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Seattle gay bar could be cited for possible ‘exposure of a male nipple’

caption: The Cuff Complex is shown on Wednesday, January 31, 2024, along 13th Avenue in Seattle.
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The Cuff Complex is shown on Wednesday, January 31, 2024, along 13th Avenue in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Seattle city leaders have questions for the state’s liquor board after multiple gay bars were inspected by police last weekend. The board claims these were routine, monthly checks, but bar owners in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood said they feel targeted by law enforcement.

Joey Burgess, who owns two gay clubs in Capitol Hill, said Friday night was not the first time police have stormed into his bars at peak times, unannounced.

“Kind of a pack mentality of enforcement,” said Burgess, who runs the Cuff Complex and Queer/Bar.

He said officers from the Seattle Police Department’s Joint Enforcement Team and the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board made surprise visits to the Cuff Complex and other gay bars on Friday. Officers checked that staff members were up to date on their alcohol training permits.

“They were freaked out,” Burgess says, “they felt like they were being raided and this isn't the first time and the only time this has happened. It's a continual thing that happens at our bar.”

The Liquor and Cannabis Board confirmed the inspections in a statement on Tuesday, stating officers visited 18 bars on Friday and Saturday nights. Of those, four were known LGBTQ+ establishments.

Burgess said officers waved their flashlights in the dark nightclub and took photos of people without their consent.

“I'm not sure what good comes from 10 officials from the city and state coming into an establishment at peak time doing random checks altogether,” he said. “It doesn't seem like a moment of education. It seems like a moment of, ‘Gotcha!’”

The board did not cite any of the four gay bars, but Burgess was warned one could still be issued because of “lewd behavior.”

“They told us that there was a possible citation coming for the exposure of a male nipple,” he said.

On Tuesday Burgess said he had still not heard from Seattle Police or the liquor board, but he did get a call of support from his city councilmember, Joy Hollingsworth. Hollingsworth has asked the liquor board to explain their actions to her in writing by Friday.

Washington state Sen. Marko Lilas, an Edmonds Democrat, posted on social media Wednesday that, “We must get to the truth of why & how this happened & ensure businesses aren’t being targeted because of the people they serve.”

Gay bars like the Cuff Complex and Queer/Bar have historically been targeted by police in Seattle and elsewhere. These places are seen as safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community to connect and socialize freely.

Burgess calls them the “bedrock” of the community.

“People should feel safe because we are actually working together to do the work to change something that's wrong,” he said, “and that requires people to show up to queer spaces, support queer events, support queer artists. The moment is now for people to not give in.”

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