When the Fort Worth Police Department and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage raided the Rainbow Lounge on June 28, 2009 — the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion — it sparked outrage around the world and enough headlines to fill newspapers for the rest of the year.
But the story didn’t end with 2009, as repercussions from the raid continued this year.
Publicity from the raid undoubtedly helped punch up business for the Rainbow Lounge, enough so that by January, the bar’s owner, J.R. Schrock, announced that he had a second bar — Percussions — in the works, as well as a third club and possibly a fourth.
In February — despite acknowledgments from both TABC and FWPD that the raid should never have happened — officials with the Fort Worth city attorney’s office said they were going ahead with efforts to prosecute those arrested in the raid, including Chad Gibson, the young man who suffered a lasting brain injury while in TABC custody.
One of Fort Worth police Chief Jeff Halstead’s first acts after the raid was to appoint openly gay officer Sara Straten as his department’s first full-time liaison to the LGBT community.
On June 28, as a way of highlighting the progress the city had made in the year since the raid and improved relations between the police department and the LGBT community, Rainbow Lounge held a party attended by Halstead, Straten and many of the officers who patrol the area in which the bar is located.
Despite the progress though, in July anti-gay forces packed the City Council chambers to once again protest the council’s vote the previous November to amend Fort Worth’s nondiscrimination ordinance to offer protections to transgenders and other initiatives proposed by the City Manager’s Diversity Task Force.
At the end of the public comments section of the meeting, Mayor Mike Moncrief told the crowd that while “there is room for all of us” in Fort Worth, “What’s in the Bible or what isn’t in the Bible, that’s not our job. Our job is to maintain the quality of life in our city, and that’s what this [diversity] training is all about.”
As the year continued, more examples of the changes in the city emerged: The police department reached out to the LGBT community in looking for new recruits. Halstead announced plans to start a hate crimes unit. The annual Tarrant County gay Pride celebration expanded, adding a block party and holding a parade and picnic far larger than in years past.
In September, the council quietly approved adding domestic partner benefits for lesbian and gay city employees, and in mid-November, the city attorney’s office announced that all charges against those arrested in the raid were being dropped.
Perhaps one of the most welcome results of the Rainbow Lounge raid, however, was the emergence and continued growth of Fairness Fort Worth.
Formed quickly in the wake of the raid to offer assistance to witnesses who wanted to testify during investigations into the raid, the group has morphed into an active LGBT advocacy organization complete with officers and a strategy for the future — filling a void that has long existed in Tarrant County’s LGBT community.
— Tammye Nash
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 31, 2010.