Comings & Goings

By Peter Rosenstein - July 15, 2021 2:00 pm

Hours after it reopened for the first time in a month, Nellie’s Sports Bar on Tuesday night closed its doors again shortly after 8 p.m. when protesters formed a human chain to block the gay bar’s entrance doors.

About 50 protesters showed up outside Nellie’s, which is located at 9th and U Streets, N.W., about 8 p.m. after learning that the bar had reopened. D.C. police closed the streets surrounding Nellie’s to vehicle traffic as the protesters occupied the busy intersection.

Protesters have been assembling outside Nellie’s on Saturday nights for close to a month in response to a June 13 incident during D.C.’s LGBTQ Pride weekend when a security guard was captured on video dragging a Black woman down a flight of stairs shortly after a fight broke out among Nellie’s customers.

Nellie’s announced in a statement a short time later that it dismissed the security company for which the security guard was an employee and apologized for the guard’s action. But LGBTQ and racial justice activists have alleged that Nellie’s has a history of bias against people of color despite the fact that many of its longtime customers have been African-American men and women, LGBTQ and straight.

The city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board two weeks ago asked the Office of the D.C. Attorney General to open an investigation into allegations that Nellie’s violated the terms of its liquor license for its handling of fights that broke out in the bar shortly before Keisha Young, 22, was dragged by her hair down the stairs by the security guard.

The action by the ABC Board came after the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) conducted its own investigation of the June 13 incident and concluded that Nellie’s appeared to have been engaged “in a method of operation conducive to unlawful conduct” at the time the fight broke out inside the bar. An ABRA spokesperson said it will be up to the Attorney General’s Office to make a final determination of whether Nellie’s violated city laws or regulations at the time of the fight.

The protesters assembled outside Nellie’s on Tuesday night after organizers posted messages on social media saying they had just discovered that Nellie’s had reopened and called on people show up outside the bar for a protest. Among the protest organizers was Makia Green, co-conductor of the Black-led community defense group Harriet’s Wildest Dreams, who describes herself as a queer trans nonbinary Black liberation organizer.

Green told the Washington Blade during the protest that protesters want Nellies to make a full public apology to Keisha Young and to release its own surveillance video of the incident involving Young being pulled down the flight of stairs. An ABRA report of the June 13 Nellie’s incident says ABRA has obtained a copy of the Nellie’s video.

Green said protesters are also calling on Nellie’s owner Douglas Schantz and his managers to participate in “public listening sessions” to hear concerns raised by Nellie’s Black customers and members of the community about alleged racial bias at the bar. She said that also among the protesters’ demands is for Nellies to make “reparations” for Young and the Black community. 

According to Green, some but not all of the protesters are calling for Nellie’s to close permanently and for its building to be “put into the hands of Black queer and trans people” as a community center for social justice endeavors.

Nellie’s owner Schantz didn’t immediately respond to a request by the Blade for comment on the protesters’ action and to disclose whether he plans to reopen Nellie’s again this week.

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