Seattle gay bars raided over ‘lewd conduct violations’

Gay bars in Seattle were raided by local authorities over the weekend, with venue owners claiming citations were made “solely on individuals’ clothing choices”. 

Several venues, including four LGBTQ+ bars, were reportedly the targets of the Joint Enforcement Team (JET); a coalition of local authorities, including the Seattle Police and the State Liquor and Cannabis Board, The Stranger reported.

The owners of two gay bars, The Cuff Complex and The Seattle Eagle, have spoken out after their venues were said to have received citations because the bartender’s nipples were exposed, and some people were wearing jockstraps. In the state of Washington, nudity is prohibited in venues where alcohol is served.

The news outlet claimed JET inspected 15 venues over the weekend, including four LGBTQ+ clubs, with “lewd conduct violations” registered. Other places included a college bar, a music venue and a bowling alley.

According to The Cuff Complex’s owner, Joey Burgess, and Keith Christensen, who owns The Seattle Eagle, neither venue had been cited for alcohol or violence-related offences before, and they believe customers’ clothing was the sole issue. 

“The absence of violence or liquor-related issues in the citations indicates a concerning focus on targeting queer individuals in queer spaces,” a joint statement read.

After The Cuff Complex was raided on Saturday (27 January), Burgess said: “You’re allowed to be who you are in Seattle as long as you don’t go into a gay bar… they’re not going into the other bars the same way as this.

“I hate to feel [it’s discrimination], but, to me, there is no other answer.”

People can play kickball in jockstraps at nearby Cal Anderson Park but risk a citation for walking into a bar, he claimed.

Officials from the Liquor and Cannabis Board reportedly met to discuss the raids on Monday (29 January), and claimed that law enforcement “in no way” targeted LGBTQ+ venues, a spokesperson told Capitol Hill Seattle.

The spokesperson said there “lewd-conduct violations” were given to The Cuff Complex and a third bar, Neighbours on Friday (26 January), and that inspectors “will follow up with [the] licensee”. No citations were reportedly issued to The Seattle Eagle over clothing violations.

Following the raids, a group of Washington Queer and Stripper community activists wrote an open letter and launched a petition in support of the bars, condemning the law that prohibits nudity where alcohol is served.

Another group, Strippers Are Workers (SAW), is calling for the law to be eased, claiming that rules around nudity in alcohol-serving venues disproportionately “affect marginalised communities”.

SAW director Madison Zack-Wu told Capitol Hill Seattle: “These regulations that are so paternalistic, that control people’s bodies and sexualities, pretty much only affect marginalised communities and non-conforming people.

“Both of our communities should have the right to speak up against this.”

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