Big Easy Magazine has learned that in the six months following Southern Decadence, several citations have been issued by the Louisiana Alcohol and Tobacco Control Office (ATC) to multiple LGBTQ+ bars and spaces across New Orleans in an operation that appears similar to Operation Trick or Treat in 2016.
The ATC asserts that they are not targeting the LGBTQ+ community, but simply investigating and responding to complaints that have been called into their office. And, it is important to note that last week, at least one Bourbon Street strip club had its license suspended. Two others also received suspensions, in New Orleans East.
However, according to the New Orleans Human Relations Commission (HRC), LGBTQ+ businesses, business owners, and members of the community feel targeted. It has become enough of an issue that the HRC is now involved. “We are aware of the recent enforcement actions taken against The Phoenix, The Rawhide, and others,” the HRC said in a statement. “We stand with our LGBTQ+ residents and our LGBTQ+ owned businesses and we always will. These enforcement agencies are not under the City’s control, but we are concerned whenever our residents feel targeted.”
Michael Musa, Director of Operations at the Rawhide Lounge told Big Easy Magazine they were cited in November of 2018, shortly after Southern Decadence. He stated that they received “numerous fines, citations, and imposed regulations on how to operate.” The Rawhide chose to fight the ATC.
“We did not accept their terms, which came at a very high cost in legal fees. We held very firm ground and stance in order to protect our customers and the LGBTQ+ community. We feel individuals’ right to privacy was imposed on, and we will do everything in our power to protect our customers and community.”
The ATC attempted to persuade The Rawhide into dropping the case or accepting a settlement on the issue, Musa says, and Rawhide declined several settlement offers in the interest of protecting their community. With each offer, Musa stated the ATC told them it would be the last.
“We took a very strong stance and declined several counteroffers by the ATC in order to protect our community,” Musa said. As a result, the Rawhide has “suffered a dramatic loss in business,” which has affected the bar’s employees (particularly the bartender).
When asked if specifically LGBTQ+ spaces were being targeted, Musa had this to say:
“Bars such as Rawhide and The Phoenix have operated for decades with no problems or issues such as these, and we feel we are now being targeted. These bars have been staples in our community and should remain as such. Some of our most loyal guests have been frequenting these establishments for decades.”
In a Facebook post, Clint Taylor, of The Phoenix, thanked the community for rallying after they received a citation “not unlike what we have seen them recently give other gay bars.” They also plan to attend their hearing and fight their case.
Big Easy Magazine would encourage all members of the local LBGTQ+ community, their allies, and all of New Orleans to stand with, and support both of these establishments.
Jenn Bentley is a writer and editor whose work has been featured in publications such as The Examiner, The High Tech Society, FansShare, Yahoo News, and others. When she’s not writing or editing, Jenn spends her time raising money for Extra Life and advocating for autism awareness.