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New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe)

State apologizes for past targeting of gay bars

Grewal says New Jersey was wrong to pull liquor licenses because they allowed LGBTQ+ patrons to congregate between 1933 and 1967

By David Wildstein, June 29 2021 10:39 am

New Jersey has issued a formal apology for the systemic targeting of gay bars by the state attorney general’s office between 1933 and 1967.

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal will visit the now-shuttered Paddock Bar in Asbury Park tonight to apologize at an event with Garden State Equality, local officials, and a woman who owned an LGBTQ bar in the 1970s.

“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 Governor 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.

Grewal’s apology for past practices by the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control will be accompanied by an order to vacate 126 enforcement actions that had suspended or revoked liquor licenses as a result of their serving 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,” Grewal said. “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.”

The offenses occurred between late 1933 – when prohibition was repealed – until 1967, when the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the ABC could not suspend a liquor license simply because an establishment allowed LGBTQ+ individuals to gather.

Grewal has also ordered a full review of ABC historical records to determine if other marginalized communities were targeted and announced expanded anti-bias and cultural diversity training focusing on the LGBTQ+ community for all investigators and attorneys.

A list of the 126 vacated actions will be posted on the state website, the attorney general said.

“This unprecedented action by Attorney General Grewal represents a profound and meaningful acknowledgment of the unfair discriminatory treatment visited upon the LGBTQ community in the past by state law enforcement officials,” said Garden State Equality founding member Thomas Prol, a past president of the New Jersey Bar Association. “The very people who were supposed to protect my community were actually the ones who led the charge in persecuting us – often viciously so – and they lost their jobs, homes, friends and families by those devastating actions.”

The Paddock Bar in Asbury Park lost their license in 1956 after state officials said they had “become a nuisance” by allowing female impersonators  “and persons who appeared to be homosexuals.”

Court records show that the Paddock Bar allowed their “place of business in a manner offensive to common decency and public morals.”

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