In what could easily pass for a headline in 1969, Seattle police raided four gay bars over the weekend. Two leather bars were issued citations for “lewd conduct violations” over patrons’ clothing, but the owners are calling their motives into question.
On Saturday night, the Joint Enforcement Team — consisting of police, firefighters and the state’s Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) — targeted fifteen venues, four of which were gay bars.
According to The Stranger, two gay bars — The Cuff Complex and The Seattle Eagle — received citations over clothing. Specifically, one bartender’s nipple was exposed and some patrons were wearing jockstraps. In Washington, nudity is illegal in establishments where alcohol is served.
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The Cuff’s owner, Joey Burgess, recalled 10 officers suddenly entering the bar with flashlights and scaring some patrons. Burgess, who has put up signs warning patrons of the law, was already fed up with being put in the position of policing his customers’ outfits.
“You’re allowed to be who you are in Seattle as long as you don’t go into a gay bar,” Burgess said. “They’re not going into the other bars the same way as this.”
“I hate to feel like [it’s discrimination],” he went on, “But to me, there is no other answer.”
The LCB has denied the raid was discriminatory. “There is no emphasis on patrolling activity at LGBTQ+ establishments or any crackdown on lewd conduct violations,” the LCB’s statement read. “The actions of the weekend were the result of routine work by LCB and other agencies.”
The bar owners question why a team that was put together to reduce criminal activity is fixated on clothing. “None of the venues in our coalition have ever been cited for alcohol or violence-related offenses,” a joint statement by the owners read. “Citations were issued based solely on individuals’ clothing choices, such as being shirtless or wearing a jockstrap, which we consider a breach of the power entrusted to JET and the LCB for maintaining public safety.
“The absence of violence or liquor-related issues in the citations indicates a concerning focus on targeting queer individuals in queer spaces.”
“The community recalls the generational trauma and the homophobia-driven policies of the not-so-distant past, making the recent actions particularly distressing,” the statement continued. “We are flabbergasted that these draconian enforcement practices are happening again, 30 years later.”
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