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WA liquor board suspends ‘lewd conduct’ enforcement after LGBTQ+ bar inspections

By Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks, The Seattle Times
Published: February 2, 2024, 8:05am

SEATTLE — The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board will immediately suspend enforcement of its lewd conduct rule after inspections at Seattle LGBTQ+ nightlife venues last weekend drew sharp criticism from community members.

During two separate inspection sessions the nights of Jan. 26 and Jan. 27, law enforcement officials told managers at three clubs and bars — Neighbours, The Cuff Complex and The Seattle Eagle — that they had observed lewd conduct violations.

Specifically, officers said they saw some customers wearing jockstraps, and in one case, a bartender’s exposed nipple, in violation of state regulations for establishments that serve liquor.

Law enforcement agencies and LCB officers did not find any alcohol-related offenses at the LGBTQ+ bars and clubs they inspected.

The city of Seattle’s Joint Enforcement Team — made up of representatives from the state Liquor and Cannabis Board and the city’s police, fire and transportation departments — conducted the first night of inspections. LCB enforcement officers conducted the second night’s inspections.

Many in the LGBTQ+ community were outraged by the nighttime inspections, and drew parallels to police raids historically conducted in gay bars and clubs like the one that sparked the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City.

For people who seek out gay nightclubs and bars to express themselves and their identities in safe spaces, the enforcement efforts — which involved officers shining flashlights at people and taking photos of customers — felt violating and scary, Cuff owner Joey Burgess said in an interview earlier this week.

LCB officials announced in a news release Thursday that the board will pause lewd conduct enforcement while it “considers possible changes to our regulations or any legislative modifications that might come this session.”

The board has also suspended its participation with Seattle’s Joint Enforcement Team, officials announced.

“At Wednesday’s Board meeting and in many private conversations, we heard strong objections to our actions,” Director Will Lukela said in a statement. “The community also stressed the value of these clubs as a safe place for people who often face discrimination, threats, and violence. Message received.”

LCB officials also said they would not issue formal lewd conduct citations or violations to the LGBTQ+ clubs and bars inspected last weekend.

Addressing another community complaint, the board said officials have started to review officers’ practice of taking photos of businesses’ customers and staff for evidence in their investigations. They have also begun to review their complaint submission process.

State legislators with the LGBTQ Caucus said they plan to amend Senate Bill 6105, which would create additional worker protections at adult entertainment establishments like strip clubs, to repeal the LCB administrative code on lewd conduct.

“I will work to ensure that we’re accountable,” board member Jim Vollendroff, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, said in a statement. “I’m going to poke at things until I feel satisfied that we’ve come up with a long-term solution and make sure this doesn’t happen again.”