Rainbow Lounge raid, Annise Parker’s election dominate Texas headlines in 2009
2009 certainly proved an eventful year for local activists. And EDGE has compiled a list of major events that garnered headlines across Texas over the last 12 months.
Rainbow Lounge raid
The Fort Worth Police Department and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission conducted a raid on the Rainbow Lounge on June 28, which was,unbeknownst to those who participated, the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. Seven patrons were arrested, and one was seriously injured.
Outrage and action from Fort Worth’s LGBT residents and elsewhere was swift and lasting. Public protests kept attention on the incident throughout the remainder of the year - leading to the establishment of a Mayor’s Diversity Task Force, the appointment of an interim FWPD interim LGBT liaison officer (Sara Straten), and the release of two internal investigations whose conclusions stopped short of the disciplinary action for which many had hoped.
"The significance of Rainbow lounge is not just the raid, but all of the positive things that came out of it," Jonathan Nelson, whose group Fairness Fort Worth formed after the raid, said.
Blake Wilkinson, whose group Queer LiberAction has been highly critical of actions the city and the police department have taken since the raid (including tepid apologies and acknowledgments by both the mayor and the chief of police,) further reflected upon the Rainbow Lounge incident.
"Rather than passively accept this type of treatment, the LGBT community of North Texas came together, organized and demanded change," he said. "The raid at the Rainbow Lounge will be remembered more for the good that came out of it than the tragedy that it was."
Houston voters elect first gay mayor
While other Texas cities were dealing with the fallout from ill-advised police actions, Houston distinguished itself as cosmopolitan and progressive - by electing Annise Parker earlier this month as the city’s first openly lesbian mayor. Parker’s victory came amid hard-hitting, but ultimately futile attempts to use her sexual orientation as a wedge issue.
Wikinson acknowledged the significance of the election, but he questioned Parker’s decision not to highlight LGBT issues.
"It was disappointing that Parker chose to keep LGBT equality out of her campaign," he said.
Nelson was more conciliatory.
"People, even in Texas, are more likely to vote for the person and what they stand for rather than what their sexuality is," he said. "I think people look at the character of the person and what their platform is and vote accordingly. Many straight people get angry when there are personal attacks on someone’s character or sexuality. "
A security guard at a Chico’s Tacos in El Paso who saw two men kissing forcibly removed them and a group of others from the restaurant on June 29. An officer called to the scene refused to assist the men and threatened to cite them for "homosexual activity" - incorrectly citing a law - and failing to take into account city statute which prohibits discrimination in public places based on race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, color, religion, ethnic background or national origin.
Embarrassed by the officer’s lack of sensitivity and knowledge of the law, the El Paso Police Department issued a press release in which Chief Greg Allen disavowed the officer’s statements as "an incorrect recitation of the law." The release further promised to "require that all employees of the police department maintain a level of competence that keeps them abreast of the current laws and requirements of the law enforcement profession."
"Chico’s Tacos is another incident that galvanized the (LGBT) community and promoted some positive change," Rafael McDonnell of the Resource Center in Dallas noted. "The El Paso police have gone through diversity training. I certainly think what happened caused them to move quicker than they ordinarily would."
San Angelo mayor resigns
In the same year that saw former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin leave office to write a book and to enhance her national profile, the resignation of San Angelo Mayor J.W. Lown in early May garnered little national attention. It was significant, however, in its implications for LGBT and immigration rights.
Lown told the San Angelo City Council he was now living in Mexico in order to be with his partner - an undocumented Mexican who had been living in the United States illegally. Lown, who was first elected in 2003 as the city’s youngest mayor ever, had already announced his re-election campaign when he fell in love with a man who had a student visa. When that visa expired, Lowe decided to decline another term in office - 10 days after voters re-elected him.
"Lown’s decision deals with all of the traditional issues centered around undocumented workers; the fear of being deported, the inability to have sponsorship; fear of being found out, getting health care and employment - having to live off the radar in order to live in the United States," Paul Scott, executive director of Equality Texas, told EDGE at the time.
Gay public displays of affection
The Metroplex activist organization Queer LiberAction, which formed in Dec. 2008 in response to the passage of Proposition 8 in California, has faced criticism for its aggressive and often theatrical street actions. Queer LiberAction ruffled feathers this year with several "Queer Kiss-Ins," which served as a rebuttal to those who believe LGBTs need not impose their sexuality upon the public with open displays of affection. A light-hearted Valentine’s Day Kiss-In came and went without much fanfare; but when QL took the event to the Fort Worth Stockyards, the venue’s manager, Hub Baker, said he felt same-sex couples who hold hands or kiss in public should whipped. He backed away from his comments and was even spotted holding a sign that read "GayPDA OKAY!!"