Law enforcement raided several LGBTQ+ nightlife venues over the course of two evenings last weekend and are now facing backlash from the LGBTQ+ community. The raids were conducted by the Joint Enforcement Team (JET) and Liquor Control Board. Many officers made claims of “lewd conduct” due to the apparel of some nightclub attendees.
Late night on Friday Saturday, 10 members of JET entered The Cuff Complex, a popular gay leather bar, and conducted a raid walkthrough with flashlights. Some officers took photos scaring customers. Other bars also underwent similar raids.
Journalist and LGBTQ+ activist, Dan Savage, posted an explainer on the events of the weekend to his Instagram, representing a coalition of gay bar and club owners.
“Our coalition consists of establishments that provide safe spaces for diverse and marginalized communities to express themselves through love, music, dance, and art. The recent raids have disrupted these operations and undermined trust and security within our community.”
Citations made by law enforcement observed the apparel choices of clubbers, some officers recalled seeing attendees wearing jockstraps or having exposed nipples, but made no citations on any other offenses. “The absence of violence or liquor-related issues in citations indicates a concerning focus on targeting queer individuals in queer spaces,” Savage and the coalition wrote.
A local drag performer in Seattle, Hellen Tragedy, took to Instagram saying law enforcement had “purposefully targeted” LGBTQ+ venues. “I am so tired of seeing so many integral and unique spaces for us in this city die along with having to carry the grief of friends who have gone along with them.” Tragedy referred to the beloved and historical gay clubs in Seattle as “protection, liberation, solidarity, rebellion, and love under one roof.”
Savage pointed out that raids have been used historically to persecute marginalized communities, a sentiment echoed by local news outlets reporting on the story. “For some in the LGBTQ+ community, the nighttime inspections felt evocative of police raids historically conducted at gay bars and clubs, such as the one that sparked the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City,” The Seattle Times reports.
In the comment section of Savage Instagram post, members of the LGBTQ+ community and allies responded in disgust. “This sounds like a 1960’s headline and story. I’m outraged” one user wrote.
To take action, Savage invited those emboldened to attend the Liquor Control Board’s meeting this past Tuesday to demand change and accountability. According to The Seattle Times, some state legislators including openly gay Sen. Jamie Pedersen (D-Seattle) offered comment on the events of the weekend. “I was surprised and disappointed to hear about this action by the Liquor & Cannabis Board,” Pedersen said in an email. “In the state of Washington, we expect better from our government.”