The Stonewall Rebellion may have taken place in New York City, but on the 40th anniversary of the event, the eyes of the nation — of the world — were focused on Fort Worth.
In the early morning hours of June 28, the Fort Worth Police Department and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission raided the Rainbow Lounge, a newly-opened but already popular gay bar in Cowtown’s gayborhood.
The scene, as described by witnesses, resembled the archive footage that opened the film "Milk": Cops harassed and humiliated patrons who were minding their own business, trying to enjoy an evening out. The confrontation escalated, and one patron was eventually hospitalized with a brain injury.
Todd Camp will never forget what he witnessed that night — and thanks to him, neither will most of the world.
Camp was out that night with friends and his partner Doug Hopkins, celebrating his 43rd birthday. What he saw stunned him. A former journalist — for 18 years, he worked at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, mostly as a film critic — Camp contacted the media, his friends, politicians. He knew what he was looking at was not right. And the word had to get out.
But Camp did more than get the word out; he gave a face and a voice to the entire scandal.
There are those who have claimed Camp’s presence, and his proactive approach in keeping the story at the fore of Fort Worth’s political calendar throughout the summer and beyond, legitimized the weightiness of what happened, gave it credence.
"People told me, ‘Having you there and hearing you talk about it made it real for me and a lot of other people,’" Camp recalls. "They knew it was not a bunch of drunk queens exaggerating what happened. Because you are known and a journalist and respected, it was true."
Months after the fact, he concedes he has sometimes regretted becoming the spokesman for his community. "I was on every single TV station and did every interview," he says. "I learned more about journalism in that month than in 18 years in the business."
But the man dubbed the unofficial Mayor of Gay Fort Worth has, over time, come to terms with his role.
"That was a position I eventually changed because the response changed," he says.
It is perhaps fitting, perhaps ironic, that Camp — who says he does not consider himself a political person and who accepted the limelight only begrudging — should be the unanimous selection to be named Dallas Voice’s inaugural LGBT Person of the Year. It is not merely for the attention directed at him, but for the entirety of what he represented to Fort Worth, to Texas and to the gay community that made him the best choice.
In 2009 — just weeks after the events at the Rainbow Lounge — Camp commemorated the 10th anniversary of Q Cinema, the international gay and lesbian film festival he founded in July 1999. Soon coming up on its 12th season, Q Cinema beat Dallas to the punch with a queer-focused retrospective of movies (Out Takes Dallas launched several months later) and made Camp, already well-regarded for his thoughtful film reviews, a major force in the artistic community of North Texas.
His commitment to Q Cinema, even in the face of challenging times for non-profit arts organizations nationwide, has kept the festival relevant to Camp and to his audience.
"Hollywood is too obsessed with rehashing toys we played with in the 1960s, so small stories about people get pushed to the side," he says. "As long as there aren’t mainstream films being made there will be a place for gay festivals."
"There are still people living gay lives in secret," he says. "It’s the e-mails afterward I get from people who say ‘This movie reminded me why I am who I am’ that make it all worth it. It’s a huge financial drain and the arts world is in dire straits across the country. But what keeps me going is when I stumble across a gem of a movie that speaks to me and I cannot wait to share with other people."
Under Camp’s leadership, Q Cinema has continued to increase its visibility and that of the gay community. This year, it began sponsoring both the Fort Worth versions of Gay Bingo and Guerilla Gay Bar, where "straight" clubs are targeted on particular weekends to "go gay" for a night with an influx of queer patrons.
"I knew both the guys who started Guerilla Gay Bar in Dallas — they had lived in Fort Worth. They said Dallas took up all their time, so I found someone in our organization, who is straight, who was passionate about it."
Camp even plans to expand the artistic offering of Q Cinema to other areas.
"We are hoping to do some gay theater in town and the Rose Marine has been particularly interested in that," he says. "We do have to adapt and sometimes film isn’t enough."
But with all he is involved with, when people talk about 2009, Camp will probably most be associated with his role in the Rainbow Lounge raid and its political aftermath, which led to reforms in the police department and the dismissal of certain officials involved in the raid — all of which can be traced, directly or indirectly, to Camp.
Much of Camp’s involvement in helping to define 2009 for gay North Texans was behind the scenes, as he met in closed-door sessions with the City Council, police hierarchy and TABC officials, crystallizing the core attitudes the led to the incident, helping reshape official policies and drawing attention to (and discovering the political clout of) gay Fort Worthians.
Not everything was a raging success.
Camp admits he was "a little disappointed with the way gay Pride shook out. We got the attention of the entire world on this city for the first time ever. That’s a big deal, an important day, and I felt we squandered an opportunity to do something to bring attention of the world. The parade basically ignored the whole Rainbow Lounge event."
For his part, "the one thing I regretted was, I wish I had paid more attention that night. I had an iPhone in my hand — why wasn’t I taking pictures or video? We were all so dumbfounded."
His enthusiasm for his city — and the future of gay rights in North Texas — remains firm, though.
"Fort Worth was always a little ahead of the curve getting gay-friendly laws passed," Camp says. "But we have gotten the city to do more on this issue than in the history of this town up to this point. And Fairness Fort Worth is still involved.
But right now, I think we’re kind of in fatigue. We’re so busy, it’s hard to evaluate. But I am excited about 2010."
HOW DID WE DECIDE?
When the Dallas Voice editorial staff sat down to start planning our annual Year in Review issue this year, we all quickly agreed that we should name a Person of the Year. The difficulty came in deciding who it would be.
We all agreed it would be an LGBT person instead of a straight ally. And we all agreed we wanted a local person instead of some celebrity or national activist figure. And we agreed that it could well be a controversial person — someone whom everyone agreed had an impact, although everyone might not agree whether the impact was positive or not.
Thanks to an amazingly eventful year, we had plenty of names to choose from. The names of politicians and activists immediately sprang to mind, people who shouted in the streets and those who debated quietly in the halls of power; people who demanded and people who respectfully requested. All of them stood out in some way or another.
But in the end, it was Todd Camp’s broad range of impact that made him our unanimous choice.
Camp, who was interviewed for this story but did not know why he was being interviewed, was one of the earliest voices being heard after the Rainbow Lounge raid. He helped organize protests within hours of the raid. And then he participated with Fairness Fort Worth to work with city officials in making changes that needed to be made.
Add all that on top of the years of service Camp had already put in on Q Cinema and other cultural efforts, and the sum is a man who, we feel, made North Texas a better place for LGBT people in 2009.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 1, 2010.