In defense of Fort Worth’s response to the Rainbow Lounge raid

Jon Nelson

By Jon Nelson  |  Fairness Fort Worth

I read with interest the Rev. Stephen Sprinkle’s commentary contrasting the Atlanta outcome with Fort Worth’s after raids at gay bars in each city. He concludes that “Factors contributing to the non-resolution of the Fort Worth police raid may include a less-than-robust defense of bar patrons by the Rainbow Lounge ownership at the time of the bust, and the less aggressive approach Fort Worth gay leaders employed to bring the city and the police department to account.”

The headline contrasts the $1 million settlement with none in Fort Worth. Although the Rev. Sprinkle doesn’t mention this as a contrast, I’ll deal with it anyway. The Atlanta suit was filed by a private attorney on behalf of 19 patrons of the club and no such lawsuit has yet been filed in Fort Worth .The LGBT community formed Fairness Fort Worth at the outset and stepped forward to represent the community. The injustice experienced was against the patrons and not the bar owner nor any employees of the bar. This contrasts sharply with the facts in Atlanta where the police targeted both the bar and its patrons.

The Rev. Sprinkle’s one striking contrast is his belief that the Fort Worth Police Department has never issued an apology and Atlanta has. I have attended at least three meeting where Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead has publicly apologized; the last one was in front of the Rainbow Lounge at a news conference held on Nov. 5, 2009.

The Rev. Sprinkle writes that there has been a “non-resolution” of the raid on the Rainbow lounge. Let me share with you what has happened since the raid and, in the words of the Rev. Sprinkle, “You be the judge”:

—  admin

FWISD to update bullying policy

Director of counseling says officials did not realize sexual orientation didn’t include gender identity, expression, and applauds new bullying awareness campaign

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Report nash@dallasvoice.com

FORT WORTH — When the Dallas Independent School District was lauded recently for becoming the first school district in the state to approve an LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policy, officials in the Fort Worth Independent School District reacted with consternation.
The Fort Worth District, officials said, had passed such a policy months before, in March.

But the problem, Kathryn Everest, director of guidance and counseling for the Fort Worth district, said this week, was that “We didn’t know what we didn’t know.”

And what school officials didn’t know was that the term “sexual orientation” does not include issues of gender identity and gender expression, Everest said.

“Our policy protects all students,” Everest said, adding that she initially believed simply saying “all students” would be adequate. But she said she understands the need for more specific wording after discussion with those in the community advocating for changes in the policy.

Everest said that she met Monday afternoon, Nov. 22, with gay Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns and Jon Nelson of Fairness Fort Worth. Both men, she said, have pledged to help the district fine-tune the wording of its policies.

“We want to make it plain that everyone is included. Now that we have found out what we didn’t know — that sexual orientation doesn’t include gender identity and gender expression — we will make those changes. We’re not fighting it, and we’re not intimidated by it. We just didn’t know,” Everest said.

She added that the policy in question relates specifically to students. The district also has a mirror policy protecting faculty and staff members, and it, too, will be updated, Everest said.

“We want our policies to align with the city of Fort Worth’s policy,” she said. The Fort Worth City Council voted last year to amend its nondiscrimination ordinance, which already included protections based on sexual orientation, to include specific protections based on gender identity and gender expression.

Another point of confusion centered on the wording of Fort Worth’s anti-bullying policy itself. The policy defines bullying, gives examples and outlines the procedure for reporting incidences of bullying and for investigating those reports. But it does not enumerate specific groups protected under the policy, as the Dallas ISD policy does.

Everest explained this week that the Fort Worth ISD’s “Freedom from Bullying” policy is an extension of the district’s “Freedom from Discrimination, Harassment and Retaliation Policy, which reads:

“The District prohibits discrimination including harassment, against any student on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, or on any other basis prohibited by law, that adversely affects the student.”

Everest said FWISD officials now recognize that, technicalities aside, the bullying policy should also include that wording — with the addition of gender identity and gender expression — so that it is clear.

Although gender identity and gender expression were not among the protected categories listed, evidence of the district’s intention to provide protections based on those categories exists in the discrimination policy, under the category of examples:

“Examples of prohibited harassment  may include offensive or derogatory language directed at another person’s religious beliefs or practices, accent, skin color, gender identity or need for accommodation … .”

‘It’s not okay’

While the Fort Worth school district may be lagging behind the Dallas ISD in perfecting the wording of its nondiscrimination and anti-bullying policies, Fort Worth is several steps ahead of Dallas when it comes to it’s anti-bullying campaign, Everest said.

The district implemented the “It’s not okay” campaign at the beginning of the current school year, focusing each month on a different aspect of harassment. Topics are “bullying, cyberbullying, sexting, teen dating violence, suicidal thinking, sexual harassment, use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs and gangs.

The campaign includes efforts to explain each topic and to promote the district’s procedures for reporting and investigating offenses. A primary component, Everest said, is the “Friends 4 Life” hotline that anyone can call to report specific incidents or concerns. Students discovered to be targets of bullying or harassment are paired with counselors who work with them and help them find other resources if necessary, Everest said.

She said students had input in designing the campaign, helping choose the topics and suggesting ways to address each one. The district also has designed posters on each topic to be displayed in schools, as well as billboards that are going up each month around the city.

“By the end of the school year, we will have billboards across the city addressing each one of these topics,” Everest said. “There is a kind of entrenched generational acceptance of certain kinds of harassment and bullying — the idea that it’s just what kids do, and you need to get over it and move on. That’s what we have to change. We have to say to the whole world that it’s not OK.

“And this [campaign] is not just a flash in the pan, not just a one-time thing,” Everest continued. Our goal is to make it an ongoing program, something that is deep and broad and addresses all the angles. That’s how you change the social norms. That’s how you stop the bullying.”

She added, “This is all a learning process for us. We are making corrections and improvements as we go along. We thought we were covering everything, and now that we know we didn’t, we will make the changes we need to make.

“Our goal is to make our entire educational community as safe as possible — our students, our faculty and our staff. And we will do what we need to do to make that happen.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 26, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Mad, sad and a little tired

Lawyer/activist has a message for those who continue to deny LGBT their equal rights: There is no factual or legal basis for your bigotry, and the time is past due to start treating each other with respect

Jon Nelson  Special Contributor

I’m mad, sad and a little tired. Over the years, I have been involved in issues with a finite end: See a problem, organize a coalition, have open discussions and solve the problem.

Not so with equal rights for gays. We have made strides and yet, with the new Congress, there surely will be setbacks.

I just got through watching And The Band Played On, a movie about the beginnings of AIDS in the 1980s, the resistance to its recognition, the struggle for funding for research and the compelling humanity of those who were infected. And I guess it’s their stories that have caused me to think about where we are, why there is so much resistance and why, even though I am tired, I cannot stop now.

Repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and enactment of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act are all legislative goals to right the wrongs levied against a segment of our society.

But much of society doesn’t see it that way. They speak in terms of a “gay agenda,” “gay rights” or “pushing a lifestyle on us” that would lead to the “destruction of our family values.”

The problem for me is that most of these people aren’t evil or stupid or even mean-spirited. Many are my friends. Yet they believe in their hearts something that has a definite, negative impact on the lives of millions.

Surely that can’t be right, but why can’t they see that?

I read a story in which one Presbyterian minister eloquently denounced the homophobia which exists in many a religious doctrine, and then I read a quasi-rebuttal from another minister of the same faith. He had kindness in his heart, but his message was clear: We should love one another but not condone homosexuality.

This makes me mad, sad and tired because of the message it sends to those who so desperately need support and help: Our youth.

Somewhere in Fort Worth today, a young girl sits in a pew, next to her parents, and hears the minister proclaim that God has judged her feelings to be an abomination, and either she must change or be damned to hell — but that she is loved nevertheless. And she is so hurt and confused.

Somewhere in Fort Worth today, a young boy, egged on by his peers, with shrill voice and hyena smile, yells the word “faggot” at another boy who is confused and full of self-doubt. And the boy who uttered those words has heard his minister make similar proclamations as the girl’s minister. And that boy has heard his parents make jokes about gays and worse. And he has seen politicians and others of prominence disparage the “gay movement” as a threat to “our” society.

No wonder he acts the way he does.

As a lawyer, I am used to logic and clear argument. Take the case in California dealing with the constitutionality of the marriage ban. Let’s start with something we all can agree on and something which is the law: Before our rights can be infringed upon, the state must show some compelling interest that must be protected.

That’s the law. It’s part of our Constitution and so the state must put on evidence in court to prove that some state interest needs protecting, thus justifying the infringement of your rights or mine.

Evidence, not emotion. Facts, not fabrication.

In the California case, as in every other case which has been tried, there was none.

THERE IS NONE!

How loud do I have to say it? How many times do I have to say it?

THERE IS NONE!

How would you like to go to court and be convicted or lose a civil case even though the other side presented no credible evidence against you? There is no factual — and therefore no legal — basis to deny us the same rights as you have.

If I were a minister and, standing in the pulpit, said that God had proclaimed slavery to be the natural way of life, or that it was un-Christian for women to have the right to vote, you would throw me out — or worse. Yet that is exactly what happened in our country and in mainline church pulpits. Bible verses were used to justify inequality.

Today you think, “How could they have done that?” Or “Why would anyone believe that?” And yet, I hear the same today.

So I want to talk to you as a gay man who is watching what is happening. To the minister, the politician, the parent, to you: Your words have effects on others.

Just stop and think for a moment. Is the message you are sending hurtful to others, even though you mean well?

Fact: Every reputable medical organization in the world has long proclaimed homosexuality to be normal. Why are you ignoring that? Fact: There is absolutely no evidence that granting equal rights to gays will have any adverse effect on marriages between a man and a woman. Why are you ignoring that?

It is time for you to stop saying, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” It’s condescending and demeaning to me. You are judging me and shouldn’t.

Do you hear the anger in my words? It’s because I’m human and have feelings. Listen, I picked up a rifle and went to war for you, and you tell me that I am not equal to you? I can still see those dead eyes staring into space, and you tell me I can’t marry the man I love?
You’re damn right I’m mad, and you would be, too, if you were in my shoes.

So think. Think about me and you. Think about the children and the messages you are sending.  As human beings, we are all connected and in this together. Let’s treat each other that way. In the meantime, I won’t give up on you.

Jon Nelson is an attorney in Fort Worth and one of the co-founders of Fairness Fort Worth.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 19, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

UPDATE: Fort Worth won't drop charges against Rainbow Lounge patrons

Jon Nelson
Jon Nelson

Chad Gibson and George Armstrong appeared in court this week to answer misdemeanor charges related to the Rainbow Lounge raid. Gibson and Armstrong were both injured in the raid.

Jon Nelson, an attorney who was a founder of Fairness Fort Worth, said, “Apparently with Chad, he’s being charged with public intoxication and assaulting an officer by groping him. That’s absurd.

“This is the TABC officer who, according to TABC’s own rules and regulations, had no business being in there. This is the same TABC officer who couldn’t go in the Rainbow Lounge a few days earlier because there was no officer with him so he peeked in and saw a dancer in a bathing suit and was going to write it up as lewd behavior.

“That shows quite a bit about his state of mind. As a TABC officer, I’m sure he’s been in a number of gentlemen’s clubs. I doubt he ever wrote up a female dancer in a bathing suit and wrote her up for lewd behavior. So why was he doing that for Rainbow Lounge?

“I think a jury, when they hear this case, will judge his credibility,” Nelson said.

Gerald Pruitt, Fort Worth deputy city attorney, said Gibson is charged with class-C misdemeanors for public intoxication and simple assault. Armstrong is charged with one — public intoxication. A class-C misdemeanor carries a maximum fine of $500 plus court costs.

Four other Rainbow Lounge patrons were charged with public intoxication. Two pleaded guilty but have now rescinded their pleas. All four of the others are expected to go to trial at a later date.

Pruitt said, “We’re proceeding with these as we would any other case. That’s all we can do.”

Gibson and Armstrong’s criminal defense attorney is Adam L. Seidel, past president of the Dallas LGBT Bar Association.

Seidel said, “The city’s own investigation revealed serious misconduct. TABC’s own investigation revealed serious misconduct. Officers were fired and/or suspended. The city’s message was, ‘We made a mistake.’ That’s not the message they send by prosecuting these two victims.”

No trial date has been set for Gibson and Armstrong.

Win or lose, the city gets a black eye. If they win, Fort Worth appears to be bullies, prosecuting someone who spent a week in intensive care as a result of the raid. If they lose, they just appear to be gay bashing.

—  David Taffet

Fort Worth Diversity Task Force recommendations released

FORT WORTH – The City Manager’s Diversity Task Force, convened this summer in the wake of the Rainbow Lounge raid to help find ways the city of Fort Worth could improve relations with the LGBT community, this afternoon presented a list of 20 recommendations to the City Council.

Assistant City Manager Fernando Costa, who chaired the task force, presented the list of recommendations during the pre=council meeting this afternoon, noting that 18 of the 20 came with the “unconditional concurrence” of City Manager Dale Fisseler. The remaining two garnered Fisseler’s “conditional concurrence,” pending further study of the financial implications.

Those two recommendations needing further study were offering domestic partner benefits to the city’s LGBT employees and amending the city’s benefits policies to include coverage of all or part of the cost of transitioning for the city’s transgender employees.

The task force and the city manager also recommended that the council amend the city’s non-discrimination ordinance, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, to include prohibitions against discrimination based on gender identity. Costa said the city manager’s office would ask that consideration of that change be included in the council’s agenda for Tuesday, Nov. 10.

Another recommendation that earned “unconditional concurrence” from Fisseler was that the city implement expanded diversity training for all employees, with specialized training for members of the police and fire department, and encouraging even elected and appointed city officials to participate in the training.

Mayor Mike Moncrief later said that he believes that council members should “set an example” by going through the training, a remark that earned him praise from openly gay City Councilmember Joel Burns and from Jon Nelson, a gay attorney who was on the task force.

After the presentation, Nelson said that “the vast majority” of the recommendations can be implemented through the city manager’s office without requiring action by the council and that implementation on several recommendations had already begun.

For a full report, see the Friday, Nov. 6 issue of Dallas Voice.

—  admin