Judging from the raid on the Rainbow Lounge in Fort Worth to a recent incident at a taco restaurant in El Paso, we still have a long way to go
Here we are in the 21st century, but in the great state of Texas it’s still so 1969.
Take this little incident that happened in El Paso last week: A group of gay men were forcibly removed from a taco restaurant because they kissed.
What’s worse is the "rent-a-cops" who tossed them out first stated that "they didn’t allow that faggot stuff to go on there," and then threatened to have them arrested for "homosexual conduct."
Had these hired guns had at least a cursory knowledge of Texas law, they would know that 21.06 (the old homosexual conduct statute) was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2003. Additionally, the city of El Paso passed an ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation by businesses open to the public.
Was it simple ignorance that resulted in this incident? Perhaps, but more likely it is the prevailing attitude that it’s still OK to discriminate against LGBT people.
That attitude is something that starts at the highest levels of government and trickles down to the local authorities and finally to the hired hands that wear fake badges.
Until the federal government passes a sweeping anti-discrimination bill protecting LGBT people, this kind of thing will continue. When it comes to discrimination, the rule of thumb is unfortunately this: "If it isn’t specifically prohibited, it’s OK."
Time and time again this is borne out in housing discrimination and workplace discrimination. As Americans, we are second-class citizens when it comes to legal protections.
The El Paso kerfuffle bears a striking resemblance to the matter in Fort Worth in that it is the kind of thing we used to see on a regular basis in the mid-20th century.
Maybe it is just a symptom of the times changing and a few stubborn bigots who refuse to keep up. I suspect there might be some pent up hatred that is just waiting to seep out. After all, discriminating against people based on race or gender is not acceptable in any quarter, so who is left if you just feel you have to hate someone?
Maybe those security guards and the TABC officers were cut from the same cloth: people who felt the world was passing them by and the only way they could stop it was to act out against somebody. It’s the old scapegoat mentality in a new guise, yet it is just as ugly as ever.
I know that many times people who are involved in things as extreme as hate crimes often blame their personal shortcomings or failures on their victims. I don’t believe that what happened in El Paso or Fort Worth is a hate crime, but I do believe it is "hate motivated."
When officers, whether security guards or public servants, use words like "faggot" when performing what they believe are their duties, there is more at work here than discrimination. These guys were letting their inner hatred bubble to the surface, and it is a small step from words to actions.
When people who have been entrusted to keep the peace and provide security are motivated by hatred, they often provide neither.
Both the Fort Worth raid on the Rainbow Lounge and the El Paso taco restaurant incident should sound an alarm.
We still have a long way to go in both providing cultural diversity training and securing federal protections.
We cannot be complacent, or we might just drift back into the past. As one of the signs at the recent Milk box rally in Fort Worth said, "Discrimination is so 1969!"
Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist. His blog is at http://dungeondiary.blogspot.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 10, 2009.
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