The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) has paused enforcement of lewd conduct regulations following outcry over raids conducted late last month at multiple Seattle LGBTQ+ bars.
The Stranger reports that the LCB sent a letter last Thursday to state officials informing them of the pause. The board also announced that it would not issue citations for any violations reported by officers during the raids and that it has paused its participation in the city’s Joint Enforcement Team (JET), the coalition of police, fire, and other departments that conducted the January raids.
“Since LCB’s participation last week with the City of Seattle Joint Enforcement Team (JET) on Capitol Hill and additional enforcement work Saturday at some historically gay venues in the greater Seattle area, the agency has become acutely aware of the fear and alarm it raised within the LGBTQ+ community,” the February 1 letter read. “At Wednesday’s Board meeting and in many private conversations, we heard strong objections to our actions. The community expressed concerns that LGBTQ+ venues are being targeted and that the LCB did not understand the troubling history of such enforcement or the value of these clubs as a safe place for people who often face discrimination, threats, and violence.”
The LCB said that it would present a proposal to change the lewd conduct rules at its February 6 caucus and vote on the proposal next week.
The raids, conducted over the January 26 weekend, sparked outrage in Seattle’s LGBTQ+ community and drew national attention. Shortly after midnight on January 27, ten JET task force members enter LGBTQ+ bar The Cuff wielding flashlights, according to owner Joey Burgess, causing patrons to leave the venue in fright. All they discovered was a bartender with his nipple visible. According to The Stranger, JET also raided two other LGBTQ+ venues, Neighbours Nightclub and The Lumberyard, on the same night.
The following evening, two JET members entered the Eagle at around 11:30 p.m., where they found patrons wearing jockstraps. They also reportedly photographed patrons.
Both the Cuff bartender’s exposed nipple and the Eagle patrons’ jockstraps were cited as violations of LCB’s rules prohibiting “lewd conduct” in venues that serve liquor. Meanwhile, Washington state has no other laws restricting public nudity. As Eater Seattle notes, you can wear a G-string outside in a public park but not in a bar.
According to The Stranger, during a recent meeting with the LCB, the state Senate LGBTQ caucus made it clear they wanted changes to the regulation.
“As the only openly LGBTQ member of the board, I take that role and responsibility seriously,” said LCB Board member Jim Vollendroff. “I made a commitment to the Legislature to see this through and to hold the Board accountable. To make long-lasting change to make sure this doesn’t occur in the future, long after the leadership that’s in place now changes.”
State Sen. Jamie Pedersen (D), the out gay majority floor leader, said lawmakers are working to repeal the “lewd conduct” regulation.
Meanwhile, Seattle’s LGBTQ+ community cheered the LCB’s announcement.
“This is a huge victory for queer people, queer spaces, and queer self-expression,” a group of club owners said in a statement.
“The relief that I have–that I no longer have to strip away queer culture and honestly people’s right to be themselves on behalf of an agency that’s threatening our liquor license–is probably one of the most gratifying things in my career, period,” Cuff and Queer/Bar owner Joey Burgess told The Stranger. “I feel like a ton of bricks are off me, and that heading into this weekend people can feel safe and good about themselves.”