New Jersey Issues Formal Apology For Shuttering Garden State Gay Bars

From 1933 to 1967, the state targeted bars that catered to LGBTQ patrons.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal (D) formally apologized on Tuesday, during the last week of Pride Month, for the state’s decadeslong efforts to crush LGBTQ bars.

The agency systematically targeted gay bars using its liquor licensing division from the time Prohibition ended in 1933 to 1967, when a state Supreme Court decision put a stop to the practice. Grewel called those three decades “an ugly moment in the history of the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office.”

The Garden State will now vacate 126 enforcement actions that either suspended or revoked liquor licenses of establishments that served LGBTQ patrons more than half a century ago, in order “to right this historical wrong,” Grewal said.

Records of all the violations are now publicly available through the state’s website.

Bars faced having their liquor licenses revoked in New Jersey and many other states across the nation for serving people who did not hide their nonconforming gender identity or sexual orientation. (Certain establishments could find safe harbor with organized crime families, which saw a lucrative moneymaking opportunity.)

In 1938, for example, the owner of Newark’s Log Cabin Inn was accused of allowing “female impersonators and persons of ill repute” into the establishment. In 1941, another bar was written up due to the presence of “a group of men whose voices, gestures and actions were effeminate,” and who acted in a manner “entirely inconsistent with the normal conduct of men.”

“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,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said in a statement Tuesday.

“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,” Murphy said.

The liquor licensing division will also undergo an evaluation to determine if “any other communities were subject to discriminatory enforcement actions” in its history. James Graziano, who oversees liquor licensing in New Jersey, said the division condemns “the harm our agency caused to members of the LGBTQ+ community and offer[s] our sincere apologies to the generations of individuals impacted by it.”

New Jersey’s apology comes two years after its neighbor across the Hudson River said it was sorry for the historic 1969 raid on the Stonewall Inn. The New York Police Department’s actions “were discriminatory and oppressive, and for that, I apologize,” Commissioner James O’Neill said in 2019.

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