New Jersey issues long overdue apology to state’s gay bars

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Murphy's Tavern at 135 Mulberry Street in Newark
Murphy's Tavern at 135 Mulberry Street in Newark joined with One-Eleven Wines and Liquors, aka the Den, in New Brunswick and an Atlantic City Bar to challenge antigay discriminatory policy toward bars in 1960s. Photo of Murphy's Tavern courtesy of Newark Public Library collection.

All of the harassed bars, pre 1967, are now closed

The state of New Jersey took the unprecedented step of apologizing to the Garden State’s gay bars for transgressions taking place between 1933 and 1967. Now an accepting and liberally minded state, New Jersey had previously used liquor laws to shut down and harass gay bars. The state had stripped liquor licenses from many of the establishments that “served female impersonators” and effectively rendering them closed.

This mainly happened between the end of Prohibition in 1933 and 1967. In 1967 the state’s Supreme Court finally ended the practice. A Newark bar was shut down in 1939 because a man wearing make-up ordered a drink in an effeminate voice. A Paterson saloon lost their liquor license in 1955 after investigators found 15 male couples dancing and canoodling. The repeated raids and establishments lost to these laws is very long.

Though none of the targeted bars are still in operation, the state lifted the penalties against the establishments as a symbolic gesture. The state now requires all inspectors with the state’s liquor control board to participate in implicit bias training. Part of the apology was to unveil a plaque in Asbury Park at the site of the Paddock Bar, which had been hit by multiple raids. Records from that time period were publicly released.

“The harm caused by these actions was real,” Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said before the plaque was dedicated. “The pain, as we have heard this evening, is apparent. Nothing will ever make that go away. Today, more than 50 years later, there is little that I can say except that I am sorry.”

The speech in Asbury Park signals perhaps one of the last actions of Grewal’s tenure as he departs the Attorney General’s office for a position in the Securities and Exchange Commission. Grewal will be replaced by Andrew Bruck, who will serve as acting Attorney General for the remainder of Governor Phil Murphy’s term. Bruck, who has been with the Attorney General’s office since 2018, is the first openly gay Attorney General in the state’s history.

“I am pleased to announce that Andrew Bruck will step in to serve as Acting Attorney General and continue the office’s mission of fighting for equal justice for everyone who calls our state home,” Murphy said. “Andrew’s wealth of experience will serve him well in this role and his historic appointment reflects our continuing commitment to ensuring that our state government reflects the rich diversity of our people.”