The New Jersey Attorney General apologized for decades of state policy of closing bars that allow gay customers to gather.

Alcohol Laws Targeted Gay Bars. Now, One State Is Apologizing
Cases involving three bars being punished for serving gay customers, including Murphy’s Tavern on Mulberry Street, Newark, led to the state Supreme Court’s decision in 1967 to prohibit this practice. – PHOTO: Dr. Samuel Berg/Berg Picture Collection, via The Newark Public Library

Records show that a tavern in Newark was closed for a month in 1939 because a man “made up with rouge, lipstick, mascara and fingernail polish” ordered a drink with a “very effeminate voice,” tells the article written by Tracey Tully and published in The New York Times.

From the end of Prohibition in 1933 to 1967, when the state Supreme Court finally ruled against the practice, New Jersey, like many other states, wielded alcohol laws to close gay bars.

In Patterson, New Jersey, in 1955, a salon owner lost her liquor license after investigators discovered 15 male couples dancing and sitting, “heads together, caressing and giggling”. In 1956, in Asbury Park, then, as it is today, a gay life center on the Jersey Shore, a bar was cited for serving men who “rocked and swayed their posteriors in a maidenly fashion.”

On Tuesday, New Jersey acknowledged this painful history for the first time. A large number of records unearthed by the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control are publicly posted online, providing a painful historical review of policies that span four decades. Gurbir S. Grewal, the Attorney General of New Jersey and the state’s highest law enforcement official, formally apologized for decades of law enforcement actions.

The State of New Jersey decided to work hard to resolve the abuse of L.G.B.T.Q in the past. Residents at other times liquidate people who have been frequently and unfairly singled out by the authorities for abuse. Two years ago, the chief of the New York Police Department apologized for the violent attack on the Stonewall Inn in 1969, a conflict that inspired the gay rights movement.

But Mr. Greval’s recognition of systemic discrimination can be traced back to an era before the modern gay rights movement, which is regarded as groundbreaking by historians and gay rights organizations.

Alcohol Laws Targeted Gay Bars. Now, One State Is Apologizing
In 1961, Clifton’s Club Harlem in Atlantic City, New Jersey, was cited for “nuisance,” which included “lewdness and immoral activity, foul language, apparent homosexuals.” The club’s license was revoked for 155 days.

George Chauncey, a professor of history at Columbia University and author of “Gay New York,” said that in the early to mid-20th century, the practice of punishing taverns for serving gay customers was widespread throughout the country, when homosexuality itself was a crime. 

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A bar in Paterson, N.J., lost its liquor license in 1955 after inspectors concluded that owners “suffered female impersonators” on eight occasions.

Courts in New York and California had issued rulings prohibiting this practice, by the late 1950s. However, it is still common for salons and taverns to refuse to serve gay customers, who are seen as inherently disordered. Three years before the Stonewall Incident, a “sip” protest at Julius in Manhattan’s West Village to challenge discriminatory policies was considered a groundbreaking moment in the struggle for gay rights.

In addition to apologizing and publishing agency records, New Jersey will also symbolically remove penalties for bars, which are believed to be no longer open. Inspectors from the state’s alcohol control department will now also be required to participate in training to prevent implicit bias.

On Tuesday, a plaque was installed at a ceremony near the former Paddock Bar in Asbury Park, closed after the attack. The gay bar used to advertise itself as “the gayest spot in town.”

“This part of our community’s history is important to tell,” said Christian Fuscarino, executive director of Garden State Equality, the state’s largest gay rights group. “It wasn’t centuries ago that L.G.B.T.Q. people were persecuted for loving openly. It was recent history that is important to know as we push equality forward.”

Until 1967, liquor laws of New Jersey prohibited licensing agencies from providing services to “apparent homosexuals” or “female impersonators.”

Thomas Prol, a former president of the New Jersey bar association, stands in Asbury Park, near where a plaque will be hung recalling the state’s enforcement history against gay bars. – PHOTO: Bryan Anselm for The New York Times.

Read the document

AA bar in Paterson, N.J., lost its liquor license in 1955 after inspectors concluded that owners “suffered female impersonators” on eight occasions.

Two years ago, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, Thomas H. Prol, the first openly homosexual chairman of the New Jersey State Bar Association, began studying this practice for an academic article. Garden State Equality eventually brought this information to the attorney general’s office, which asked its alcohol department to determine how the prevalence of this practice took place.

Mr. Fuscarino said that these documents will also form the basis of the New Jersey example curriculum plan. Starting last year, New Jersey began to require public middle and high school professors to teach L.G.B.T.Q history.

Bill Singer, a lawyer from New Jersey and gay rights activist, known as the “angel of death” for writing deathbed wills for men who died of AIDS, said the attorney general’s actions are commendable-but not complete.

Mr. Singer said that any real reckoning should also include the deletion of criminal records of same-sex couples arrested for indecent behavior while cruising in parks and other public places in the 1970s and 1980s.

“It was where you could be yourself,” said Carol Torre, whose hotel, the Key West, was razed after being included in a redevelopment zone in Asbury Park, N.J. – PHOTO: Elianel Clinton for The New York Times.
A sign from the Rainbow Room bar in the Key West hotel still hangs in Asbury Park’s train station. – PHOTO: Elianel Clinton for The New York Times.

About ten years after the New Jersey court repealed alcohol laws against gay customers, Carol Torre started running a bar and a hotel popular with lesbians in Asbury Park . She said the obstacle she ultimately faced was more related to the sometimes corrupt back-room city politics than public prejudice against homosexuality.

“I went, in my book, from an extreme lesbian to just a pain-in-the-neck person,” told Ms. Torre about her fights with City Hall. “I thought that was an accomplishment.”

But Ms. Torre, 75, said the camaraderie and safe gay bars offered cannot be overemphasized. “It was where you could feel safe. It was where you could be yourself,” told Ms. Torre, whose hotel, the Key West, was razed to the ground after being included in a redevelopment zone near the ocean. “You were still hiding at work, even from your families.” 

Three years ago, her Key West party in New Jersey attracted 400 people. “It kind of became like a family,” told Ms. Torre.

James B. Graziano, the head of the state’s alcohol control department, said this has made the slander and contempt of gay customers found in state records in the past two months even more offensive .

He said that law enforcement records are called bulletins, originally published in “musty old books,” and were digitized two years ago. Nevertheless, it still takes several weeks to browse electronic records using keywords.

A.B.C.’s Deputy Attorney General Ray Lamboy and his team eventually discovered 126 actions against 104 bars. Penalties include suspension of its activities for 5 to 240 days; a total of 10 bars lost their liquor licenses and were closed. 

And this may be just the tip of the iceberg.

Due to ties to the organized crime faction that prevailed in the mid to late 1900s, an unknown number of bars were likely to be targeted but shielded from law enforcement.

“The inhumanity and the vitriol in the language was striking, to say the least,” Mr. Graziano said. “It’s important to have this historical record, so we can do better.”

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