On June 28, 1969, New York City police stormed into a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn. The raid resulted in arrests, injuries and riots — and the beginning of the modern gay rights movement.
Exactly 40 years later, police and Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) agents entered a gay bar called the Rainbow Lounge in Fort Worth, Texas. The next 40 minutes brought arrests and injuries. Later, there were allegations. Patrons accused police of brutality so severe that one victim was sent to the ICU with a fractured skull. Police accused patrons of sexually suggestive antics — hardly a reason to bash someone's skull in.
Dallas-based filmmaker Robert L. Camina knew a good story when he heard one. He wasn't at the bar on June 28, 2009, but he began filming immediately after. "My instincts told me I needed to capture what was happening on video," he says. He would spend the next two and a half years working on the project.
His goal: Turn the raid into a teaching moment. "I hoped Fort Worth's story would be used as a training tool for cities and law enforcement agencies across the country," he stated.
Camina, who wrote, directed and produced Raid of The Rainbow Lounge, will be in Charlotte for its Saturday, April 27 screening, as part of the fifth annual GayCharlotte Film Festival.
The festival packs 10 films — all shown at Theatre Charlotte — into four days. "We are extremely fortunate this year to have the entire festival at Theatre Charlotte," says Frank Kalian, festival chair. The lineup includes lighthearted camp like Baby Jane?; a lesbian take on the familiar coming-of-age story, Mosquita y Mari; and documentaries like United in Anger: A History of ACT UP.
One of the sweetest films in the festival is the Belgian Ma Vie en Rose (My Life in Pink), which played at the Manor in 1997 and is worth revisiting. In this Golden Globe Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film, seven-year-old Ludovic is convinced he's a girl. He tells his parents — and total strangers — that he intends to be a woman when he grows up. The comedy-drama about how one family deals with a child's gender identity issues is heartbreaking, illuminating and uplifting.
Comic relief comes in the form of Cloudburst, starring Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker as lesbians on the lam from their nursing home; Gayby, where two best friends from college — a straight woman and a gay man — fulfill an old promise to each other to conceive a child together; and Going Down in LA-LA Land, which is about what you probably think it's about. (Young, hot actor moves to L.A. Can't find work. Resorts to porn and prostitution. And yes, it's a comedy.)
But the main event is likely to be Rainbow. If the raid is unfamiliar to most Charlotteans, the film's narrator is not. Meredith Baxter, who famously came out in 2009, guides viewers through the 103-minute documentary. "I needed someone whose voice was confident, yet comforting," Camina says of his choice of Alex P. Keaton's Family Ties mom. "I wanted someone people trusted."
Baxter gives voice to the struggle Fort Worth went through after the incident — and what the city learned from it.
And Fort Worth appears to have changed as a result. "I think the Fort Worth LGBT community found its voice following the Rainbow Lounge raid," Camina says. "The raid infuriated and ultimately united the community." And it led, he believes, to many Fort Worth gays walking proudly out of the closet.
After the Rainbow raid uproar, the city instituted mandatory diversity training for all city employees, expanded the city's anti-discrimination ordinance to include the transgender community and began offering domestic partner benefits to city employees. It's all pretty progressive for what Camina calls "a small-town ... with Bible Belt values."
Camina believes the date of the raid was purely coincidental — yet serendipitous. "I am hard-pressed to believe the straight police officers knew what June 28 symbolized to the gay community and timed a strategic attack," he says. "However, the officers couldn't have picked a better — or worse — day. The timing only amplified press coverage and social network buzz."
Raid of the Rainbow Lounge is not just a gay film. Camina calls it a showcase for "the power of activism and the catharsis that can come from crisis." And its message is universal. The director says, "Everyone should have the opportunity to live without fear, threat of violence, harassment or intimidation."
The GayCharlotte Film Festival is a program of the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte, founded in 2001. Kalian touts the broad appeal of all 10 festival films and says, "You don't have to be gay to enjoy these films." He wants Charlotteans to know that all are welcome here. It doesn't matter what color your rainbow is.
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