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Seattle's queer community is furious after gay bars were raided over the weekend

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In Seattle over the weekend, city and state inspectors showed up at four gay bars unannounced. Now, members of the LGBTQ+ community are furious at city officials. Several other establishments besides the gay bars were also subject to police scrutiny. Vivian McCall has been covering this for the Seattle newspaper The Stranger. Hi, Vivian.

VIVIAN MCCALL: Hi, Ari. Thank you so much for having me.

SHAPIRO: People who were at these bars over the weekend describe these actions as a raid. City officials dispute that term. What actually happened?

MCCALL: So this all starts early Saturday morning, when state and city officials walked into this bar in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, which is Seattle's historically queer neighborhood, called The Cuff, and they started looking around. The bar owner says that they had flashlights, that pictures were taken of patrons, and a bartender was found to be in violation of state law for having an exposed nipple, which, in Washington, is actually something that the cops can cite you for if you're selling alcohol on the process.

SHAPIRO: I want to loop back to that law, but why would the police have taken photographs of people at a gay bar?

MCCALL: So that's still pretty unclear, but what it would really be - if a citation were given, they would need some evidence to back up that citation, so that's the reason that photos would have been taken. I will say that the board chair of the LCB has said that photos being taken was unfortunate, but it is something that happened.

SHAPIRO: And then tell us more about this law because, as I understand it, in Seattle, it's legal to be nude but not in a place that serves alcohol. Do I have that right?

MCCALL: That's right. It sounds kind of funny. And one of the bar owners actually gave me a really good example of this. You know, there is a nearby park where a kickball game was going on where people were playing in their jockstraps, but as soon as they walked into the bar, that would be considered a state violation.

SHAPIRO: Tell us more about the reaction from Seattle's LGBTQ community.

MCCALL: So they're not happy about what happened. A lot of people are horrified that pictures were taken. A lot of people were horrified at the image of a bunch of officials coming into a bar with flashlights. That is something that really recalls, you know, historical raids on gay bars that happened for decades, where people would be arrested for simply being at a gay bar.

And it also has to be said that not everybody at a gay bar wants people to know that they're there. Some people are not out to their family and friends. Maybe they're exploring this new aspect of themselves, and to have that then potentially exposed by the state is a really scary and invasive thing in their minds.

It's also worth saying that Seattle is feeling really defensive of its queer spaces right now because just a few weeks ago - there's a nude beach in Seattle that's been historically queer for decades that could have gotten a children's park put on it through an anonymous donation at a time where queer people are being labeled groomers.

SHAPIRO: The Liquor and Cannabis Board put out a statement where they said, quote, "the agency does not and will not target LGBTQ+ locations." And so what is likely to happen now as the fallout from this continues?

MCCALL: So what we're hearing from the LCB board as well as state lawmakers is finding a potential solution for this so it doesn't happen again. I talked to Jamie Pedersen with the state LGBTQ caucus in the state Senate. He said that they're planning on meeting Friday to iron out some details on exactly how they can prevent this from happening, potentially scrubbing this regulation off the books.

SHAPIRO: That's reporter Vivian McCall from The Stranger. Thank you so much.

MCCALL: Thank you so much, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
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