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Liquor Laws Once Targeted Gay Bars. Now, One State Is Apologizing.

One tavern in Newark was shut down for a month in 1939 after a man “made up with rouge, lipstick, mascara and fingernail polish” asked for a drink in a “very effeminate voice,” records show.

In Paterson, N.J., a saloon owner lost her liquor license in 1955 after investigators spotted 15 male couples dancing and sitting with “heads close together, caressing and giggling.”

And in 1956 in Asbury Park, which was then, as it is today, a hub of gay life on the Jersey Shore, a bar was cited for serving men who “rocked and swayed their posteriors in a maidenly fashion.”

From the end of Prohibition in 1933 through 1967, when a State Supreme Court ruling finally outlawed the practice, New Jersey, like many other states, wielded its liquor laws like bludgeons to shutter gay bars.

On Tuesday, New Jersey will acknowledge that painful history for the first time.

trove of records unearthed by the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control is being released publicly online, providing a wrenching historical look into policies that spanned four decades. And New Jersey’s attorney general, Gurbir S. Grewal, the state’s top law enforcement officer, is expected to offer a formal apology for the decades-old enforcement actions.

“For 35 — probably more — years, this had a chilling effect on bars letting in gay patrons,” Mr. Grewal said. “It was really just revolting.”

“The public,” he added, “needed to know that we hold ourselves accountable for our own failings.”

New Jersey’s decision to grapple with its past mistreatment of L.G.B.T.Q. residents follows other moments of reckoning over the abuse of a population that was routinely and unfairly singled out by the authorities.


The practice of penalizing taverns for serving gay patrons, who at the time were mainly men, was widespread across the country during the early to mid-20th century, when gay sex was itself a crime, said George Chauncey, a history professor at Columbia University and the author of “Gay New York.”

Read entire article at New York Times