In the News

Liquor Laws Once Targeted Gay Bars. Now, One State Is Apologizing

The New York Times

June 29, 2021

Sills Cummis’ Thomas Prol was interviewed for and is pictured in this article, which starts, “New Jersey’s attorney general will apologize and vacate penalties against bars shuttered in the 20th century for allowing gay patrons to congregate.”

The article later states, “From the end of Prohibition in 1933 through 1967, when a State Supreme Court ruling finally outlawed the practice, New Jersey, like many other states, wielded its liquor laws like bludgeons to shutter gay bars.

“On Tuesday, New Jersey will acknowledge that painful history for the first time.

“A trove of records unearthed by the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control is being released publicly online, providing a wrenching historical look into policies that spanned four decades. And New Jersey’s attorney general, Gurbir S. Grewal, the state’s top law enforcement officer, is expected to offer a formal apology for the decades-old enforcement actions.

“‘For 35 — probably more — years, this had a chilling effect on bars letting in gay patrons,’ Mr. Grewal said. ‘It was really just revolting.’

“‘The public,’ he added, ‘needed to know that we hold ourselves accountable for our own failings.’

“New Jersey’s decision to grapple with its past mistreatment of L.G.B.T.Q. residents follows other moments of reckoning over the abuse of a population that was routinely and unfairly singled out by the authorities.”

The article later continues, “Two years ago, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, Thomas H. Prol, the first openly gay president of New Jersey’s bar association, began researching the practice for a scholarly article. Garden State Equality eventually brought the information to the attorney general’s office, which asked its alcoholic beverage division to determine how widespread the practice was.

“What the agency found surprised even Mr. Grewal, who said he decided to offer a public apology to ‘make sure that our actions reflect our values.’

“‘We have to really shine a light on this ugly history,’ he said.”

Additional coverage also appeared in Law360 and NJBIZ.