“Raid of the Rainbow Lounge”

Another Look

Amos Lassen

About a week ago I posted the article below about Robert Camina’s new documentary yet since I did I have had the pleasure of watching the film another couple of times and it has also gone on to win several prestigious prizes. Therefore I am doing something that I do not ordinarily do—I am reposting the article but I am adding that it has been a very long time since a film so knocked me out by its superiority. Aside from that it has a very strong lesson in that it show us how to turn a bad situation into one of value. I see a lot of movies and sometimes as many as 60 a week and while I tend to be generous with praise, I must qualify that I cannot laud this film enough. All of us need to see this powerful movie and learn from it. Be on the lookout for when it is being screened near you and run, don’t walk, to see it. You will not regret a second of your time and if you are like me, you will make a place in your head where it will reside for a while.

I just received word about a new documentary by Robert Camina about the raid on the Rainbow Lounge in Fort Worth, Texas in June, 2009. (Yes, just three years ago). Police officers and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission conduced arrests at a new gay bar, The Rainbow Lounge. Actually Camina was supposed to be at the bar on the night of the raid but because of a prior commitment did not get there. Nonetheless, he decided to make a movie about what happened that night.

Using interviews with those who were there that night he gives us a look at what went down. He was unable to interview any of the police officers who participated but he did get to use the report that they filed as well as a television interview with Chris Aller, who was the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission agent who was in charge of the raid. He was also able to interview chief of polic, Jeff Halstead.

Supposedly the visit to the bar was to be a routine bar inspection that the patrons said was a raid. Chief of police, Jeff Halstead became targeted with hate mail and death threats the day after as he defended what his officers did. The police officers who came to the bar acted with complete zealousness and what happened at the bar that night did not, in any way, resemble what they claimed their reason for coming to be. There was a positive outcome when the following November city officials passed an amendment to the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance to include prohibiting discrimination on the basis of transgender, gender identity or gender expression.

The raid (or the inspection as the law preferred to call in) brought in five arrests and made Forth Worth the focus on national protests. Interesting that investigations by police and the alcoholic beverage commission claimed that excessive force was not used but two of the TABC agents were fired and three police officers received short suspensions.

The controversial inspection, which resulted in five arrests, catapulted Fort Worth into the national spotlight as protests and allegations of police brutality grew. While investigations by both police and the alcoholic beverage commission concluded that no excessive force was used, two TABC agents and their supervisor were fired, and three police officers received one- to three-day suspensions. Because people were traumatized by what happened, it was difficult to find witnesses who were willing to testify and there was a great deal of fear of speaking about it. As a result of that night officer Sara Straten became the police department’s newly appointed liaison officer to the LGBT community.

I can just imagine how difficult it was for Camina to remain fair so to give a balanced look at the event—after all, he was to have been there. The film is now on the festival circuit so if you have the chance go and see the film that shows part of our history and remember that as dark and heartbreaking as the actual event was, something good came out of it.

The film is narrated by television icon and Emmy Award winner Meredith Baxter.


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