I don't remember the last time I felt truly ashamed, but now I feel ashamed. My shame is two-fold. It is deeply personally and profoundly universal.
Recently I watched the documentary Raid of the Rainbow Lounge. Robert L. Camina's film takes viewers from the night of the raid through the aftermath and into the very recent past. And that is where my personal shame comes in.
I live in Dallas, Tex. I live less than an hour away from Fort Worth, where, in 2009, Fort Worth Police officers and members of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) stormed the Rainbow Lounge, according to masses of identical firsthand accounts by witnesses.
Without introduction, provocation or explanation, officers arrested person after person, handcuffing them with plastic ties that they had stored in their pockets by the handful. They also brutalized several people that night, landing one man, Chad Gibson, in the hospital with cranial injury. Cranial injury.
And when the LGBT community rose up against this raid, the police, the government and the general public acted as if it were perfectly reasonable for nine officers to decide on their own accord to raid the gay bar in Fort Worth that had just opened weeks earlier.
And I wasn't there the morning after, or the week after, or ever. I faintly remember hearing about it, but I wasn't there, and for that I am ashamed. I have wracked my brain trying to figure out what was going on in June 2009 -- the 40th anniversary of the raid of the Stonewall Inn in New York -- that I could have missed it all.
I didn't go. I didn't write about it. In fact, right next to a story about the raid on the front page of the Dallas Voice was a piece I'd written about Wanda Sykes. A comedian. That's what I was writing about. And even though I must have picked up at least a few issues with that Rainbow Lounge story looking right at me, I still did nothing.
I donate money to muscular dystrophy and breast cancer research. I belong to the HRC Federal Club. I go to Black Tie Dinner. In fact, this year's event is part of what's fueling my shame. Every year I go, I am amazed by the incredible work that people are doing and wonder why I don't do more.
Meredith Baxter was the keynote speaker at Black Tie this year. She is also the narrator of the Raid of the Rainbow Lounge. I got a few minutes with her, and I asked her about the film and was floored by what a compelling advocate she is. The bottom line: She has no tolerance for intolerance. She said that, to her mind, the only way to achieve complete equality is through complete visibility.
So there I was, a week later, watching the film and thinking about how completely invisible I was through this entire life-changing, community-changing, politics-changing event. I have no excuse and no explanation.
Then there is the universal shame I feel. How could this have happened? It was 2009, not 1969. These were police officers, people who are supposed to protect us but who allegedly targeted a gay bar and treated human beings like anything but. And after the fact, they seem to have fabricated lies and excuses and false explanations.
About 27 hours passed before the police filed the report about the incident. And even after months of investigation, the severest punishment within the police force was three-day suspension. And there was no finding of excessive force. A man ended up in the ER and was told that doctors would need to drill a hole in his skull, but there was no excessive force.
I feel ashamed and sad.
Someone in the film summed it all up for me: There's right and there's wrong, and this is wrong. It's wrong to be guided by your fear. It's wrong to use violence to mask your fear. It's wrong to use ignorance as an excuse for your actions.
It has to stop.
I'm ashamed that I wasn't there to protest and testify and make myself visible. I can't go back in time, but I can recommit myself to the future.
I'm going to be more visible. I'm going to stand up more often and more visibly for what's right. And I'm going to remember feeling this shame and do my part to make sure I don't feel this way again.
That's what I'm going to do for my personal shame. As for the universal shame, well, I'm longing for and working toward the day when it's no longer about who someone is or who someone loves or what someone's religious or political beliefs are. I'm longing for and working toward the day when it's about the only thing it should be about: right and wrong. We should all be deeply ashamed that something so simple has gotten so dangerously complicated.