], Fort Worth has even done it. I don’t see why we can’t have something here that’s the same.’”

Anable said he’s sent letters to Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck requesting meetings to discuss LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances, but so far the mayor has not responded.

The biggest obstacles to a unified LGBT movement in Arlington, Anable said, are the city’s older conservative leaders who come from an age where folks didn’t discuss homosexuality.

Anable also said he thinks that Arlington has not yet had a rallying incident, like the 2009 raid on the Rainbow Lounge, that could unite its LGBT citizens in a fight for greater legal protections.

Currently, Anable is interested in creating a new entity called the North Texas LGBT Coalition. The coalition would help organize LGBT communities in 16 counties under a single voice united for legal protections and political change.

Chris Arredondo, an openly gay Arlington resident of 24 years who is CEO of Eclipse Entertainment, said he thinks the city’s LGBT citizens are four to five years away from another gay bar and more vocally supportive leaders.

“There’s a whole new generation of [pro-]gay leadership on boards and the city council that’s coming up to fruition,” Arredondo said. “I think we’re finally recognizing an identity … [but] first and foremost, we’ve got to have a dialogue with the city.”

“I don’t want to out anybody,” Arredondo said, “but there are some other leaders out there — major — that if [the LGBT community] did come together and have one voice, they would support us. But we can’t start making change until other people become aware [of us and our needs].”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 20, 2012.

 

 

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