In Fort Worth, LGBT Community Says City And Police Have Come A Long Way | KERA News

In Fort Worth, LGBT Community Says City And Police Have Come A Long Way

Oct 5, 2015

Over the weekend, the streets of downtown Fort Worth were filled with folks celebrating gay pride. The city has come a long way in how it interacts with its LGBT community. 

This was the biggest Pride parade Fort Worth has seen. Thousands turned out to watch over-the-top floats go by and danced on Main Street in front of the Convention Center.

Christina Starr, a drag queen, towered above the crowd in a form-fitting hand-sewn silver sequined evening dress and, as she described it, “big, beautiful blond Texas hair, set only for a Texas queen for Texas gay pride, here in Fort Worth City.”

Starr says the Fort Worth festival is more low-key and family friendly than its Dallas counterpart. It’s got just as much glitter and rainbows, but fewer drunk people and no shirtless men in leather chaps.

“Some people take Pride as an opportunity [for] inappropriateness, and I choose to do Pride as educational, inspirational and a guidance,” she said.

City, companies and police boost their involvement

This year, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price kicked off the Pride celebrations, and the party was supported by corporate sponsors like Lockheed Martin. Officers from both Fort Worth and Arlington police departments marched in the parade. Just a few years ago, the celebration was less mainstream.

“I feel like the law enforcement has done a better job of making us feel more accepted and protected,” Ryan Smith said.

“Even just their presence in the parade was great,” added Jared Harper, who came with Smith and a few other friends. “It was great just to have that.”

A troubled history

In 2009, Fort Worth Police raided a gay club called the Rainbow Lounge. It landed one man in the hospital and soured relationships between police and the gay community.

“We have put a tremendous effort towards building that relationship,” said Cpl. Tracey Knight, the Fort Worth Police Department’s LGBT liaison. She says the fallout from the 2009 raid did spur police brass to work better with the city’s LGBT community and recruit more gay and lesbian officers.

“Like the cigarette commercial said, 'we’ve come a long way baby,'” said Rev. Carol West of Celebration Community Church, which serves the LGBT community.

West says the parade has evolved since the early ‘80s. For one, she said, it’s in downtown now.

“It used to be on one little street in one little corner of Fort Worth and nobody knew about it unless you were there or you caught it on TV,” she said.

'A certain amount of courage'

Now, there are victories to celebrate, too, including the Supreme Court’s ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide earlier this year. When Beverly Fletcher and her college girlfriend – they’re married now -- moved to Fort Worth in the '90s, it was still risky to just go to Pride because LGBT people “were very fearful that they would lose their jobs, and people were kind of scared to come out to the parade or to the picnics and everything. They had to have a certain amount of courage to do that.”

Fletcher was part of a decade-long struggle to win non-discrimination protections for gays and lesbians in Fort Worth. That measure passed in 2000.

'We're getting there'

These days, she says she’s less of an activist because she’s a full-time mom. Last week, she was at Southwest High School helping her daughter’s Gay Straight Alliance decorate a hall for homecoming. There are GSAs in most schools these days, and gay proms in Fort Worth, she says.

“We’re getting there. We’ve got to wait for some people, they’re just lagging behind,” she said. “I think the churches are lagging behind. So we’re just waiting for everyone to catch up.”

Fletcher jokes that now it’s up to the next generation to make the world better for LGBT folks.

Photo: Bob Booth/Special to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram