Jersey Queens: A Thriving Gay Bar Scene In New Jersey During The 1950s And 1960s
In June 2021 the State of New Jersey released a series of enforcement decisions by which it targeted gay and lesbian bars during the mid-20th century when LGBTQ folks were prohibited from congregating for a few drinks or some company on premises licensed under the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (“ABC”).
The newly-released book Jersey Queens: Darling & Delightful at the Gay Bars in the 50s & 60s takes a deep dive into these historic documents.
The ABC enforcement actions not only expose the systematic discrimination by the state power against an oppressed minority but provide a window into a thriving subculture in which gays and lesbians were existential heroes who celebrated their identities in defiance of the meddling bureaucrats.
The bar patrons, often referred to as “the kids,” had a lot of fun, and not one of these places against which the government took enforcement action came across as a sullen joint. There was live entertainment, jukebox music, singing around the piano and lots and lots of dancing. Some folks found intimacy and love, and relationships were characterized as “going steady” or even “married.”
The LGBTQ community and tavern owners united together in a stubborn resistance against the state intrusion into their personal lives and business affairs. The manager of one bar ordered the ABC men to leave, and “because of the apparent hostility of the remaining patrons, the agents did thereupon depart from the said premises without . . . completing their investigation.”
Queer rage in New Jersey was simmering long before the 1969 uprising in New York at the Stonewall Inn.