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New Jersey apologizes for historic targeting of LGBTQ bars

June 29, 2021 GMT

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Calling New Jersey’s history of of suspending or revoking liquor licenses at bars that served LGBTQ patrons an “ugly moment” in the state’s past, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal formally apologized on Tuesday.

Grewal, the state’s top law enforcement officer, also issued a directive to the state’s Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control to eliminate 126 actions it took against establishments from 1933 to 1967.

It’s the first time the state has formally apologized for the “systematic targeting” of LGBTQ establishments and amounts to an attempt to “right a historical wrong” as Pride Month comes to a close this week, Grewal said in a statement.

The discriminatory practice stemmed from post-Prohibition-era regulations that barred liquor license holders from allowing “female impersonators” on their premises, as well as another rule barring businesses to be run “in such a manner as to become a nuisance” — a term that included the “congregation of apparent homosexuals,” according to Grewal.

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That lasted until 1967 when the state Supreme Court held in One Eleven Wines & Liquors, Inc. v. Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control that the state could not use its authority to target gay bars only because they serve LGBTQ patrons.

“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,” Democratic Governor Phil Murphy said in a statement. “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.”

LGBTQ advocates hailed the decision.

Christian Fuscarino, the executive director of the LGBTQ advocacy group Garden State Equality, said the apology and other actions helped correct past wrongdoings.

Thomas Prol, a founding member of Garden State Equality, and a member of its executive committee,” called the decision unprecedented and meaningful.

“The very people who were supposed to protect my community were actually the ones who led the charge in persecuting us — often viciously so,” he said. “Attorney General Grewal and his senior staff should be commended for taking this deep dive to explore these terrible law enforcement practices, expose the truth, and reconcile with members of the LGBTQ community.”

Grewal also said he will be expanding anti-bias and cultural diversity training for ABC investigators and attorneys as well as reviewing records to determine whether the agency’s authority was used to target other marginalized communities. He set a deadline of no later than Oct. 15 for the review.