Halstead praised by numerous local LGBT leaders in face of obstacles


GOODBYE TO AN ALLY | The Rev. Carol West, left, and retiring Fort Worth Police Chief Jeff Halstead formed a tight bond after the 2009 Rainbow Lounge raid.


James Russell  |  Staff Writer

Fort Worth Police Chief Jeff Halstead announced his retirement on Tuesday, Nov. 11, leaving behind a legacy praised by many LGBT community leaders, who applauded his commitment to the LGBT community.

“He was one of the best things to happen to Fort Worth and the city’s relations with the LGBT community,” said the Rev. Carol West.

Fairness Fort Worth’s David Henderson called the chief a friend. “Rarely have I encountered a public servant willing to own up to issues, take full responsibility for his team and then sincerely work to change an entire culture for the better,” Henderson said.

It wasn’t always rosy with the LGBT community, however. In 2009, Halstead was just six months on the job when Fort Worth police and Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission agents raided a newly-opened gay bar called Rainbow Lounge, on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Officers handcuffed seven patrons during the raid, and one patron, Chad Gibson, ended up hospitalized with a serious head injury that caused lasting damage.

Halstead was internationally panned for suggesting within a couple of days of the raid that the Rainbow Lounge’s gay patrons had provoked the response by groping officers and making sexual advances. His defensive response infuriated many LGBT advocates.

Henderson, now president of Fairness Fort Worth, which was formed in response to the raid, summed up the perception of Chief Halstead at the time as “the emblematic villain of the Rainbow Lounge raid.”

West, along with a delegation including QCinema leader Todd Camp, accountant Tom Anable, and attorney Jon Nelson quickly arranged a meeting with the chief to discuss their concerns.

“I was ready to take the streets before the meeting,” West said. But she added, she left convinced that ignorance, not Halstead, was the real enemy in the unfortunate raid.

Instead of digging in his heels, West said she found Halstead to be someone deeply seeking redemption.

“When I listened to him, he came across as real,” West said.

Halstead quickly appointed his department’s first-ever LGBT liaison officer, Sara Straten. The officers involved in the raid were reprimanded, and the entire department is now required to attend mandatory LGBT sensitivity training.

But changes were not just confined to the police department. The Fort Worth City Council approved a wide-ranging nondiscrimination ordinance. The city’s Human Relations Commission passed a resolution supporting transgender protections, and the Fort Worth Independent School District approved a sweeping anti-bullying policy.

Sharon Herrera, a school district employee and current human relations commissioner, said she was sad about Halstead’s departure. “He supported LGBTQ Saves [and its] work with LGBTQ youth. He provided free security for every event. We worked well together,” she noted.

Halstead was hired by the city after serving in various roles in Phoenix, Ariz., and the Rainbow Lounge raid was not the only problem to happen early in his tenure. In the same year, he faced an internal scandal after numerous police executives, including his chief of staff, were arrested for driving while intoxicated.
Halstead also had a rocky relationship with other city constituencies. In 2011, a group of community members with the Black, Brown & Tan Caucus and the Community Leaders Coalition called for his resignation after a Tarrant County grand jury did not indict a white police officer who shot and killed Charal

Thomas, a black man.

This past summer, Halstead faced mounting criticism following a report, known as the Coleman Report, revealing race-based harassment within the department. The city’s Black Law Enforcement Officers Association called for his resignation and the Latino Peace Officer Association remained neutral.

At the Tuesday press conference, Halstead denied rumors he was pressured to resign by Mayor Betsy Price. Sources close to the Dallas Voice, however, said a long series of missteps culminating in the Coleman Report led to his departure.

Halstead said he plans to go into the private sector as a consultant to police departments. According to Texas Secretary of State records, he established a consulting business this past summer.

He and his wife, a native Texan, will remain in Fort Worth.

Corporal Tracey Knight, the department’s current LGBT liaison, worked closely with Halstead. She said she will remember his legacy as much as the man himself.

“The policies that he and other city leaders have put in place regarding equality will be a shining legacy for all to remember the leader, visionary and friend that he is to us all,” she said in a statement.

Personally, she added, she’ll miss his camaraderie — and his corny jokes.

“On a personal note…it is because of him that my wife and daughter are now on my health insurance so in the words of my six year old,” Knight said. “Thanks Chief-ee!”

Six years after he was hired, Halstead’s leadership and willingness to work with Fairness Fort Worth and others have transformed the city from an embarrassment to a leader in LGBT equality. Once the enemy, the police chief leaves behind an impressive legacy for LGBT people within the department and city government as a whole.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 14, 2014.