It’s a been a crazy week in LGBTQ+ Seattle and Washington State after raids/inspections by the Seattle Police Department and the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board on four Seattle area gay bars led to protests and anger from the LGBTQ+ community after some of the bars were told they violated the Liqour Board’s regulations on “Lewd Conduct”. Two of the bars were told they could face possible citations for a bartender having an exposed nipple and for patrons wearing only jock straps inside venues. This explicit body policing and unannounced visits by large numbers of the Seattle Police Department, Fire Department and agents for the Liquor Board which including the unauthorized photography of bar patrons enraged bar owners, patrons and the community at large leading to organized protests on social media asking community members to show up at Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday of this past week.
Hundreds did digitally show up for the Tuesday January 30th meeting of the Liquor Board in Olympia but this caucus meeting didn’t feature public comments. Board members including Board Chair David Postman addressed the community’s concerns during this meeting, acknowledging they had received many complaints about the bar visits and vowed to work with the community to address their concerns.
For the Wednesday, January 31st meeting in Olympia, comments from the community were allowed and much of the time was spent on the gay bar raids with several community members making the trip down to Olympia to speak in person including Seattle dj and co-owner of the new Massive Night Club, Kevin Kauer making passionate remarks. Others commented online including co-owner of The Cuff Complex, Joey Burgess and sex columnist and co-founder of the Seattle weekly alternative newspaper The Stranger, Dan Savage and his husband Terry who all firmly reiterated the community’s claims that the visits by the police and the WSLCB did feel threatening and the community felt singled out and persecuted by them. Savage went so far to call the photography of bar patrons as “State sponsored revenge porn”.
Liquor Board member Jim Vollendroff who is also a member of the LGBTQ community and Board Chair David Postman both promised the Board would not only look at how they could make changes to the Board’s policies and regulations as well as working with the Washington State Legislature to make any needed changes to state laws.
All the community pressure seemed to have worked for making some needed changes as the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board issued a press release on Thursday, February 1st stating that several changes would immediately be made including the suspension of enforcement of the lewd conduct regulation and the immediate suspension in participating in Seattle’s JET project (Joint Enforcement Team) which was formed for various government agencies to band together to stage surprise inspections.
Seattle’s LGBTQ+ community celebrated this victory over state sponsored persecution with cheers upon the announcment while some community leaders cautioned that the state still has archaic regulations on the books that still need to be addressed.
The bars in question all quickly jumped on the celebration bandwagon over the weekend inviting patrons to come visit them to celebrate without feat of persecution for exposing a nipple or butt cheek. The Cuff Complex even papered the outside entrance wall with a copy of the Liquor Board’s letter.
The press release in full down below.
OLYMPIA –The Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) today took a series of actions to address concerns raised by members of the LGBTQ+ community since the agency’s participation last week with the City of Seattle’s Joint Enforcement Team (JET) on Capitol Hill and additional enforcement work Saturday at some historically gay venues in the greater Seattle area.
In a letter to Gov. Inslee, concerned legislators, the state LGBTQ+ Commission, and others, the LCB outlined seven steps it was taking, effective immediately.
- Paused Lewd Conduct Enforcement. We are immediately suspending enforcement of the lewd conduct rule (WAC 314.11.050) while the board considers possible changes to our regulations or any legislative modifications that might come this session.
- Paused JET Participation. The board and leadership have decided to suspend our participation with the City of Seattle’s Joint Enforcement Team. The LCB Enforcement and Education division has already communicated this to city officials.
- Rule Violations. LCB’s Seattle enforcement team has also decided that no citations or violations related to lewd conduct from this weekend’s activities will be issued. Officers have begun the process of notifying the impacted licensees.
- Rulemaking. Staff is preparing a proposal to open rulemaking to review, amend, or repeal the lewd conduct regulations (WAC 314-11-050). Staff will brief the board on a proposal at caucus on Feb. 6, 2024. The board will take a vote on whether to accept that recommendation at its next regularly scheduled Board meeting Feb. 14, 2024.
- Legislative Engagement. We will continue to work with legislators this session, particularly the LGBTQ+ caucus and our legislative committees, to try to find solutions through legislation that further our mutual efforts.
- Agency Review. We have already begun to review our past practices and policies based on the complaints we’ve heard in recent days, including the use of photographs as evidence and our complaint process. We will continue that work and share the findings as part of our commitment to build further trust with those we regulate.
- Engaging the LGBTQ+ Community. Agency staff at all levels will remain engaged with community leaders as we work through these immediate steps as well as our ongoing efforts at training and education.
About the Author: Michael Strangeways
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