Dufty and the complainants from Badlands, who eventually formed a group called And Castro for All, demanded that the place be shut down by city and state officials.
The report, however, was technically preliminary, as the HRC now sees it, and the agency chose not to issue its "final determination" after the complainants later worked out a settlement with Natali, according to a letter from HRC director Virginia Harmon obtained by the Guardian last week.
Natali sued the HRC last month to have its findings voided, and that's what the legalese in Harmon's July 21 letter appears to attempt to do — without establishing that the claims made in the report are patently untrue.
"The April 26, 2005, finding is no longer operative and does not represent a final legal determination of the HRC director or the commission," the letter states.
After interviewing several customers and former Badlands and Detour employees, the HRC originally found that Natali's bars required multiple IDs from some African American customers, selectively applied a dress code, and generally discouraged "non-Badlands customers" — what the complainants insisted meant black folks — from patronizing the bars. According to the report, Natali prohibited VJs from playing hip-hop and mostly hired only "cute, young, white guys."
Natali eventually asked that the HRC reconsider its findings, which it did. He responded to the allegations by stating that he didn't want his bars to air music that promoted drug use, violence, or homophobia, and he charged that the claims against him were either outdated or leveled by embittered former employees.
An attorney who helped Natali formulate the response, Stephen Goldstein, said the HRC's investigation was "superficial and already headed toward a foregone conclusion."
"They had a certain agenda they wanted to substantiate.... They could have had a more careful study of the events, which didn't add up to much," Goldstein said. He said Natali wasn't given a chance to have his case "aired and tried." Attempts to reach Natali through his attorneys failed.
Instead of issuing a "final determination," which would have included an account of Natali's retort, the HRC encouraged the parties to go into the mediation that eventually led to a settlement. The settlement allowed the HRC to avoid issuing a final conclusion.
After the release of the HRC's early finding, meanwhile, Dufty had called for Badlands to be shut down and urged the Alcoholic Beverage Commission to take into account the report before determining whether Natali would receive a liquor license transfer for the Pendulum.
After a months-long investigation that included state officials going into Badlands undercover, the ABC chose not to punish Natali.
"After reviewing all the findings of its investigation and the HRC report, the ABC has determined there is not enough evidence to support a license denial in an administrative proceeding," the agency announced last year.
Nonetheless, queer progressive activists and organizers from the National Black Justice Coalition held protests outside Badlands every week for about four months last summer. After the January settlement, according to local LGBT paper Bay Area Reporter, the parties agreed not to discuss any of the terms publicly, but they did announce to the press that all grievances were handled.
The settlement's undisclosed terms have obviously left unanswered questions, however, because Natali's lawsuit against the HRC appeared to reopen wounds and startle nearly everyone. The settlement had presumably meant the complaints were withdrawn, but the HRC had initially denied a request by Natali in April 2005, around the time the report was released, to reconsider its own findings, Natali's suit insists.
"It just seemed like everything had been put at rest and now it's all being dredged up again," said longtime queer activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca, who went to last summer's protests.