We have our own little gay bar here in Fort Worth, and it's called the Rainbow Lounge. Those of you who know Fort Worth know that it's not exactly a tolerant sort of town. It's not intolerant, but there's plenty of people who feel threatened by alternative lifestyles. If you're gay in Fort Worth, everybody thought, don't call attention to yourselves, and you will get along fine. That all changed in June of 2009.
In June 2009 the bar was raided by the TABC, working with the Fort Worth Police Department. In their raid, two people were injured - Chad Gibson and George Armstrong. The city of Fort Worth has come to an agreement to settle out of court with both Gibson and Armstrong, in an effort to "avoid time-consuming and costly litigation." Gibson had received a head injury during the arrest, which the police say happened when he fell outside while handcuffed. Draw your own conclusions on that one. He will receive $400,000 from the city of Fort Worth. Armstrong will receive less than $50,000 (no word on how much, but council authorization was not necessary for amounts under $50,000.)
Tom Anable, who is president of Fairness Fort Worth, said that the settlement was a positive step for the city. "This is a good business decision for the city, and to go through a federal civil lawsuit, after everything that we've been through, would have been terrible for the city's image. A lawsuit would have taken a tremendous amount of Chad's time and put his life on hold indefinitely. He wants to get on with his life." Fairness Fort Worth was created after the Rainbow Lounge incident.
Gibson and Armstrong have also sued the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. A spokewoman has said the agency is discussing settlements with them.
While officially no brutality was committed, the commission has fired two agents and their supervisor, citing policy violations, and Fort Worth Police Chief Jeff Halstead gave three officers 1 to 3-day suspensions. The Fort Worth police have created a department liason to the city's gay community and added sensitivity training, and LGBT diversity training is now given to all employees. Most notably, the TABC has discontinued their practice of randomly busting drinkers, and are now spending their time investigating bars.
While this was a ugly mark on Fort Worth, I'm pleased that so many things have been done to change the attitudes here.
Some leaders of the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender community say the city responded amazingly fast in changing policies related to gay city employees.
Employee sensitivity training, an agreement that the city will showcase gay community events in tourism promotion, an expansion of the city's anti-discrimination policy to include transgender employees, and pledges to advocate issues important to the gay community in the city's state and federal legislative policy are all part of the package approved in the past year.
Other items, such as including gender assignment surgery and extending employee benefit packages to same-sex couples, are under review for economic feasibility.
The city's image was suddenly at stake worldwide, and leaders had to react, said Thomas Anable, an accountant for the Rainbow Lounge. But no one expected things to change so quickly, he said.
"People are telling me that they have never seen a city work that fast without some outside help," he said. "Fort Worth has gotten some incredibly good press out of this. It's unfortunate that someone had to get fired and someone had to get hurt."
Officer Sara Straten, the Police Department's liaison to the gay community, said: "I think that, eventually, these steps would have happened without Rainbow Lounge, but Rainbow Lounge fast-tracked them and put them on everyone's mind. As each one of these steps progresses, it makes us more human in everyone's eyes."
Read more: http://www.star-telegram.com/...
It's not all rainbows, however. Fort Worth, like most of Texas, is still a Republican-majority town, and they're using the budget crisis as an excuse for trying to eliminate these new programs.
Want to learn more? Here's more articles about the Rainbow Lounge: