Saturday, July 25, 2009

Disorderly gays in the news

While Utah is dealing with the incident in the Main Street plaza involving two gay men - locally in my neck of the woods we've been dealing with our own gay drama. I don't know how national this went; but, on June 28th - which was, coincidentally, the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion - the Rainbow Lounge, a a gay bar in Fort Worth, Texas, was raided by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and the Fort Worth police department. As a result of this raid 6 people were arrested and one patron had to be hospitalized because of an injury to his head - allegedly due to excessive force by TABC agents and Fort Worth police officers.

Like the Main Street Plaza incident - there are conflicting accounts. The police officers claim that the people in the bar were making sexually suggestive comments and were groping the officers. The people involved deny that with one stating "we may be gay, but we're not stupid."

Like the Main Street Plaza incident, there have been regular protests since the incident.

I'm not going to comment on the right-ness or wrong-ness of either of these two incidents. The fact is, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle of the conflicting accounts, and we'll probably never know what really happened in either case.

But, what has been fascinating to me is to compare the aftermath of these two incidents.

In Utah, the LDS church quickly issued a brief press release backing the actions of the security guards.

In Texas, officials were very careful not to make a snap judgment, asking for patience while a complete investigation was done.

In Utah, all blame has been placed on the two gay men involved.

In Texas, the mayor of Fort Worth has apologized; and, the head of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission admitted that agents violated policy and violated internal rules of the department.

In Utah, the LDS church later issued a more detailed press release, this time making more serious accusations against the two gay men and again supporting the actions of the security guards.

In Texas, the Fort Worth City Council is seeking a federal inquiry into the raid.

In Utah, protests are beginning to spread with a "kiss-in" being organized at the Salt Lake City, San Diego, and possibly other, temples.

In Texas, protests are peaceful and are dwindling in both frequency and number of people attending.

In Utah, mistakes were made - probably by both sides - and the LDS church is digging in, consistent in their support of the security guards, and offering no evidence that anything has been done to prevent this sort of negative PR in the future.

In Texas, mistakes were made - probably on both sides - and now a thorough investigation is underway, a task force has been organized, and a special liaison to the Fort Worth gay community has been named. Mind you, Fort Worth is not the most gay friendly city. Of large cities (Fort Worth ranks 20th in the nation) it probably ranks near the bottom on the gay friendliness scale. Dallas is far more gay friendly than Fort Worth. Heck, Salt Lake City may very well rank higher in gay friendliness.

In Utah, For the sake of argument, let's assume the security guards are absolutely correct. Let's assume that the two gay men were drunken and disorderly and were engaging in lewd conduct that no couple, gay or straight, should be doing in public. Let's even assume that removing them by force was the correct course of action. Now let's assume that the LDS church issued a press release expressing remorse and promising an investigation into the matter. Let's assume that the subsequent press release stated that they determined the actions of the security guards were justified; however, they believe that it could have been handled better, and all church security guards will be undergoing mandatory sensitivity training. Would there still be people upset? Absolutely. Would the gay community in San Diego be organizing a kiss-in at the San Diego temple to protest something that happened in Salt Lake City? Not likely!

I am very disappointed in how my church leaders handled this situation. LDS church leaders should be smart enough to recognize this as a potential PR disaster and figure out a way to address it in a more politically correct manner. When they should be offering an olive branch to the local gay community - they are, instead, demonstrating that they just don't 'get it'. The unsaid message is coming out loud and clear that gays are disgusting and they don't want those kinds of people on church property.

In Texas, I'm proud of the way our local leaders are handling this situation. Texas is not exactly a gay friendly state. It's estimated that Texas will probably be one of the very last states to legalize gay marriage. Utah will likely recognize same sex marriages before Texas does. But, at least I feel like we're moving in the right direction, albeit ever so slowly.

As I saw once on a bumper sticker

"Naturalized Texan - I wasn't born here, but I got here as fast as I could"

9 comments:

MoHoHawaii said...

In Texas the people who run things are elected officials. Gay people and others who support basic fairness for all get to vote.

In Utah the people who run things come from a handful of old-line families known as "Mormon royalty." They are appointed for life and are accountable to no one.

Philip said...

I don't think I have the right words for what I am trying to say...

Another contrast is the role private property played in both incidents.

In Texas the cops were in a gay establishment.

In Utah the gay men were in a plaza open to the public but owned by the LDS Church.

Both cops and the LDS Church have an anti-gay reputation but, while the onus was on the cops to defend why they were in a gay bar, there was no question the LDS Church was within it's legal right to ask the two gay men to leave.

But just because something is legal doesn't mean it can't be a PR nightmare.

And that's because the Church allows the public to use this private property.

So, while the Main Street Plaza incident is a story about two gay men hugging and kissing on Church property, it is also a story about the LDS Church treating gay members of the public one way and straight members another way (unless I missed it and the LDS Church also forbids straight members of the public from hugging and kissing in the plaza).

The thing is there is a history in this country of upholding private property rights but there is also a history of fighting discrimination.

In my opinion, the majority of the public agrees that LDS Church has the right to dictate what goes on on it's own property as long as it is within reason.

But the LDS Church is losing the PR war because it is saying it's OK for a Church to treat some members of the public one way and other members of the public another way and that smacks of discrimination.

Regards,
Philip

Alan said...

"Very careful to make a snap judgment"? Think you might have dropped a word there, Abe.

MoHoHawaii said...

Philip,

By all accounts the officers raiding the Rainbow Lounge were loaded for bear. They came in with an aggressive attitude and, significantly, the showed up with a paddy wagon(!). They violated a number of policies (including the fact that they wore uniforms-- these inspections are supposed to be done in plain clothes) and acted aggressively. I'm willing to wait for the results of the investigation, but the fact that people were injured, some seriously, gives you a feeling for the amount of aggression involved.

I've been to lots of gay bars. I've *never* seen bar patrons act aggressively. Ever. People who go to bars, gay or otherwise, are just looking to relax, unwind and socialize with their friends. (Gay bars have a highly social component that is less common in straight bars. People know each other in gay bars.) This looks like a case of police brutality, but we'll wait for the results of the investigation.

I think the Main Street Plaza incident is not really comparable. In this case, it's the case of a situation escalating. The gay guys, by their own statement, were mistaken about what their rights were. The sidewalk had been a public thoroughfare for more than 100 years. They thought they had the right to be there. When confronted by LDS security, they asked for the police (thinking that LDS Security was acting inappropriately). The real story behind the Main Street Plaza story is the problems that have arisen from the controversial land swap that the city of Salt Lake did with the LDS Church. I don't know of any other city that ever sold a section of its Main Street to a private entity. I don't know the legality of the physical detainment and body search that LDS Security performed (this seems very sketchy to me, but I'm not a lawyer). It's really sad that this incident had to occur. Just a little restraint on the part of LDS Security would have avoided the whole brouhaha. In this case, as Abe mentions, there will never be an investigation or public disclosure of the facts. The Church is about as open as the Kremlin used to be during the Soviet era.

Abelard Enigma said...

MoHoHawaii - are you referring to LDS church leaders, or a good ol boys network in SLC politics?

Philip - I'm not disputing the rights of the LDS church, I'm merely addressing the PR aspect of these cases. In Fort Worth, the officers involved say they were doing a routine bar check (they had previously visited several other, non-gay, bars that evening) - something they have the legal right to do. But, just because you have the right to do something doesn't mean doing it is a bright idea, or that you shouldn't do it in a different way than you might otherwise due to other factors involved. For example, the plaza in question used to be a public street that the city sold to the church - an action which has been controversial from the beginning, and which there are still many who oppose the sale. Plus, during the resulting hearings, the LDS church promised that the public would continue to have access to the plaza. Now they seem to be suggesting that only certain public have access - straight, or straight-acting public. I just think the LDS church needs to be more PR savvy in these things and quit hiding behind their legal rights - something they can do without compromising their values or doctrines.

Alan - oops, thanks

MoHoHawaii said...

I'm referring to the owners of Main Street Plaza, who also have veto power over anything local and state government does in Utah. (I used to live there; it's the truth. Nothing happens without approval from the Church.)

I should clarify that I also am not disputing the rights of the LDS Church to the property in question. Under the current arrangement with the city, they can build a fence around Main Street Plaza and grow corn there if they wanted to. There is a question about the legality of the handcuffing and body search.

I should point out about the Ft. Worth incident that while the officers had visited several other bars that evening, they didn't bring a paddy wagon with them to any of the other bars. It's pretty clear that they went into the Rainbow Lounge loaded for bear.

Philip said...

MoHoHawaii,

Thanks for the detail.

There was a reference in the article to a land swap.

I hope you don't mind a few questions.

Turns out it use to be public property! How recent was the swap? Did the LDS Church agree to public access in order to make the swap more politcally palatable?

What I don't understand is why the LDS Church would want to do such a controversial thing. Call me cynical but I can't see the Catholic Church even attempting such a thing and it's a much larger Church. The LDS Church must have had a very good reason.

So let me guess...when the controversial swap was made, some of those that opposed it argued that what happened would happen and being proven right has dug up the controversy all over again.

So Main Street was pulled out from under the public. Wow!

Regards,
Philip

MoHoHawaii said...

The history of events leading to the takeover by the Church can be found here.

I have opinions about this, but this is a family blog (and I'm just a guest). And, yes, indeed one of the scenarios floated by opponents to the sale of the easement was exactly what happened two weeks ago. The Church basically said "trust us."

El Genio said...

"Would the gay community in San Diego be organizing a kiss-in at the San Diego temple to protest something that happened in Salt Lake City? Not likely!"

The problem is that during the prop 8 campaign and its aftermath, the church lost any and all credibility it had with regards to gay issues. Unless you had the guys brandishing guns on video, this was destined for protests.