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VIEWS: Missing the big O
by Emmanuel Garcia
2009-10-01

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On June 28, police raided Rainbow Lounge, a gay bar in Fort Worth, Texas.

One customer was seriously injured. Although police initially claimed that the raid was justified and executed properly, protests from the gay community in Texas led the police and Texas's liquor board to conduct an investigation. The results showed that the police had, in fact, acted beyond the scope of their authority. According to the investigator's report, the officers had conducted the raid without their supervisor's knowledge, had failed to report the use of force that seriously injured one customer, and disrupted the operation of the business, all of which are prohibited by Texas state law. In the wake of this report, two officers and one supervisor were fired.

Despite this ruling, the discrimination against gay men by many of our nation's police officers has not subsided. Last week, similar complaints were been made from patrons at a gay bar in Atlanta.

I've always felt fortunate to live in Chicago, a diverse community that is in many ways very welcoming of gay men. Through participation in the Gay Games and the yearly Pride Parade, I've seen firsthand how many police officers are supportive of the LGBT community; however, I was reminded this week that we still have a long way to go to end the abuse of police power against our community.

Last week Oprah Winfrey shut down Michigan Avenue in Chicago to celebrate start of the 24th season of her talk show. It was a big moment for Oprah but also for the city of Chicago, with Mayor Daley and wife Maggie in attendance in the front row. The mayor, I assume, was happy to shut down the iconic street for Oprah, who was footing the bill for police overtime and sanitation crews. It was also yet another way for the city to prove that we can host large crowds of people and have it be festive, or at least appear to be.

Local and national celebrities came out in force to support the event. Oprah's guests included the Black Eyed Peas, Jennifer Hudson, magician Criss Angel, James Taylor and me. Well, that prestigious group was all on stage, and I was going to be watching from the audience—or so I thought.

I didn't take the day off like some of the hundreds of people that I saw as I walked by on my way to work at 8 a.m. But, I did leave work early enough to walk past the staging area precisely when Oprah herself started taping the show. Yes, I got to see Oprah and the Black Eyed Peas! HELLOOOO CHICAAGOOOOOO. You get the idea.

I was observing the action along with dozens of other walking spectators, all trying to get a glimpse, when I had my own run in with an overly aggressive police officer. I was walking past the WGN Plaza when a police officer singled me out, called me towards him, and yelled at me to ask me where I was going. He was brash and was looking at me sternly. In my head—apparently that's the only way you can actually talk to a cop in Chicago—I was thinking, "Where do you think I'm going? There are hundreds, if not thousands of people of here! You see that Black lady over there? That's Oprah! I'm here to see her."

Instead of reminding him of the obvious, I just answered politely, "I'm headed that way and pointed north towards the large crowd of people." The cop yelled at me and my friend, "Get out of this area! Why don't you go through there," pointing towards the crammed crowd. "Good luck getting through there."

So, I did. I tried my luck and walked towards the crowd. I realized that there was no way I could walk past the massive gathering. I noticed a small group of people standing next to the building, just quietly observing the taping. I walked and stood next to the group; my friend followed. I didn't have a camera of any sort on hand, not even my cell phone. I was just watching, like everybody else.

After a couple of police walked past us without saying a word, the police officer who had yelled at me earlier spotted me and walked directly towards me. Completely overlooking the group next to me, he stood few inches away from my face to say, "I thought I told you to leave. Why are you here?" I just stared at him, completely dumbfounded by his anger towards me. I said, "What about them?" looking at my friend and the group of people. He said they work here, and then turned to ask them to verify. My friend stepped in and said, "I don't work here," but this didn't seem to bother the cop. He looked directly at me and said, "I told you to leave. Leave now or I'll throw you in jail!" pronouncing every letter as he got closer to my face. I knew this wasn't the time or the place to argue, so I walked away, away from the crowds, away from Oprah, and away from the Black Eyed Peas. My friend followed. All he could say was, "He was a jerk."

I was angry. I wanted to go back and get his badge number, but I knew that nothing would come of it. I'm not the old white lady who loses her cat and gets a friendly police officer. I'm gay and Mexican. I don't mean to dog all Chicago police; in fact, I'm probably the first to defend them. I can only assume that his bias towards me was because I was "different" than the people standing next to me or my friend, who was both white and in a suit. I didn't belong there. Whatever the bias ( race, gender or sexual orientation ) , who watches the watchmen?

After this incident, I know how then men in the Rainbow Lounge in Texas felt. Their opportunity to enjoy a special moment was destroyed because a few police officers overstepped their rights. In their case, their celebration of the 40th anniversary of Stonewall was ruined. In my case, I lost my shot to see Oprah's big show on Michigan Avenue. Like the men in Texas, I was powerless to do anything against the police officer, even though I was right and he was wrong. I missed my opportunity because he was out of line.

For the police in Texas, there were repercussions, but they came only after an enormous outcry from the gay community and a protracted legal battle. In my case, there will be no repercussions for the officer who harassed me. I could have filed a complaint or even initiated a lawsuit, but that wouldn't have changed the fact that I would have missed Oprah's big show just because some cop didn't think I had the right to be there. Had I tried to stay and watch the show, he would have found a reason to arrest me.

In short, I lost out because there is no one to police the police. This can be particularly damaging to the LGBT community, and I learned this the hard way Sept. 8.


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