The Atlanta Police Department shut down four local gay bars early Monday morning near the conclusion of the city’s Black Pride celebrations. While the police blame a communication error for the shutdown, one of the bars’ owners and a gay mayoral candidate both worry the shutdown is actually evidence of the police department’s racial and anti-gay prejudice.
Shortly after 12:30 a.m. on Monday morning, police forced the closure of four gay bars — TEN, Blake’s on the Park, 10th and Piedmont and G’s Midtown — even though the bars had all secured special permits for Labor Day weekend allowing them to stay open for two hours past the normal closing time of 12:30 a.m.
In a Facebook post, TEN owner James Nelson wrote, “This was clearly an act to stop the Black Gay Pride event and all other events on the corner of 10th and Piedmont, as I stood there with the ordinance in hand clearly stating we were operating lawfully. They insisted on shutting us down.”
Nelson’s bar was the only bar of the four closed that was specifically hosting an event connected to Black Pride. He later told the publication Project Q:
There were probably 400 African-American gay men and women standing on the sidewalks in front of G’s and 10th and Piedmont and the Blake’s parking lot. They clearly wanted to shut that down. They pulled up in paddy wagons and began clearing the sidewalks. Really, it was an intimidation tactic. …
Carlos Campos, a spokesperson for the Atlanta Police Department (APD) called the bars’ closures “an honest mistake based on a communication failure.”
The bars came to the attention of the morning watch commander — an openly gay male — because crowds in the area were spilling out onto the streets, causing potential public safety hazards. The morning watch supervisors should have been aware of the City Council’s extension of bar hours for the Labor Day weekend, but they were not. … Any notion the bars were targeted because of their clientele is unfortunate and simply not true.
Campos added that the openly gay APD commander, Major Darin Schierbaum, will personally meet with the bar owners to apologize.
In a statement issued on Tuesday afternoon, Cathy Woolard, an Atlanta mayoral candidate who was also the first openly LGBT elected official in Georgia, wrote:
Given the fact that no other bars were shut down in this way, it is difficult not to interpret the action as discriminatory against the LGBTQ community. That this incident took place during Atlanta’s 21st annual Black Gay Pride, an event that is extremely significant for our city, only compounds the problematic nature of the decision.
She expressed appreciation to the police for acknowledging the bars’ improper closure, however, adding:
The police are not immune to the inherent and often unexamined biases that permeate our society, so it falls to the city to implement training programs that can eliminate these problems. This whole debacle illustrates just how much work we have to do in this area, despite decades of education and interaction between LGBTQ community advocates, police officials and Atlanta City Hall.
Featured image by artolympic via iStock