LGBTQ Texans suspect firework-throwing motivated by hate

Around 2 AM on June 28, an unidentified person threw a firework from a moving vehicle onto the patio of a gay bar in Austin, Texas. On Aug. 9, also very early in the morning, it happened again.

Patrons of the Iron Bear reportedly heard a window-shaking bang as the firework flared green and erupted into smoke. When a nearly identical incident occurred in June, the bar’s co-owners Benny Beshear and Roger Rozell didn’t jump to the conclusion that the establishment was targeted for being a gay bar. There were no slurs from the thrower and the car drove off before anyone got a picture or video. The Austin Police Department was called, but never showed.

At the time, Beshear took to the bar’s Facebook page to diffuse the growing assumption that the incident was motivated by hate. “We do not feel this was a targeted incident more of someone being an asshole.” He wrote.

The Iron Bear has never faced any threats or attacks before and the general manager, Jason Grodzinsky, still believes it is a safe place.

However, members of Austin’s LGBTQ community were shaken by the events. One customer who witnessed the scene, Steve Rivas, described the patrons’ reaction to the local Statesman. “I don’t think people were afraid as much as in shock,” he said.

Rivas went on to say, “When a firework is thrown, it is loud. When a firework is thrown on a sidewalk full of people at a gay bar, it is scary.”

After their lack of response to the June call, the APD is now investigating what happened. The report is particularly alarming for its proximity to the Austin Pride Parade which began on Aug. 11. The bar took additional security measures to ensure patrons’ safety during the festivities.

This year is the fifteenth anniversary of the case that reversed the Texas law which made “homosexual conduct” illegal in the state. The case, Lawrence v. Texas, was sparked after John Lawrence and Tyron Garner were arrested for allegedly engaging in a consensual homosexual act in Lawrence’s home.

Still, further gains for the LGBTQ community in Texas have been slow. Though the Supreme Court ruled that Texas cannot enforce the 1974 law criminalizing same-sex relations, the Republican-leaning state legislature still has not removed the law from the books. In Texas, LGBTQ citizens still face the possibility of being fired, evicted, or refused services for their identity.

While in 2015, the Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges ruled that bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, in 2017 the Texas Supreme Court unanimously ruled that same-sex couples do not have a right to spousal benefits in employee insurance plans. The decision was submitted to the Supreme Court and allowed to hold without any comments.

Though some in Texas resist progress, others work for legal change and cultural acceptance. According to the Austin Pride website, over 400,000 people attended the festival and parade in 2017. The theme this year was Revolution with the letters E, V, O, and L presented backwards to reveal the word “love” in the theme’s title. In their letter printed at the front of the event guide, the Austin Pride board wrote that they meant to recognize the revolution that began with the riots at the Stonewall Inn.