Did the Rainbow Lounge raid prompt TABC to stop arresting people for public intoxication?

In fiscal year 2009, Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission agents made 761 arrests for public intoxication — a figure that includes a few high-profile ones you may have heard about at the Rainbow Lounge in Fort Worth.

In fiscal year 2010, which began one month after the Rainbow Lounge raid, TABC has made just 81 arrests for public intoxication, The Austin American-Statesman reported over the weekend.

Based on these numbers, one might deduce that the highly controversial raid — which resulted in three agents being fired — also prompted TABC to abruptly change its enforcement practices. But according to the agency, this is only partly true.

TABC officials say the changes really began in fiscal year 2007, two years before the raid. Consider that in fiscal year 2006, TABC agents made a whopping 3,100 public intoxication arrests.

But in response to a long series of controversies — the Rainbow Lounge raid being just one of the latest — TABC began shifting its focus from petty criminal enforcement back to its mandate of regulating the businesses that sell alcohol.

Carolyn Beck, a spokeswoman for TABC who also now serves as its liaison to the LGBT community, told Instant Tea on Monday that’s it’s “impossible to calculate” how much of a factor the Rainbow Lounge raid has been.

“If you look at the decreasing numbers of criminal citations issued by our agents, and the increasing number of hours spent on investigations, it’s clear that we have been moving in this direction since FY 2007,” Beck said. “But you can also see a significant jump forward this fiscal year which started 9/1/09. It’s impossible to calculate how much of that push was in response to the Rainbow Lounge, but certainly incidents like the Rainbow Lounge and the shooting in Austin resulted in our agency direction changing at a faster pace.”

—  John Wright

Illusions is now closed, and owner Eddie Bonner is still blaming the city of Dallas’ smoking ban

Patrons inside Illusions before the city’s new smoking ban took effect in 2009. (Dallas Voice)

Illusions on Maple Avenue closed Thursday, July 15 after the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission suspended the bar’s liquor license for failure to pay taxes on mixed-beverage receipts.

Illusions owner Eddie Bonner told me Tuesday afternoon he’s in the process of selling the six-year-old bar. But he said the buyer has been delayed in obtaining a liquor license from TABC.

Bonner said he wanted to keep the bar open until the new owner could take over but wasn’t able to do so. He said he planned to use proceeds from the sale of equipment to pay off his taxes.

Bonner has made news over the last few years for his strong opposition to Dallas’ new smoking ordinance, which he claimed had reduced his business by about 40 percent.

“I’m not going to sit here and say that’s the only factor, but it was probably the biggest contributing factor,” Bonner said, adding that he also has a full-time job and is working on his doctorate. “We’ve raised probably over $150,000 for charities, and I’ve made a lot of good friends, but the business side of it, with everything else I have going on in my personal life, it’s too much responsibility.”

Illusions is the second gay or lesbian bar to close in the last month on Maple Avenue.

DV staffer Rich Lopez reports that Sisters, which replaced Buddies II last year, closed its doors about two weeks ago. Rumor has it that Sisters was shut down due to “flooding issues,” but phone calls to owner Kevin Barnett haven’t been returned.

—  John Wright

Anti-gay protesters pack Fort Worth City Council chamber

Opponents of city’s diversity initiatives speaking during council meeting, even though issue wasn’t on the agenda

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor nash@dallasvoice.com

FORT WORTH — A crowd of about 200 people opposing recent diversity initiatives implemented by the city of Fort Worth packed Cowtown’s City Council chambers on Tuesday, July 13, even though nothing related to the initiatives was on the council’s agenda.

Five individuals representing the opponents spoke during the portion of the meeting allotted for citizen comments, while four representatives from Fairness Fort Worth spoke in support of the city’s efforts to improve relations with its LGBT community.

The diversity initiatives grew out of recommendations forwarded to the council by the City Manager’s Diversity Task Force and approved by City Manager Dale Fisler late last year. The task force — comprising 16 city employees and 16 LGBT community representatives, all appointed by Fisler — was formed last summer in the wake of the June 28 raid on the Rainbow Lounge by officers with the Fort Worth Police Department and agents of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

The recommendations suggested by the task force included improved diversity training for all city employees, domestic partner benefits for gay and lesbian city employees, coverage of gender reassignment surgery for transgender employees in transition, promoting the city as a destination for LGBT tourism, and lobbying for passage of state and federal laws banning anti-LGBT discrimination in employment.

The task force also recommended that the council amend the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance to specifically prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.

Most of the recommendations involved procedural changes that could be implemented by the city manager without a vote by the council.

The council did vote, 6-3, on Nov. 11 last year to add specific gender identity protections to the nondiscrimination ordinance.

The vote came after a marathon hearing during which numerous people spoke in favor of and against the amendment.

However city staff are still studying the feasibility of offering domestic partner benefits and adding coverage for gender reassignment surgery.

A spokesman in the office of Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief said this week that the resurgence of opposition may have been tied to the one-year anniversary of the Rainbow Lounge raid. This week’s meeting was the council’s first since the June 28 anniversary date.

But Thomas Anable, president of Fairness Fort Worth, said his organization believes Diversity Task Force opponents had intended to speak during time set aside for public comments on the proposed budget for the city’s Crime Control and Prevention District budget. That budget includes funds to pay for diversity training for police officers and for officer recruitment efforts within the LGBT community, he said.

However, the council voted to delay the public hearing on that budget for two weeks.

“They were there because they felt like they got shut out of the process [of the Diversity Task Force] last year,” Anable, who was a member of the task force, said on Wednesday, after the council meeting. “Every meeting that the task force had was open to the public, and nobody showed up.”

Anable said he believes the move to bring the opponents to the Tuesday night council meeting this week was led by Richard Clough, a failed candidate for Tarrant County judge who is an associate minister with Kenneth Copeland Ministries.

“They said last November when the task force’s report was presented to the council, and when the council voted on the transgender ordinance, they said then that they had been left out and that they would be back,” Anable said. “I think, with the CCPD budget on the agenda this week, they saw an opportunity to try and make a sneak attack.”

Anable said Fairness Fort Worth learned on Monday of e-mails that had been circulated over the weekend among conservative and evangelical Christian churches, calling on evangelical Christians to pack the council chambers at Tuesday’s meeting.

But instead of sending out a calling for the LGBT community and its allies to attend also, Anable said his organization chose to organize a small, but visible, contingent to attend as a show of support for the city’s initiatives, with specific community leaders signing up to speak.

“We didn’t want a big catfight,” Anable said.

“We just wanted to have people there to show support, with just a few speaking. We wanted to give a calm and dignified response.”

Anable said after the meeting he feels confident that the city council will not reverse the progress it has made so far on diversity issues — a confidence that was reinforced by Mayor Mike Moncrief’s statements both before and after the citizen comment session.

Moncrief opened the comment session with an admonition to both sides to “be respectful” and with a pledge that the city would not go backward.

“I am very pleased with the progress we have had to date,” the mayor said. It has certainly reflected the diversity of our city. And it reflects this city’s belief that no one should be discriminated against, no matter who they are. And that is not going to change.

That is important for all of us, whether its an ordinance or not, that should be an ordinance in life. No one should be discriminated against.”

The five men who spoke against the Diversity Task Force and the city’s diversity initiatives all criticized city officials for “promoting a homosexual agenda” against the wishes of what they said is a majority of the city’s residents.

Clough, who stood at the podium flanked by supporters wearing paper badges printed with the word “Truth,” began by accusing Mayor Mike Moncrief and the council of “intentionally hiding the implementation of a homosexual agenda.”

The accusation prompted an angry rebuttal for the mayor, who threatened to have Clough removed from the council chambers if he continued with “personal attacks.”

The two men argued briefly, with Clough continuing to speak over the mayor’s admonishments and with Moncrief at one point turning off the microphone at the podium where Clough stood.

“We have a way of doing business here, and that is not to come in here and personally attack anybody. We don’t attack you, nor does anyone on our staff. We don’t expect you to come in here and attack us,” Moncrief said. “If you want to talk about the diversity task force, that is all well and good. But don’t expect to come in here and get away with personal attacks.”

When Moncrief allowed Clough to continue, the minister accused the mayor of refusing to meet with him, although some council members had met with him. Clough said that “every voice was not heard” on the Diversity Task Force’s recommendations, adding that the council was going against the wishes of the majority of the city’s citizens who had, he said, voted against same-sex marriage in 2004 by a 77 percent majority.

He criticized the city for spending money to send lobbyists to Washington, D.C., to promote passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and for promoting the city as a destination for LGBT tourism.

“Who are you promoting it to? Queer liberation [possibly a reference to the now-defunct direct action group Queer LiberAction]? To NAMBLA — the North American Man-Boy Love Association? Or are you just promoting it to the gay chambers?” Clough said.

Clough also criticized the addition of gender identity to the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance, suggesting that council members “ask the ladies do they want a man who suffers from gender identity disorder coming in on them in the bathroom. … If they gays want to promote something, let them spend their own money to promote it.”

Clough said the city “has no business promoting the homosexual lifestyle, just like it has no business promoting the heterosexual lifestyle.”

He said that while the city should “stand against hatred or discrimination or abuse of any kind,” the media and the LGBT community have “distorted the facts” surrounding the Rainbow Lounge raid and are using that to “promote the homosexual agenda.”

“Homosexuality can be divisive. That’s not my intent,” Clough said. “My intent is to have all voices heard and find a solution that is best for all.”

Robert Hayes said the city’s leadership “should serve the people of the city, serve the masses, and not cater to the wishes of the few.” He said that the raid at the Rainbow Lounge was a situation that should have been investigated by police department officials, and “not a situation to make sweeping changes in the city.”

“Do we set up a task force if we find the city has an unusually large number of employees coming down with the flu? Do we set one up to discuss who can live in what area of town? Then my question is, why did we set up a task force for diversity when it appears we only had a question of the use of force and the appropriate degree of force that was used?” Hayes said.

The Rev. Perfeto Esquibel, pastor of Christian Worship Center of Fort Worth, complained that the task force “seems to be made up of only one certain interest group rather than a combination of people with different opinions about gay civil rights.”

Esquibel also said it is “a slap in the face” to racial and ethnic minorities to call LGBT people a minority. He said the task force and the city’s diversity initiatives are part of a “gay rights agenda” being pushed by a “minute” number of people, and that most Fort Worth residents are Christians who believe that “the Bible is the word of God, and it’s what the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are based on.”

John Carlson, a Fort Worth businessman and husband of Texas Eagle Forum President Pat Carlson, told the council he believed it was irresponsible to spend city dollars on diversity initiatives when the city is facing a budget shortfall.

“This diversity will expand benefits and increase spending. Taxpayers do not want increased spending or taxes,” Carlson said.

He said that as a businessman who provides insurance to his employees, he knows that health insurance costs increase every year. Providing coverage to the domestic partners of gay and lesbian city employees would increase the city’s costs, he said, because gays and lesbians engage in ‘undeniably risky behavior. … If that lifestyle were a pack of cigarettes, it would require a surgeon general’s warning.”

Carlson said, “If you insure domestic partners, what if they have more than one partner? … Why not insure boyfriends or girlfriends? … Where does this coverage end? It just goes on.”

Scott Graham, who described himself as a businessman and former police officer, said he had conducted his own investigation into the Rainbow Lounge raid.

He repeated allegations that patrons in the bar that night sexually harassed and groped officers (those allegations were found to be either false or grossly exaggerated during official investigations), and accused witnesses and LGBT community leaders of “gross misrepresentations” of the raid and of “mak[ing] things up as they went along.”

Graham said, “Government was created by God to protect His definition of family,” and then asked for — and received — permission to “pray and speak a blessing over our city.”

The Rev. Carol West, pastor of Celebration Community Church, was the first of four speakers to speak in support of the Diversity Task Force and its recommendations. Noting that she is a member of Fairness Fort Worth and one of the people who leads the city’s new diversity training, West said that the training makes clear that it’s purpose is not to address religious issues or question anyone’s religious beliefs.

The training, she said, is designed to give “a perspective of the GLBT community. … Is there a homosexual agenda? I have heard a lot of talk about it, and you [task force opponents] talk a lot more about it than we [LGBT people] ever do.

“We teach that everyone is your customer. We say treat everyone with respect. Treat people with dignity. We teach about not demeaning people, not making people unwanted,” West said. “If that is a homosexual agenda, then it needs to be spread around.”

Steve Dutton, a task force member, and Lisa Thomas, a member of the task force, the city’s Human Rights Commission and Fairness Fort Worth, also spoke during the council meeting. But said the diveristy initiatives are a question of equal treatment, not religious beliefs.

To close the public comment session, Moncrief said he believes there is “respect in this city. There is room for all of us.

“We are trying to work through something very difficult. We weren’t pleased to be in the national spotlight for what happened or didn’t happen. But it was and is up to us to find out what happened. Obviously, somebody did something. TABC certainly felt somebody did something they shouldn’t have, because they fired the two agents that were involved.”

He added, “Don’t feel like we were not listening, because we were. We are. I hope you all feel like you have been heard tonight. … 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.”

……..

To watch complete video of the Fort Worth City Council meeting, go online to FortWorthGov.org.

—  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

Rainbow Lounge to mark anniversary of raid with party Monday


Rally protesting Rainbow Lounge raid
Within hours of Fort Worth police and TABC agents raiding the Rainbow Lounge on July 28, 2009 — the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots — angry LGBT people and allies staged a protest outside the nightclub.

Monday, June 28 will be the one-year anniversary of the raid on the Rainbow Lounge, and the club will mark the date with a barbecue party, plus a meet-and-greet with Fort Worth Police Chief Jeff Halstead and about 20 of his officers, including the deputy chief and beat officers for the area.

The party is set for 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the Rainbow Lounge patio, 651 S. Jennings, and the first 125 people to get there will get barbecue and soft drinks.

A whole lot has changed in Fort Worth in the 12 months since two agents with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and several FWPD officers raided the then-newly-opened gay bar on the 40th anniversary — almost to the minute — of the Stonewall Rebellion in New York. Watch the July 2 issue of Dallas Voice for a story on those changes.

We have had TONS and TONS of coverage of the raid and its aftermath. Here is one of our earliest stories.

—  admin

If you think the situation at Youth First is bad, Out Youth doesn't even have toilet paper

Carolyn Beck (remember her???) reports in the comments to my post below about Youth First Texas that Austin’s agency for LGBT youth is facing a similar budget crisis. Beck, if you’ll remember, is the official spokeswoman for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. She also became TABC’s liaison to the LGBT community following last June’s raid of the Rainbow Lounge in Fort Worth. Beck is straight, but shortly after the raid she began volunteering at Out Youth. And from what I can tell, she did it for no other reason than the fact that she genuinely supports the LGBT community.  Anyhow, Beck points us to a wishlist that’s posted on the Out Youth website. The list includes not only things like toilet paper and paper towels, but also basic necessities like a Netflix subscription and a Wii console. Seriously, though, aren’t we a little concerned — even in a recession — that the LGBT community in Texas is having trouble funding its youth centers? Maybe, just maybe, it’s time for some of us to rethink our priorities. Here’s Beck’s full message:

Out Youth in Austin – the sister organization to Youth First – is having a similar budget crisis and has been cutting back staff hours. The number of hours of counseling available for youth has been cut. And the organization has no operations budget at all — no new pencils, no snacks for the kids, no TP for the potty. (Volunteers can be seen bringing packages of toilet paper with them to the “Out House” because every kind of donation makes a difference.) If any readers are in Austin, or from Austin, or perhaps you were served by Out Youth in Austin, please consider becoming a monthly donor. And Saturday, June 19th is the annual all-ages Out Youth Queer Prom, which is a fundraising event for the organization. Everyone is invited!

—  John Wright