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Backlash on Queer bar raids: LCB drops indecency citations, changes course

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The Cuff
The Cuff

Copies of a letter printed on red, white, and green paper plastered the entire front of the Cuff Complex on February 2. The letter was a memo issued by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) announcing the agency's decision to suspend both enforcement of the lewd-conduct rule and its participation in the Seattle Police Department's Joint Enforcement Team (JET), following what community members call "raids" conducted the weekend before.

During these enforcement outings, officers with the JET and LCB cited bar owners and patrons with "lewd conduct" after finding customers at the Cuff in jockstraps and a bartender with an exposed nipple. Though these citations have been dropped, Queer community leaders and bar owners have called on the LCB to revise the statutes that led to the enforcement, and have expressed deep mistrust of the officials behind these exercises.

Kali Herbst Minino  

In an Instagram post, the Cuff featured photographs of its newly decorated storefront with the caption, "We have power when we come together to fight back. We have power when we come together to celebrate. We have papered the front of the Cuff with the LCB's letter as a reminder of these things... and as a reminder to any 'enforcement' before they enter our community space that hole patrol badges have expired."

"These were raids"
The enforcement actions, conducted over the January 26 weekend, sparked outrage in Seattle's Queer community and drew national attention.

Shortly after midnight on January 27, ten JET task force members entered Queer/Bar and the Cuff wielding flashlights, according to owner Joey Burgess, causing some patrons to leave the venue in fright.

According to The Stranger, JET also raided two other Queer venues, Neighbours Nightclub and The Lumberyard, on the same night.

The following evening, two JET members entered the Seattle Eagle at around 11:30 p.m., where they found patrons wearing jockstraps, whom they reportedly photographed for use as evidence.

In the immediate aftermath, the LCB held two public meetings: a routine caucus that was not open to public comment and a full board meeting that was. In both, LCB Chair David Postman attempted to clarify the legal standing of these exercises. Calling them "site visits," he said, "these were not raids" but "two separate instances of standard enforcement action," and that "there is no crackdown [on Gay bars]."

Out LCB board member Jim Vollendroff said to The Stranger that "by definition, these were not raids, but I do want to point out the power differential between us and our licensees."

"With eight to ten people showing up at a given time, it's difficult for us not to take that into consideration. It probably felt like a raid. And I'm hearing from the community that it felt like a raid."

Dan Savage of Index Media told the LCB to stop calling the enforcement exercises "site visits."

"These were raids," he said. "If everyone at a bar leaves when you show up — ten of you in uniform and with flashlights — they're not experiencing that as a social call."

Savage added that if the photos of Gay men entered the public record, then they could meet the legal definition of revenge porn in Washington State.

Rulemaking responsibilities
In these meetings, Postman suggested that the responsibility for revising these rules lies with the legislature, implying that the LCB's hands were tied.

Postman's comments ignore the distinction between the Washington Administrative Code (WAC) and the Revised Code of Washington (RCW). The RCW is the body of statutes and laws passed by the legislature. The WAC is the body of regulatory rules set, enforced, and amended by state agencies in carrying out their functions. The lewd-conduct laws cited by the LCW and JET following the weekend's actions (WAC-314-11-050) are from the latter, meaning that the LCB has the full power and authority to review and revise these rules without legislative action.

Kevin Kauer, owner of Massive on Capitol Hill, spoke at one meeting and demanded, "You have the authority to change the lewd-contact WACs. Why are you telling us that you can't?"

Nico Swenson, Miss Texas 1988, accused the LCB of deflecting responsibility to the legislature and of intending to cause fear in "people of nightlife."

Kali Herbst Minino  

LCB changes course
The letter the LCB issued on February 1, which the Cuff plastered all over its storefront, says, "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."

It continues, "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 letter also indicated the LCB's intention to suspend both enforcement of the lewd-conduct rule and its collaboration with JET.

Burgess told The Stranger, "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.

"I feel like a ton of bricks are off me, and that heading into this weekend, people can feel safe and good about themselves."