In honor of gay pride month, Gregory Young for the New York Blade explores the role of the mafia in creating gay bars in New York City:
Prohibition was abandoned in 1933, but with the introduction of the New York State Liquor Authority, restrictive laws made selling liquor to homosexuals illegal. No longer hidden in a shuffle of illegal speakeasies, the viable gay underworld could have withered if not for an unlikely savior and curse: the mafia. "All fairy night clubs and gathering places are illegal, and operate only through pay-offs to the authorities. They are organized into a national circuit, controlled by the Mafia which also finds unique opportunity to sell dope in such dives," said Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer of the Chicago gay bars in 1952, but that was equally true in New York. It's seems a strange dichotomy, but the mafia just loved the gays. The mob established fly-by-night establishments, charged door fees, and watered down drinks. They kept tabs on their mostly closeted clientele and used the information for blackmail. And gays had few other options. Being paired with mafia-run businesses made homosexuals even more susceptible to police harassment. According to author David Carter, more than 100 men were caught in "homosexual solicitation" with undercover cops, sometimes arrested for a mere friendly, flirty gesture. That danger was simply a fact of nightlife. The Village cafes and restaurants that winkingly accepted gays were under surveillance. It all culminated in the early 1960s, when mayor Robert Wagner ordered the gay bars closed down in anticipation for the 1964 World's Fair. But the Fair was a flop, and the mafia slowly reopened the bars.
Earlier this month the New York Times unearthed several photos shot in the days immediately following the 1969 Stonewall Riots which mark the beginning of the modern gay rights movement. The Stonewall Inn was a Genovese-controlled gay bar, and one of the bar's bouncers was Ed "the Skull" Murphy who operated boy prostitution rings and blackmailed closeted patrons. Murphy, a long-time Genovese associate involved in gay bars and strip clubs from the 1940s until his death from AIDS in 1989, was widely rumored to have murdered some of the young boys with whom he cavorted. After the Stonewall riots the Genovese family passed control of the Stonewall Inn to gay bar operator Nicholas DeMartino reputedly tied to the Gambino crime family, and the establishment shortly later went out of business. Although the LGBTQ community has made great political strides since Stonewall, this blog questions how successful it has been in eliminating the role of the mob in gay bars which was a primary goal of the riots. At the time of the riots in 1969 the Stonewall Inn was controlled by Genovese capo Matty Ianniello, and in 1985 Ianniello was convicted for a skimming operation out of several of the gay bars he then controlled including the infamous Gilded Grape and The Haymarket in Times Square.