It’s been less than a decade since police raided the Rainbow Lounge in Fort Worth, Texas, resulting in multiple arrests and several injuries. The 2009 incident galvanized activism in the city, which led to it becoming a leader in LGBT equality across the nation. Coincidentally, the raid happened exactly 40 years after the Stonewall riots erupted, following a police raid in New York that sparked the LGBT rights movement.
Now the Texas LGBT community has suffered an even greater loss: the Rainbow Lounge was destroyed by a fire. The symbol of the community went up in smoke.
The raid was memorialized in the 2012 documentary Raid of the Rainbow Lounge, narrated by Meredith Baxter. It ended up creating a nationwide dialogue about homophobia and the LGBT rights movement in Texas. The film was screened at the first LGBT Pride Month Diversity Program for the Office of the U.S. Attorney (Northern District of Texas) as well as the Library of Congress. When the film’s director, Robert Camina, heard the Rainbow Lounge was torched, he was at a loss for words.
“The Rainbow Lounge was a symbol of the gay rights movement, and while it may be gone, it will never be forgotten,” Camina shares. “The raid on June 28, 2009, gave a community its voice. That can never be taken away.”
According to CBS in Dallas-Fort Worth, it was employees at the Rainbow Lounge who first called the fire department after noticing smoke coming from the roof just after 3 a.m. on June 1. The club had already closed for the night and no one in the group had keys to get inside. The owner, Ray Williams, didn’t find out it had burned down until the next day.
“While the Rainbow Lounge is now gone, its legacy will live on,” Camina says. “The lessons learned there will continue to educate and enlighten people for years to come. People will not forget this beloved bar.”
The raid on the Rainbow Lounge mobilized Fort Worth’s LGBT community, uniting them to take measures, including mandatory diversity training for all city employees and the expansion of the city’s antidiscrimination ordinance. The city itself became an example in LGBT equality for other cities around the country — which probably wouldn’t have happened without the events at the Rainbow Lounge.
“The lessons learned in Fort Worth are lessons for cities all across the country and world, not just in Texas,” Camina adds. “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.”
Camina’s film can be watched in full at RaidOfTheRainbowLounge.com.