Most residents of Fort Worth have never even seen the inside of a gay bar. Fort Worth's police chief Jeff Halstead is counting on that fact—counting on the average person's ignorance about gay bars and certain stereotypes about gay men—to get a half a dozen Forth Worth police officers off the hook for conducting a violent raid on a Forth Worth gay bar, the Rainbow Lounge, late last Saturday night. Seven men were arrested during the raid, which took place on the 40th anniversary of the raid on the Stonewall Inn that kick-started the modern gay rights movement, and one of those men—Chad Gibson—remains in intensive care with a brain injury. Gibson may not survive.
The officers who raided the Rainbow Lounge claim that the men in the bar made "advances" on them—and Forth Worth's police chief is backing them up:
Monday, police chief Jeff Halstead said the officers' actions are being investigated. However, he also said that officers that entered the bar during the scheduled inspection were touched inappropriately.
"You're touched and advanced in certain ways by people inside the bar, that's offensive," he said. "I'm happy with the restraint used when they were contacted like that."
Allow me to translate the chief's comments: "Them faggots in that thar bar touched mah officers and now they're complainin' about some rough stuff and one little ol' faggot with a brain injury? Those perverts should be grateful they're alive."
This is a classic example of the Gay Panic Defense. In the very recent past all a straight man who brutally murdered a gay man had to say was, "He made a pass at me!", and the jury would ignore the evidence and let the murderer off. The Gay Panic Defense doesn't fly in many courts of law these days but it still has currency in the court of public opinion. And the chief of police in Forth Worth, a major U.S. city, is attempting to use the Gay Panic Defense to convince the citizens of Fort Worth to ignore the evidence—to ignore photographic evidence and credible eyewitness accounts—and let his officers off.
And you'll never guess who the police are accusing of being the groper: Chad Gibson, the one man arrested at the Rainbow Lounge who can't defend himself and may never be able to give his side of the story. But another person at the bar witnessed Gibson's arrest:
"They were hyped up. They were loaded for bear," said Todd Camp, a veteran journalist who was there celebrating his birthday with friends. "They were just randomly grabbing people, telling them they were drunk."
Camp told me he has been in bars during TABC/police "checks" before, "and it was never anything like this." Usually, he said, officers discreetly walk through, looking for anybody who has had too much. This was different. "They were shoving patrons," Camp said, "asking, 'How much have you had to drink?'"
"[Gibson] was taken down hard," said Camp, with "four or five" officers wrestling him to the floor inside the club. Cellphone photos shot by patrons and posted to blogs show a person being held facedown by officers in a short hallway inside the club, then show a dent in the wall where his head was apparently banged.
The police claim that Gibson wasn't injured when those four or five cops slammed him to the floor of the bar, but after his arrest, when, drunk and handcuffed, Gibson somehow fell and hit his head on the pavement outside the bar.
All of this is bullshit.
I've been in a million gay bars. I've been in gay bars on multiple occasions when the police came in to check everyone's IDs and make sure no minors were being served. Gay men don't grope police officers when they enter gay bars. I find it inconceivable that the gay men drinking in the Rainbow Lounge in Fort Worth responded to a raid by attempting to grope the police officers. This "they groped us!" shit is a lie. As the owner of the bar, J.R. Schrock, put it at the protest the night after the raid:
"The groping of the police officer—really? We're gay, but we're not dumb," Schrock said to the crowd that gathered at the bar Sunday afternoon. "That is a lie, and I am appalled by it."
Jeff Halstead can't be allowed to use the Gay Panic Defense. His officers weren't groped, no one was "touched and advanced." Homophobic cops raided a gay bar, roughed up the patrons, and a young man is in the hospital and may die.
Some will say that this was just an ill-timed raid on a gay bar in Texas, of all places, one that got out of control. So what's the big deal? But this is exactly the kind of state-sponsored violence that gays and lesbians fought back against at Stonewall 40 years ago. Gay men all over the country are going to have to speak up and defend the patrons of the Rainbow Lounge. We can't allow the chief of police in Fort Worth to use the Gay Panic Defense or exploit stereotypes about gay men—so sexually reckless that they can't even keep their hands off cops during a raid!—to get away with violating the civil rights of gay men in Fort Worth or murdering Chad Gibson.