NJ officials apologize for past anti-LGBT policies, vacant enforcements against gay bars

New Jersey

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JUNE 23: People walk past a temporarily closed Ty’s Bar NYC on Christopher Street in the West Village on June 23, 2020 in New York City. Pride Week in New York City usually brings an influx in business to gay and lesbian bars throughout the city. This year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, most Pride events have been canceled and bars remain closed in accordance with city restrictions. Last year’s Pride parade drew an estimated four million people. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

NEW JERSEY — In one of his final acts as New Jersey Attorney General, and as Pride months concludes, Grubir Grewal announced the state’s move to right “a historical wrong” against the LGBTQ+ community.

Monday, Grewal announced a formal apology and subsequent actions for the state’s systemic targeting of gay bars between 1933 and 1967, when the office’s Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control suspended or revoked liquor licenses for 126 establishments because they served LGBTQ+ patrons.

“The Attorney General’s Office is charged with furthering justice in New Jersey, and yet for more than three decades, our office fell far short,” said Attorney General Grewal. “The time has come to acknowledge this failing, to apologize for what happened, and to make sure it never occurs again. We are committed to righting this historical wrong and strengthening our relationship with New Jersey’s LGBTQ+ community.”

While the ABC no longer targets LGBTQ+ bars — and hasn’t since the 1960s, per the state — the move was meant to acknowledge the sins of the past toward the conclusion of Pride month.

“For too many years, New Jersey failed to live up to its professed values of diversity, inclusion, and respect as it relates to our LGBTQ+ community,” said Gov. Phil Murphy. “While we cannot undo the injustices of the past, today’s action by Attorney General Grewal demonstrates our commitment to recognizing the harms that have been suffered and acting to provide support to New Jersey’s LGBTQ+ residents.”

During that time, ABC regulations prohibited bars with liquor licenses to allow “female impersonators” on their premises; and prohibited licensees from operating their business “in such a manner as to become a nuisance”, a term that until 1967 included allowing the “congregation of apparent homosexuals” at the establishment, the office said.

In 1967, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that ABC officials could not use its enforcement authority to target gay bars simply because they served LGBTQ+ patrons. However, since then, neither the Attorney General’s Office nor ABC has recognized its systemic actions publicly, they said.

In addition to the formal apology, Grewal directed ABC to:

  • Issue a Special Ruling that formally vacates all 126 enforcement actions issued prior to 1967 to suspend or revoke a liquor license because the licensee served LGBTQ+ patrons;
  • Post on the agency’s website the records of all 126 actions vacated by the directive, to ensure that the historical record is available to the public;
  • Expand anti-bias and cultural diversity training for ABC investigators and attorneys, with a focus on interactions with the LGBTQ+ community, to ensure that the agency’s staff treat all New Jerseyans with dignity and respect; and
  • Conduct a full review of the agency’s historical records to determine if the agency’s enforcement authority was used to target any other marginalized communities, with a report to the attorney general due no later than October 15, 2021.

“To be clear, today’s ABC is committed to according respect, dignity, fairness and appropriate due process to all parties and persons before it and will not discriminate—or by extension allow licensees or permittees to discriminate—against protected classes or the public,” said Director Graziano. “We join Attorney General Grewal in acknowledging and condemning the harm our agency caused to members of the LGBTQ+ community and offer our sincere apologies to the generations of individuals impacted by it.”

Leaders of Garden State Equality praised the move Monday and thanked the attorney general for the “historic acts of restorative justice.”

Grewal announced Monday he’d be leaving his post as attorney general to take a job with the Securities and Exchange Commission. He’d served in the role since the start of Murphy’s gubernatorial term in 2018.

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