FFW to FWISD: Walk the walk

Advocacy group says school officials need to implement training, enforcement processes

Anable.Tom

Tom Anable

 

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

FORT WORTH — Representatives of Fairness Fort Worth are set to meet next Tuesday, Oct. 25, with Walter Dansby, interim superintendent of the Fort Worth

Independent School District, and FFW President Tom Anable said his organization is hoping to see the district’s plans for implementing training and enforcement processes related to its anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies.

In the past year, the Fort Worth school board has, since the first of this year, expanded the district’s anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies to include protections based on gender identity and gender expression; protections based on sexual orientation were already included.

The board voted in January to include those protections in policies applying to faculty and staff members, and in June to policies applying to students.

LGBT advocates have routinely praised the district for those votes, noting that the changes make the FWISD policies among the most progressive and comprehensive in the state. This week, however, Anable said advocates have become frustrated with the district’s slow progress in implementing training regarding the policies and in enforcing them.

“They are talking the talk, now we want them to walk the walk,” Anable said.

He pointed to a series of recent incidences in Fort Worth schools as evidence that training and enforcement are lacking, including the mid-September furor that erupted over a Western Hills High School student’s alleged anti-gay comments in class.

Dakota Ary told the media that his German class teacher, Kristopher Franks, sent him to the principal after he made a comment to a friend during a classroom discussion, basically saying that as a Christian, he believes homosexuality is wrong.

Franks, however, said that Ary made the comment directly to him, that the comment was not pertinent to any classroom discussion and

Vasquez.Carlos

Carlos Vasquez

that it was part of a pattern of anti-gay comments and behavior aimed at him by Ary and three other students in the class.

Although Ary was initially suspended, school officials rescinded the punishment and cleared his record after Ary’s mother brought in Liberty Counsel’s Matt Krause to represent them and complained to school district officials.

Within days, school officials notified Franks that they were launching an investigation of him based on unrelated charges of inappropriate behavior that had just surfaced. Franks was suspended with pay for the duration of the investigation, but returned to the classroom three days later after the investigation cleared him of any wrongdoing.
Franks still ended up with a “letter of concern” in his file, the lowest form of discipline the district can take against a teacher, and was required to take a course in classroom management.

In an email to school board members dated Oct. 4, Franks also said that the Western Hills High School principal had, on his first day back in class, conducted an in-class evaluation — during the class that includes Dakota Ary — that Franks said was unwarranted and overly harsh. Franks said the principal refused to discipline a student who put on a pink shirt and “a pink lady’s hat” and pranced around the room to mock Franks, even though the principal was in the room when it happened.

Franks also said he learned from other students that the group of students who had been harassing him previously, during the time while he was suspended, were allowed by a substitute teacher to “dress in drag” and make fun of Franks.

Although Franks has since told colleagues the problem had been addressed and settled to his satisfaction, Anable said this week that the fact the harassment was allowed in the first place points to a lack of training and enforcement on the anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies.

In a second recent incident, a secretary at Carter-Riverside High School recently sent a memo through the school’s email system in which she quoted biblical passages supposedly condemning homosexuality while questioning the wisdom of allowing a “gender-bending day” during the school’s homecoming week activities.

“I am concerned that it may cause more confusion with those who are struggling with their own sexuality, which is common for teens,” wrote Victoria Martinez, who works in the school’s internal finance office.

She continued, “As representatives of FWISD, I would hate to think we are partakers of encouraging a lifestyle, which is an abomination unto the LORD, and which may not be acceptable to many parents of our children. We should strive to keep our students’ focus on academics and not what they or others are doing in the bedroom.”

And, Anable said, there have been reports that same-sex couples at the district’s Diamon Hill-Jarvis High School have been disciplined for holding hands at school, while opposite-sex couples holding hands have not gotten in trouble.

Openly gay FWISD Board of Trustees member Carlos Vasquez said Wednesday that he was disappointed that Fairness Fort Worth had decided to go public with its criticisms since, “We have already solved most of the issues and concerns they are bringing up.”

Vasquez said that had “visited with Kris Franks” during the recent Tarrant County Gay Pride Picnic, and that while “there were some concerns on his first day back in the class, those were quickly resolved.”

And Vasquez said that district officials had responded quickly to Martinez’s email, removing it from the email system and reprimanding the secretary.

“As soon as this was brought to my attention, I spoke to Supt. Dansby, the superintendent took care of it immediately,” Vasquez said, adding that Dansby “took the appropriate measures” against Martinez but that he could not elaborate further because he cannot discuss personnel matters.

Vasquez also said that he had not heard of any complaints from Diamon Hill-Jarvis before a call Wednesday from Dallas Voice.

“That’s one of my schools. It’s in my [school board] district,” Vasquez said. “I have already called the principal there and she said she had not heard anything about that, either. She assured me that all the students are being treated fairly.”

Vasquez continued, “I am kind of surprised that [Fairness Fort Worth] felt the need to go to the press with this. Supt. Dansby is working with the LGBT community, he’s working with me on these issues. This is the most open this school district has ever been with the LGBT community.”

But Anable said Fairness Fort Worth is simply trying to let the school district know that the community is watching and expects the district to follow through on its commitments in terms of training and enforcement of the anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies.

“We are not trying to be overly critical. But we do want them to know that we will keep the pressure on,” Anable said. “We have these policies in place, and we want to make sure they are enforced.”

Anable said his organization also wants to make sure that the LGBT community “has a place at the table” as the district continues its search for a permanent superintendent.

Dansby was appointed interim superintendent after former Supt. Melody Johnson resigned in June amid controversy, and the district continues a nation-wide search for a permanent replacement for Johnson.

Anable said the school board “creating a forum/focus group to assist the consultants they’ve hired to conduct the search for a new permanent superintendent, and we want to know if the district intends to include the LGBT community in that focus group,” Anable said. “We’ve made great progress in the schools here in Fort Worth. Now we don’t want to see them bring in someone who will ignore that progress and take the school district backwards on our issues.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 21, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Doing things the Fort Worth way

THE DIFFERENCE 18 MONTHS CAN MAKE | Fairness Fort Worth President Tom Anable says that with the initial issues of the Rainbow Lounge raid addressed, FFW can move forward toward its goal of being an LGBT clearinghouse that works to match those with needs with those who have the resources to meet those needs. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

Formed to meet the immediate needs of Tarrant County’s LGBT community in the wake of the Rainbow Lounge raid, Fairness Fort Worth is evolving into a cornerstone in building a stronger community

TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

FORT WORTH — Even though Fort Worth in 2001 became one of the first Texas cities to include sexual orientation in its citywide nondiscrimination ordinance, the city known as “Cowtown” and the place “where the West begins” was never known for having an especially active LGBT community.

There were gay bars here, sure, and plenty of LGBT citizens in Cowtown. But there was no recognizable “gayborhood,” no active LGBT organizations. Fort Worth’s LGBT churches got lost in the shadow of Cathedral of Hope, “the largest LGBT congregation in the world” located just east in Dallas. And the city’s annual gay Pride parade, while older than Dallas’, had in recent years dwindled away to nearly nothing.

But then came June 29, 2009 — the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York and the night that Fort Worth police and agents with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission raided a newly-opened gay bar called the Rainbow Lounge.

In the tumultuous days and weeks after the raid made headlines across the country, Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief insisted the city would handle the uproar in “the Fort Worth way.”

Some angry activists, many of them younger and more radical folks who didn’t actually live in Fort Worth, responded with jeers. To them, “the Fort Worth way” was just code for ignoring the problem and looking for some way to sweep it all under the rug.

But a group of stalwart Fort Worth LGBTs took a different tack. They decided to take Moncrief and other city leaders at their word and opted for a more low-key, although no less insistent, approach.

Moncrief said “the Fort Worth way” was to talk things out and work together to find ways to solve problems, and these Fort Worth LGBT leaders stepped up and said, “OK. Let’s talk. But you’d better be ready to do more than just talk. We want solutions.”

And that was the birth of a new day in Fort Worth.

Fairness Fort Worth is formed

ANNOUNCING A NEW DAY | On July 8, 2009, Fort Worth attorney Jon Nelson announced at a press conference the formation of Fairness Fort Worth, a new organization that would initially focus on helping coordinate between law enforcement agencies to gather the testimony of witnesses to the Rainbow Lounge raid. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

Less than two weeks after the raid, a group of LGBT business, civic and religious leaders held a press conference to announce the formation of a new organization called Fairness Fort Worth. Attorney Jon Nelson explained that the group’s initial priority was to help locate witnesses to the Rainbow Lounge raid, providing those individuals with legal advice while also coordinating with TABC and Fort Worth police to get their testimony recorded as part of the several investigations into what actually happened that night.

But even then, FFW founders knew they wanted to do more.

“Even though our city strives to be open, equal and caring, we have much more work to do,” Nelson said at the time.

Over the next several months, FFW continued to coordinate the LGBT community’s response to the raid. The organization marshaled hundreds of citizens to turn out in support of a new ordinance protecting transgenders from discrimination, offering measured, reasonable responses to the bigoted rants of those who opposed the change.

FFW members volunteered for the City Manager’s Diversity Task Force that created a list of policy changes and new initiatives to make Cowtown a more LGBT-friendly place to live and work. And they met frequently with Police Chief Jeff Halstead and other city officials, making sure that those officials followed through on promises they made.

On Sept. 15 that year, FFW incorporated. The organization’s first board meeting followed in January 2010. Lee Zolinger was elected as the first FFW president, but he soon realized that his job was keeping him from being as active in FFW as he wanted.

That’s when Thomas Anable stepped up and offered to run for the office, and in June that year, he was elected as FFW’s new leader.

Anable, a CPA, was new to the world of LGBT activism. He readily admits now that he had always relied on his status in the business world and his ability to “pass,” and had never felt the need to be active in the LGBT community.

But Anable was the accountant for Rainbow Lounge, and he was in the bar the night of the raid. What he saw then made him realize that no one is immune to anti-LGBT bigotry. And he was determined that FFW and its opportunity to be a force for change would not fade away.

A new focus

Under Anable’s leadership, FFW members decided to focus on two specific areas where they felt they could help enact that change: bullying in schools and LGBT issues within Fort Worth’s hospitals.

Anable said that the hospitals in the area had never participated in the Human Rights Campaign’s annual report on policies regarding LGBT issues “because they knew they wouldn’t meet the criteria to get good scores. So we decided to take a new approach. We decided we would encourage them to take the HRC survey, but instead of submitting it, they could use that as a guideline on how to improve.”

Anable said shortly afterward, the federal Health and Human Services department came out with new guidelines on how hospitals should deal with LGBT people and access to health care services. And with approval from the FFW board, Anable talked with Resource Center Dallas’ executive director and associate director of community programs, Cece Cox and Lee Taft, about working together to approach the hospitals.

According to FFW treasurer David Mack Henderson, that partnership is in full swing now as the two organizations develop a strategy in approaching the hospitals on those issues.

On the issue of bullying in the schools, FFW has worked behind the scenes to provide the Fort Worth Independent School District with the information and resources it needed to enact comprehensive anti-bullying policies.

The district has already adopted such a policy for faculty and administrators, and Nelson said this week he is “fully confident you will see a comprehensive anti-bullying policy [pertaining to students] in place by the beginning of the next school year, as well as a mindset that will exist on cooperation and treating people fairly with respect, and not just in the LGBT community.”

Plus, Anable noted, FFW was instrumental in helping secure the assistance of the Human Rights Campaign, which created a new staff position for someone to work with school districts to implement anti-bullying policies and programs. The first person hired, Rhonda Thomasson, is already working with schools in Dallas and Fort Worth, Anable said.

The Tarrant County College system also recently adopted anti-bullying policies specifically including protections based on sexual orientation. And Anable has spoken to the system’s board members on including protections based on gender and gender identity, as well.

Collaboration

A YEAR LATER | Fairness Fort Worth board members Carol West, left, and David Mack Henderson, right, talk with Police Chief Jeff Halstead at a 2010 Gay Pride Month event at Rainbow Lounge marking a year since the raid and celebrating improvements in the relationship between the city’s police force and the LGBT community. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

Anable said that as FFW president, another of his priorities was to make sure FFW worked with other LGBT organizations in North Texas and at the state and national levels. With that in mind, he said, he asked all FFW board members to get involved with those organizations as volunteers and board members.

The reason, Anable said, is that FFW can be most beneficial by acting as a kind of “clearinghouse” for LGBT issues in Tarrant County, helping to identify needs and then matching those needs to the resources that already exist.

“We want to be a coordinator,” Anable said. “We won’t really do programs ourselves. We will identify the needs that are out there, and then match them with the providers who have the resources already to meet those needs.”

So far, the strategy seems to be working. In just 20 months, Anable said, FFW has played a role in making changes that in other cities have taken years to accomplish.

Carol West agreed.

“This organization has had a tremendously positive impact,” West said. “In those early days after the raid, things could have gone either way. I think it was absolutely necessary to have Fairness Fort Worth there doing what we did, and doing it in a very positive way.

“Now, more and more people are getting involved and becoming aware,” she said, adding that diversity training for all city employees is a “direct result of the work of Fairness Fort Worth. … We’ve got a lot of good things happening here.”

West, who is herself on Chief Halstead’s citizens advisory board, said those good things include a focus on improving services for LGBT youth in Tarrant County, developing an LGBT archive for the county that will be housed at Celebration Community Church, and establishing an LGBT hotline that will also be housed at the church.

“Fairness Fort Worth has become a really tremendous organization that really is the face of LGBT politics in Fort Worth, the face of justice in Fort Worth. I think we have really made a difference for the better,” West said.

Nelson said that impact dates back to the first city council meeting after the Rainbow Lounge raid.

“I think it really had quite a sobering effect on the city council and the mayor and the city manager to sit there at that table and look out into the crowd and see hundreds of people there wearing our yellow Fairness Fort Worth buttons,” Nelson said.

“Even then, in its infancy, Fairness Fort Worth was able to do something few had been able to do before: marshal enough people to come to City Hall and really have an impact. When those elected officials saw more than 450 people wearing those yellow buttons that said Fairness Fort Worth, something was different, and they knew it. That perception could easily have dissipated, but because of Fairness Fort Worth, we didn’t let that happen,” Nelson said.

With FFW, Nelson said, LGBT people in Tarrant County now know “they have somewhere to turn if they have questions or concerns.

“They know we aren’t just focused on one issue. We are broad based and we can be that clearinghouse they need.
“And those in the straight community know we exist and that we have the ability to take their concerns out into our community. That has never existed before,” he said.

The existence of FFW, Nelson said, gives the LGBT community and the individuals within that community a tangible presence to the community at large, “both the perception and the reality of an organization and a community that can make a difference. That has never existed before in Fort Worth,” Nelson said.

The Fort Worth way

Some in Fort Worth reacted angrily to activists who converged on Fort Worth after the Rainbow Lounge raid, taking to the streets with chants and placards and bullhorns, and standing up in council meetings to make demands until the mayor had them removed.

But both Nelson and Anable were quick to point out those protesters played a necessary role in the progress that’s been made in Fort Worth.

“I don’t think any right we have today was garnered without protests like that,” Nelson said. “But protests alone get nothing done. At some point you have to sit down with both sides and discuss things. Both sides have to be able to understand each other and trust each other. You can’t do that with placards and bullhorns. And that’s what Fairness Fort Worth has brought to the table.”

That, Anable said, “is what we mean when we say ‘the Fort Worth way.’ It means, let’s sit down and talk about it. Let’s be reasonable and act like adults and have a real conversation that can come up with real solutions. That’s what happened here.”

Anable, who said that before the Rainbow Lounge raid never felt the need to be involved in LGBT political issues or to even make a point about being openly gay, decided at the beginning of this year that he has a new calling in his life.

So he sold his CPA practice to his business partner and now plans to devote himself fulltime to LGBT activism.

He said, “It’s been a really strange 20 months. If you had told me a year and a half ago that I would be where I am today, I never would have believed you. My whole life has changed.

“In one night, my life changed. This city changed. And it’s still changing. And Fairness Fort Worth is going to help make it happen.”

————————————————————————–

Fairness Fort Worth Timeline

• June 28, 2009: Rainbow Lounge Raid (TABC report says 1:28am).
• June 28, 2009: Protest Rally on Tarrant County Courthouse steps.
• June 28, 2009: Press release from FWPD (mentioning 3 sexual advances).
• July 1, 2009: Candlelight vigil for Chad Gibson.
• July 2, 2009: Chief Halstead announces suspension of joint operations with TABC.
• July 2, 2009: First gathering at Celebration Community Church to form Fairness Fort Worth.
• July 8, 2009: Press conference announcing FFW.
• July 8, 2009: FFW begins coordinating Rainbow Lounge witness interviews.
• July 14, 2009: Officer Sara Straten appointed as interim liaison to the LGBT community.
• July 14, 2009: City Council meeting, more than 450 LGBT citizens and allies attend.
• July 21, 2009: City Council votes on resolution calling for independent federal investigation.
• July 21, 2009: Council votes to establish the City Manager’s Diversity Task Force.
• July 23, 2009: First meeting of City Manager’s Diversity Task Force.
• July 28, 2009: The FW Human Relations Commission votes for resolution trans protections.
• Aug. 6, 2009: Press release of Phase 1 of TABC report.
• Aug. 6, 2009: FWST reports that U.S. Attorney won’t investigate Rainbow Lounge raid.
• Aug. 17, 2009: FFW leaders meet privately with Halstead to hammer out differences.
• Aug. 18. 2009: Halstead tells city council that investigation will require more time.
• Aug 28, 2009: TABC announces it has fired three agents involved in Rainbow Lounge raid.
• Oct 11, 2009: Chief Halstead attends the Tarrant County Gay Pride Picnic.
• Nov 3, 2009: Crime Control Prevention District measure passes with support of FFW.
• Nov 5, 2009: FWPD holds press conference releasing report on investigation into raid.
• Nov 5, 2009: TABC releases excessive force findings.
• Nov 10, 2009: Diversity Task Force recommendations presented at City Council meeting.
• April/May, 2010: Volunteers train to teach GLBT Diversity Training Class to city employees.
• May, 2010: GLBT Diversity Classes commence with Mayor Moncrief in the first class.
• June 28, 2010: BBQ Anniversary with police and city officials invited to Rainbow Lounge.
• April 27, 2011: Final Diversity Task Force Meeting. More than 1,200 city employees trained to date.
• May 3, 2011 : Assistant city manager and FFW members address council on progress to date.

—  John Wright

FW adds partner, pension benefits for LGBT workers

HR Commissioner Thomas says Community Relations Department cuts won’t impair enforcement of nondiscrimination ordinance

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor nash@dallasvoice.com

FORT WORTH — After months of a contentious budget process, the Fort Worth City Council on Tuesday, Sept. 21 approved a $1.3 billion budget for fiscal year 2011, and with that vote also approved domestic partner benefits for city employees.

Beginning Oct. 4, LGBT city employees will be able to add their domestic partners to their insurance plan, with the employee paying all the costs of the added benefits. The insurance will go into effect Jan. 1.

The new budget also calls on the city to increase its contribution to the pension fund by 4 percent and to offer new hires the option of designating a survivor, which can include a domestic partner, to receive benefits.

The move to offer partner benefits came in under the radar, happening quietly and with none of the often rancorous debate that accompanied the vote last fall to add gender identity to the city’s nondiscrimination policy, or even the decision to form the Diversity Task Force that recommended adding partner benefits.

The task force was formed last summer in the wake of the raid on the Rainbow Lounge, and was created to suggest ways that the city could better serve its LGBT employees and citizens.

In fact, it was the way the council set up the task force that allowed the partner benefits to be added without opposition, according to Thomas Anable, president of Fairness Fort Worth.

The task force was created to study city policies and make recommendations on changes to City Manager Dale Fissler. All the recommendations Fissler concurred with, with the exception of any cost changes or policy changes, would be adopted without the need of a vote by the council.

Of the 20 recommendations made by the task force, all but three were adopted in January without a council vote.

One of those three — adding gender identity to the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance — happened last fall during a marathon council meeting that included dozens of speakers on both sides of the issue.

The council chose to delay implementation the other two recommendations — partner benefits and adding insurance coverage for gender reassignment surgery — pending further study to determine the cost to the city.

Anable said that once it was determined that adding partner benefits wouldn’t cost the city, partner benefits were “a done deal. The council didn’t even need to vote on it.”

A spokesman in Mayor Mike Moncrief’s office confirmed changes in the pension plan and the addition of partner benefits, but said details on the pension plan were still being hammered out.

He also confirmed that the addition of partner benefits did not require a council vote, but that the plan was presented to the council as an informational item during a pre-council meeting in August.

During the budget planning process, Fairness Fort Worth had expressed concern that proposed cuts in the city’s Community Relations Department would damage the department’s ability to investigate alleged violations of the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance.

But on Lisa Thomas, an openly lesbian member of the Fort Worth Human Relations Commission, said this week the final changes will not impede investigations or enforcement of the ordinance.

Thomas said commission members and commission chair Estrus Tucker, Community Relations Department Director Vanessa Boling, Fissler and Assistant City Manager Fernando Costa had “worked hard to ensure that the necessary budget cuts do not harm the ability of the Human Relations Commission to carry out its mission.”

In the final budget, the Community Relations Department has been eliminated, along with Boling’s post. Staff was reduced from almost 80 to almost 40, with some of those 40 employees whose positions were cut being absorbed into other departments, Thomas said.

“The remaining staff of 13 will support the Human Relations Commission and carry out the investigations and enforce federal regulations under Fair Housing and Equal Employment in addition to the recently-expanded city of Fort Worth nondiscrimination ordinance,” Thomas said.

The remaining staff includes an administrator, support staff, two communications offiers and an investigatory staff.

“I believe that the organization as it is proposed in the budget can work and will be considered substantially equivalent to the requirements as laid out in the federal regulations, allowing the commission and its work to continue,” Thomas said.

“In this way, we can continue to protect all the people who live, work and visit in Fort Worth.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 24, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

RL raid anniversary: What a difference a year makes

Fort Worth community leaders, police officials look back at 12 months of change in the wake of the Rainbow Lounge raid

Tammye Nash | Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

THEN AND NOW | A year ago, angry LGBT people protested outside the Rainbow Lounge just hours after a raid on the bar by Fort Worth police officers and TABC agents. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

What a difference a year makes.

On June 28, 2009, seven officers with the Fort Worth Police Department joined two agents from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission in a raid on a newly-opened gay bar in Fort Worth called the Rainbow Lounge.

On June 28, 2010, the Fort Worth police were back at Rainbow Lounge. Only this time, instead of making arrests the officers were sharing a barbecue meal with community leaders and bar patrons and celebrating the progress the city has made over the last 12 months in improving the relationship between Fort Worth and its LGBT community.

And that progress, most in Fort Worth agree, has been remarkable.

Todd Camp, co-founder of Fort Worth’s Q Cinema LGBT film festival, was at the Rainbow Lounge celebrating his birthday with friends when the raid occurred. It was Camp, along with Chuck Potter, Thomas Anable and others, who used e-mail and social networking sites like Facebook to spread the word about the raid almost immediately.

They also put their outrage to work to organize two protests — one that Sunday afternoon outside the bar and a second later that evening outside the Tarrant County Courthouse — and to rally people to attend the next meeting of the Fort Worth City Council.
Camp said recently that he has been pleased to see the way that Fort Worth — its LGBT community, its police department and its city officials — have stepped up to the challenge and worked together not just to mend fences, but also break down barriers.

This week, Rainbow Lounge owner J.R. Schrock, left, and bar manager Randy Norman, right, played host as LGBT community members packed the bar for a barbecue and meet-and-greet with FWPD officers, from Chief Jeff Halstead to beat patrol officers. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

“I think, for me personally, the biggest accomplishment of the past year has been the fact that the city of Fort Worth has become aware that they have a gay community that has a voice with some emotion and power behind it, that it is a community that is willing to speak out when something is wrong,” Camp said.

“The City Council has stepped up to the plate and made a lot of fantastic changes. And there have been some really good changes in the police department, in the way they do business. It has really raised their [the police department’s] awareness,” Camp continued. “It took something going horribly wrong to open their eyes. But I feel like now, for the first time, the city and the police realize that there are gay people living here and that we are valuable members of society. … The city learned a lot about a vibrant part of its community.”

The incident has also, Camp said, raised awareness in the LGBT community.

“There was so much ignorance, and not just on the side of the city officials and law enforcement. It was on our side, too. We all learned a lot about the law, about what was acceptable and what was not acceptable.”

Police Chief Jeff Halstead agreed that both sides have learned valuable lessons from and about each other in the last year.

“We all decided to get past our emotions, and we’ve learned to respect each other’s feelings and opinions,” Halstead said. “And it’s definitely been a worthwhile investment for us all to make.”

The chief said he has seen a marked difference in the way the LGBT community responds to the police department since the raid occurred, and a difference in the way his officers see the LGBT community.

“I think people in the community feel like they have actually built friendships in the police department, and not just with [LGBT Liaison Officer Sara Stratten]. I think they feel like their ideas and opinions will be heard,” he said.

Halstead had been on the job as chief of the Forth Worth PD for less than a year when the Rainbow Lounge raid happened. And in his first public comments on the raid, Halstead told a reporter that patrons in the bar that night had made “sexually suggestive movements” toward the officers, and that he was proud of the restraint the officers had shown in the situation.

Halstead later apologized for his remarks, but not before the comments made him the focal point for much of the community’s anger and outrage. But at the barbecue this week, and when the chief attended a screening at the recent Q Cinema film festival, it was obvious that Halstead’s efforts to reach out to and understand the LGBT community had overcome the anger.

Camp said that “one of the greatest moments for me” of the last year came when Q Cinema previewed the recently-completed trailer for Robert Camina’s documentary, “Raid at the Rainbow Lounge.”

“[City Councilman] Joel Burns was in the audience, and Chief Halstead was there with his wife. There had been a lot of hand-wringing and worry over the trailer, because it focuses on the community’s immediate gut reaction to the raid. It’s kind of harsh, and [Camina] was a little bit worried about how the chief would react,” Camp said.

But Halstead took it all in stride, he said.

“I think it showed some tremendous courage for him to be there and see that trailer. He was painted as a villain early on, but he’s not a bad guy,” Camp said of Halstead. “He just had some learning to do, and he stepped up and was there and was supportive.

STOPPING TO REMEMBER | Fairness Fort Worth President Thomas Anable, left, and Q Cinema co-founder Todd Camp were among the community leaders who attended a barbecue on Monday, June 28, at Rainbow Lounge to commemorate the anniversary of the 2009 raid on the bar and celebrate the progress the community has made over the last 12 months. Anable and Camp were both at Rainbow Lounge when the raid occurred, and both helped organize the community’s response. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

“I also think it says a lot that the chief of police was there for the opening night of an LGBT film festival,” Camp continued. “It meant a lot to everybody that he was there. … It’s a sign that things really are changing for the better.”

One of the first — and perhaps, most important — of those changes for the better came less than a month after the raid when Halstead announced that Fort Worth Officer Sara Straten had been appointed interim liaison to the LGBT community. By the end of the year, the appointment had been made permanent and Straten had been reassigned from her community patrol duties to the public information office.

Straten acknowledged recently that while she is glad to be the LGBT liaison officer, it hasn’t always been a smooth ride.

At first, Straten said, people in the LGBT community saw her as being too supportive of Halstead, a man they still saw as the enemy. But as time passed, both she and the chief have built not only solid working relationships within the community, but friendships as well.

There have been very concrete advances with the police department, Straten said, starting with the implementation of a new policy on bar checks that went into effect on Sept. 1 last year. The new policy specifies detailed steps for officers to follow, and designed to lessen the potentially adversarial relationship between officers, bar owners and staff and patrons.

Straten also praised the new diversity training implemented within the police department that puts more focus on LGBT issues than before. She said she and Gil Flores taught the first diversity training session, and that officers in the class “asked a lot of good questions.”

“The mayor and the chief both went through the training themselves about a month ago, and the chief was there at the first session,” she said.

Officers also participated in the Tarrant County Gay Pride Parade and Picnic last October, and the chief and his wife attended the picnic.

The atmosphere for LGBT officers within the department has improved significantly, too, Straten said.

Before she volunteered for the liaison position, Straten was not out at work. In fact, when she did step forward to volunteer, she became the first officially “out” officer on the force. Since then, a number of other officers have come out, but Straten says the credit for that goes to the chief’s leadership in creating a more comfortable and accepting atmosphere, and the individual officers’ courage in taking that step.

FROM PROTEST TO PARTY | The Rev. Carol West, left, and David Mack Henderson, right, both of Fairness Fort Worth, are all smiles as they talk to Fort Worth Police Chief Jeff Halstead during a barbecue and meet-and-greet with police officers at the Rainbow Lounge on Monday, June 28, the one-year anniversary of the Rainbow Lounge raid. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

“Coming out is scary. But what kept me in the closet back then was as much my own stereotyping as anything else,” she said. “I do think there has been a shift [in attitudes within the police department], but I would never say that came from me. I think it’s more about a shift in the culture at large. The younger officers coming into the force are much more accepting in general, and that changes things for everybody.”

Halstead agreed that there has been a shift within the department.

“I think that more and more, officers are feeling like they can just be themselves, gay or not,” Halstead said. “It’s taken some time, but the improving relationship with the LGBT community is helping. With the proper training and with time, it will continue to improve.”

Perhaps one of the most significant changes over the past year has been the formation and continued growth of the organization Fairness Fort Worth. The group was formed in the days immediately following the raid initially to assist in finding witnesses who saw what happened that night, and to provide those witnesses with legal advice and support in giving their statements to investigators with the Fort Worth Police Department and TABC.

Now, said Anable, the group’s newly-elected president, FFW has branched out and is intent on becoming a permanent resource for the entire community, helping to coordinate between other organizations and serving as a clearinghouse for and point of contact between the LGBT community and the community at large.

Anable said the group has secured its status as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and organizers held their “first real strategic planning meeting” in January. FFW is also conducting a community survey that will allow the group to compile statistics on the Fort Worth LGBT community.

“We’ve never really had an organization in Tarrant County that was really plugged into the political process, one that is able to speak consistently with one voice,” Anable said. “We are actually doing, now, things that were only talked about before. We have the momentum and the commitment to move forward with things that have only been talked about for a decade.”

Although the Fort Worth community has “a cooperative spirit” and has accomplished goals in the past — like getting the city to pass a nondiscrimination ordinance protecting lesbians and gays — such efforts were always done quietly and in a somewhat piecemeal manner, Anable said.

But now, he added, “we have an organization that has depth and is permanent, something that won’t go away. We have lines of communication open now that we never had before. We have real credibility now. Now, they know we are a viable and valuable community.”

Members of FFW were among those who went to the Fort Worth City Council meetings following the raid. They stepped up to serve on the Diversity Task Force formed by the council that came up with a list of changes, most of which have been made already by city officials.

Among those was amending the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance to specifically protect transgender people as well as lesbians and gays. Two of the task force’s recommendations — domestic partner benefits for city employees and insurance coverage for city employees who undergo gender transition surgery — are still on the table, primarily because the city has to watch every penny during the ongoing economic crunch.

There are other plans in the works, too, Anable said, such as building an LGBT community center that would include a phone bank and a library.

And while the resources — and the need — for these advances have always existed within the community, it took what Anable called “the perfect storm” of the Rainbow Lounge raid to set the change in motion.

“It really was a perfect storm. It was the 40th anniversary of Stonewall; they were having the Stonewall anniversary march in Dallas; Todd [Camp] was there in the bar that night; I was there,” Anable said. “People saw what happened, and people were angry. And they were willing to do something about it.

“It’s amazing, really, everything that has happened,” he continued. “I mean, to go from where we were to where we are now in just 11 months — are you kidding me? It’s been amazing.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 02, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas