Well, that was fast.

After raiding four gay bars last week and finding nothing but a nipple and jockstraps, the Liquor and Cannabis Board has paused enforcement of its lewd conduct rules, according to a signed letter sent to state officials.

The Board also paused participation in Seattle’s Joint Enforcement Team, a coalition of police, fire, and other city departments, and will reopen rulemaking to amend or repeal the lewd conduct violation regulations.

The Board also said it won’t issue citations for anything they saw over the weekend—including a bartender’s exposed nipple at The Cuff Complex and jockstraps seen at The Seattle Eagle—and it will review its past practices and policies, including the use of photographs as evidence.

The Board wrote that it is working with the LGBTQ caucus and legislative committees to "try to find solutions through legislation that further our mutual efforts."

LCB staff will present the board with a proposal to change the rules next week at a February 6 caucus. The board will vote on those changes at a meeting the week after.

The LCB wrote that it pledged to “do better,” as community members asked them to do at a Wednesday board meeting, and fundamental change won’t happen without the community’s participation.

“Since LCB’s participation last week with the City of Seattle Joint Enforcement Team (JET) on Capitol Hill and additional enforcement work Saturday at some historically gay venues in the greater Seattle area, the agency has become acutely aware of the fear and alarm it raised within the LGBTQ+ community,” the letter read. “At Wednesday’s Board meeting and in many private conversations, we heard strong objections to our actions. The community expressed concerns that LGBTQ+ venues are being targeted and that the LCB did not understand the troubling history of such enforcement or the value of these clubs as a safe place for people who often face discrimination, threats, and violence.”

The story of police, fire, and the LCB walking into a bar(s) became national news this week.

At 12:30 on Saturday morning, a 10-member JET crew filed into Cuff, according to owner Joey Burgess. They came in with flashlights, scaring some patrons who left in a hurry. The JET later entered Neighbours Nightclub and The Lumberyard. Saturday night, two LCB officials marched into the Eagle at 11:30 pm and took photos of customers. Of the 18 places the LCB inspected, four were gay bars.

Angry LGBTQ bar and club owners authored a swift open letter accusing the LCB and JET of targeting them with archaic lewd conduct regulations and called for a full investigation.

On Wednesday, angry queers lambasted the Board for its actions.

Chair David Postman began the meeting saying the LCB was just enforcing the law, and pushing back against the term “raids,” but he ended the conversation with an apology.

“The question of whether it was a raid or not, it’s not for me to say,” he said Wednesday. 

Burgess, owner of Cuff and Queer/Bar, felt “gobsmacked” when he learned LCB paused enforcement after five days of pressure, and he is hopeful the regulations could be repealed altogether.

For years, Burgess said, he felt like a “hall monitor” for something “really horrible.”

“The relief that I have–that I no longer have to strip away queer culture and honestly people’s right to be themselves on behalf of an agency that’s threatening our liquor license–is probably one of the most gratifying things in my career, period,” he said. “I feel like a ton of bricks are off me, and that heading into this weekend people can feel safe and good about themselves.”

Now that the LCB is holding itself accountable, he wants to see that same level of response from the City and from Mayor Bruce Harrell about the JET.

On Tuesday afternoon, Harrell released a statement saying his administration “will not” target communities based on sexuality or any other protected class, and that he “understood concerns raised by the community based on a perception of violating this principle."

In another statement, a mayoral spokesperson tried to distance the City from its involvement in the raids, saying the JET only resumed code enforcement last year following a pandemic slowdown, and that JET, which the City created to maintain a safe environment "through an education and compliance approach," did not issue citations of gay bars on Friday. Of course, the issue here isn’t whether the City issued citations, but that city officials were there at all.

LCB Board member Jim Vollendroff said Wednesday's public comment and several internal conversations made it clear that the board needed to do something. Pausing enforcement "just felt like the right thing to do" while they worked on long term plans.

The Stranger asked Vollendroff why the board didn't nix lewd conduct regulations outright. He said they wanted community input during the rulemaking process. Six people had already made formal requests for the board to review the regulation. He couldn't speculate what the outcome would be, but on Friday morning, the LCB met with the Senate LGBTQ caucus, who made it clear to the LCB that they wanted to see action, Vollendroff said.

"As the only openly LGBTQ member of the board, I take that role and responsibility seriously," he said. "I made a commitment to the Legislature to see this through and to hold the Board accountable. To make long-lasting change to make sure this doesn't occur in the future, long after the leadership that's in place now changes."