(Editor's note: SDGLN is featuring Q&A interviews with leading filmmakers from around the world who are participating in FilmOut San Diego's 15th annual LGBT Film Festival, running May 29 to June 2 at the historic Birch North Park Theatre. Follow SDGLN for all the news about one of the top LGBT film festivals in the U.S.)
“Raid Of The Rainbow Lounge” is perhaps the most important movie showing at FilmOut San Diego’s 15th annual LGBT Film Festival at the Birch.
The full-length documentary directed by Robert L. Camina captures in stunning fashion what happened after authorities in Texas raided a gay bar in Fort Worth, astonishingly enough, on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots that birthed the modern gay-rights movement.
The brutality by Fort Worth police and Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission agents shocked the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, and awakened the laid-back LGBT community in one of the fastest-growing cities in Texas. The attempted cover-up by authorities then sparked further outrage, street protests and vigils, eventually leading to a fruitful dialogue that has transformed Cowtown, as Fort Worth is affectionately known due to its ties to the historical Chisholm Trail, into a trailblazing city for gay rights.
Director Robert L. Camina tells San Diego Gay & Lesbian News that his work on “Raid Of The Rainbow Lounge” has altered his life dramatically and that the documentary is changing hearts and minds in Texas and, indeed, around the world.
SDGLN: Why was the raid on a gay bar in Fort Worth, Texas such a big deal? Why are some people calling this the Texas version of Stonewall?
The parallels between the raids at the Stonewall Inn and Rainbow Lounge were haunting.
On June 28, 1969, New York City police raided a popular gay bar called the Stonewall Inn, resulting in multiple arrests, injuries and riots. The Stonewall Rebellion is commonly observed as the launch of the modern gay rights movement. Many people thought that gay bar raids like that existed only in the history books. However, exactly 40 years later, unsuspecting customers in a Texas gay bar learned otherwise.
On June 28, 2009 (the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn Raid in New York City) police and agents from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) raided the Rainbow Lounge, a newly opened gay bar in Fort Worth Texas. During their 40 minutes in the bar, multiple people were detained or arrested and a young man was sent to the ICU with a fractured skull and bleeding on the brain. Many accused officers of targeting the gay community. Allegations of police brutality flooded the Internet.
Police reported that during the raid, multiple patrons allegedly grabbed them in a sexually interested manner and "pretended to have sex with them from behind." They also accused one patron of grabbing a male officer's crotch. The Fort Worth police chief defended his officers' actions against the patrons and made public remarks and allegations that many considered homophobic. Following the sordid allegations and outrage, many changes would occur in the city and Fort Worth would become a leader in LGBT equality. However, that journey would not be without controversies.
SDGLN: What is the genesis of this movie, and what is the buzz on the gay film festival circuit?
June 28, 2009: For many of my friends, the people in this film and countless others, that's a date their lives changed forever. While I was not at the Rainbow Lounge that night, my life also changed that day. During the late morning and early afternoon, the facts surrounding the raid were unclear and the future was uncertain. However, my instincts told me that I needed to capture what was happening on video and potentially create a short film. Little did I know, that decision would define my life for the next 2.5 years.
Over the next few months, the story would grow. It was quickly apparent that this project wouldn’t be a short film, but feature length. I set out to interview on camera as many witnesses and key players as possible. I attended almost every single event related to the raid, camera in hand. Ultimately, I was able to interview over 35 people, and record over 50 hours of rallies, Fort Worth City Council meetings, counter-protests and more. I was witnessing history unfold before my eyes and I felt a sense of responsibility to the community to tell this story.
I was determined not to let the traumatic event and its inspiring legacy fade into the past, reduced to folklore. Minds and attitudes are changed one at a time. I felt if I could prevent one person from bullying, discriminating or using violence against members of the LGBT community, it would be a success!
“Raid Of The Rainbow Lounge” premiered in Fort Worth last spring to a sold-out audience, rave reviews and a media frenzy. The film was the lead story on every news broadcast (ABC, CBS, NBC, CW, FOX) in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex (6.5 million population) during the week leading up to the premiere. The momentum continued with additional film festival screenings across the country.
Critics have called the film "Unflinching, Unforgettable and Unexpectedly Moving" (Pegasusnews.com) "Beautiful and Thought-Inducing" (Long Beach Post) and "One of the Year's Must Sees" (Summit Daily News & Dallas Observer).
The documentary has screened over 30 times, including 28 mainstream and LGBT film festivals, and has won many awards along the way. This includes two “Best” Film and three “Audience Choice” Awards.
However, “Raid Of The Rainbow Lounge” is not your ordinary movie and has a reach far beyond film festivals.
During the film's 2.5 year production, I hoped that Fort Worth's story would be used as a training tool for cities and law enforcement agencies across the country. Less than 90 days after the film’s debut, that dream started to become a reality. I was invited to speak at the first-ever LGBT Pride Month Diversity Program for the U.S. Attorney’s Office (Northern District of Texas) and show highlights from the film. The presentation was broadcast to their offices across North Texas, where staff learned about the raid and issues related to LGBT equality.
I am also happy to say that the film is receiving federal attention. The Office of the White House and Department of Justice have requested screeners of the film. In fact, through the film's growing relationship with them, I was honored to receive an invitation to the White House last June for their LGBT Pride Month reception, where I had the opportunity to meet with staff who requested more screeners.
Furthermore, at the invitation of the U.S. State Department, “Raid Of The Rainbow Lounge” screened in October to a delegation of 16 visitors from all over Europe participating in the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) focusing on “Advocating for Human and Civil Rights for the LGBT Community.” All of these participants were hand selected by our U.S. Embassies abroad and are all currently doing important work in their communities on LGBT rights.
I am very proud of the IMPACT the film has had in a short amount of time. I hoped that this film would make a difference and it looks like it has.
SDGLN: What is the most important lesson you learned from making “Raid Of The Rainbow Lounge” documentary?
People can evolve. Much has been said over the past couple years about President Obama's "evolving" opinion on issues related to LGBT equality. However, we should also commend public officials on a local level who have also "evolved" in their treatment of the LGBT community. For example, Fort Worth Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead was the target of a lot of criticism and hated after making incredibly offensive and nearsighted remarks. He is an educated man, but knew VERY little about the LGBT community.
Through a willingness to learn and courage to take action, Chief Halstead helped make Fort Worth a leader in LGBT equality. In the dark days following the raid, no one would have thought that this man, who had once defended his officers’ aggressive actions and their absurd allegations that they had been groped and sexually assaulted, would be sitting on a White House panel supporting the LGBT community, but in March 2012, that’s exactly what happened (White House LGBT Conference for Safe Schools and Communities). He owned his flaws and Chief Halstead went from a target of hate speech and death threats to a respected, outspoken advocate for LGBT equality and a hero to many.
SDGLN: Since the release of the documentary, what has changed with the LGBT community in Fort Worth?
I think the Fort Worth LGBT community found its voice following the Rainbow Lounge raid. While it's one of the largest cities in the state, it's been characterized as having a small town feel with Bible Belt values. So while a gay community has existed in Fort Worth for years, many felt the need to remain in the closet and remain silent.
The raid infuriated and ultimately united the community. As a result, I think we were all reminded that we should never underestimate the power of our voice. We can create change if we speak up and remain vigilant! It ignited a dialogue about LGBT issues that might not have occurred without the raid. In the wake of the raid, the city instituted mandatory diversity training for all city employees, revised their bar check policy, expanded the city's anti-discrimination ordinance to include the transgender community, and began offering domestic partner benefits to city employees.
The documentary is a testament to the dedication and hard work of a community and government officials on city and state levels, to create an improved understanding, a more inclusive place to live, and a stronger community for all. Since the release of the documentary, Fort Worth lost one of its strongest and loudest activists - the president of Fairness Fort Worth, Thomas R. Anable. In the fight for justice and equality, Tom Anable was one of the very few brave enough to lead the charge after the Rainbow Lounge raid. Though the film, his words and passion continue to create change as audiences share in his grit determination. He believed that Fort Worth's story could inspire and educate people around the world. Inspired by his strength, Fort Worth continues to be a leader in LGBT equality, serving as a model for other cities - not just in Texas, but around the country.
SDGLN: What do you want audiences to remember about the film after they leave the theater?
It's been my mission to help educate people across the country. I am thrilled that FilmOut San Diego decided to program this film and I am proud that San Diego is part of this collective dialogue.
I think it's important for people to realize that events like what happened at the Rainbow Lounge are still happening in our lifetime. This is the kind of world members of the LGBT community are forced to live in: a world flourishing with fear, homophobia and intimidation. However, in the wake of the raid, Fort Worth city leaders and members of the LGBT community ultimately took significant steps to create a better world for all its citizens. I hope this film inspires people to get involved in their own community. While city leaders need to be held accountable for the safety and well being for all the people they represent, members of the community also need to speak up and initiate change.
I am reminded of a quote which has been repeated many, many times over the years, but each time, its truth is not diluted. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” - Margaret Mead.
SDGLN: Do you prefer the LGBT genre?
I really enjoy telling LGBT stories. I'm excited about what's on the horizon for LGBT films. No longer are we confined to coming out stories, HIV dramas or just being the clown sidekicks. We are now exploring deeper stories of our community. Being gay is part of who we are, it doesn't define who we are.
SDGLN: Has LGBT cinema grown up, is it “crossing over” to attract mainstream audiences, or do you sense it will remain a niche product?
As public opinion continues to shift, I believe we will see more and more "mainstream" stories with LGBT lead characters. However, I think the LGBT community has a distinct culture, with a unique perspective. Some stories aren't meant for mainstream audiences - they won't be able to relate. With that in mind, I believe there will always be a demand (and in some cases, dire need) for the LGBT cinema niche. We can't depend on other people to tell our stories.
SDGLN: What’s next for you?
I have a couple of exciting projects in development I anticipate making an official announcement in June. Make sure to sign up for the newsletter HERE.
SDGLN: Single or taken?
Taken. My best friend and partner of three years, Brian Long.
SDGLN: Will you be coming to California for the FilmOut San Diego LGBT Film Festival?
Unfortunately, I am not able to attend FilmOut San Diego, but I will definitely be there in spirit!
“Raid Of The Rainbow Lounge” is my first feature film and my first documentary. My previous films are comedies, including the raucous comedy/musical "Martini the Movie" and "Hunter4Love." I am thrilled to say that both films were well received at FilmOut San Diego (and are now available on DVD).
SDGLN: If you were granted three wishes, what would you do with them?
1) Guarantee once and for all that all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens are treated as equal citizens under the protection of the law.
2) I 'd meet Bette Midler.
3) I'd make sure that our youth respected and learned more about our LGBT history.
SHOWING ON FRIDAY, MAY 31
Time: 5 pm
Sponsored by Gay San Diego
Co-presented by Merrill Lynch
“Raid Of The Rainbow Lounge” (2012), directed by Robert L. Camina, 103 minutes, U.S.
A full-length documentary film recounting the events surrounding the widely publicized and controversial raid of a Fort Worth, Texas gay bar in 2009. Following a sordid aftermath, Fort Worth would become a leader in LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) equality. However, that journey was not smooth and without controversies. Witness history unfolds as the film documents that journey from the perspective of eyewitnesses, activists and politicians who helped change the city. (Narrated by television icon and Emmy-nominated actress, Meredith Baxter).
Festival tickets are now on sale at the FilmOut San Diego website HERE.
Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.