Released FBI files reveal that early gay rights groups such as the Mattachine Foundation or Mattachine Society, the Gay Liberation Front and Gay Activists Alliance took on the Mafia which in the late 1960s and early 1970s had a near-monopoly on their watering holes.
Indeed, no less than the mainstream Time magazine reported on the courage of gay activists in their campaign against the wise guys in its "Gay Pride" article from the July 13, 1970 issue:
Homosexuals, as Gore Vidal has noted, are one of the last minorities in the nation about whom it is still safe to make public jokes. That may not last much longer. * * * And with the proliferation of such radical groups as the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance, they are taking to the streets. Hard on the heels of Women's Liberation and the Black Power movement, hundreds of male and female homosexuals in New York and Los Angeles wound up "Gay Pride Week" with parades that displayed, in turn, an angry solidarity and outrageous camp, proving that homosexuals are capable of some assertive wit about themselves and their sexual preferences. * * * With cause, the homosexuals were protesting police harassment, Mafia control of some gay bars and other injustices.
The Mattachine Society was ringing alarm bells about mobbed-up gay bars long before the famous June 1969 Stonewall riots outside the Genovese-controlled dive. For example, an August 1965 article from the Eastern Mattachine Magazine states:
In June, the Nassau County police department reportedly completed an investigation into fires which destroyed five nightclubs "catering to sexual deviates." (See Eastern MATTACHINE Magazine, July 1965, page 9.) A reputed member of the Cosa Nostra and two aide were arrested as a result of this investigation in which a famous establishment in Island Park, New York was closed. * * * Arson and the connections of the proprietors are acknowledged facts about south shore bars. It is the public and the State Liquor Authority who are responsible for criminal activity by their denial of our right to assemble and -- just as those other "keepers of our morality" who banned alcoholic beverages in the 1920s -- they are no better than the criminals they engender.
The incident to which the Eastern Mattachine Magazine refers was the arrest of Gambino soldier Eddie DeCurtis, Danny Fatico -- the brother of Gambino capo Carmine Fatico -- and John Virgini.
A June 8, 1965 article ("Owner of Nightclub is Accused of Arson") from the New York Times states:
An eight-month investigation by Nassau County authorities into fires that destroyed five nightclubs reportedly catering to sexual deviates resulted in the arrests early today of a reputed member of Cosa Nostra and two of his aids. District Attorney William Cahn said the fires had resulted from a struggle among underworld figures for control of places catering to deviates. Arrested and charged with keeping a disorderly house . . . were Edward De Curtis, 51 years old, of 185 West Houston Street, Manhattan; Danny Fatico, 45, of 92 Schenk Avenue, Brooklyn, and John Virgini, 47, of 335 Avenue W, Brooklyn. Mr. Cahn said that De Curtis, owner of The Magic Touch in Island Park, had represented the interests of Anthony Strollo (Tony Bender), a former underling of Cosa Nostra-controlled Greenwich Village establishments catering to deviates.
DeCurtis and his associates were convicted on January 31, 1968 "of two counts involving the operation of a disorderly house catering to homosexuals" as then reported ("3 Guilty in Homosexual Case") by the New York Times.
The Gay Activisits Alliance perhaps was the most vocal critic of the Mafia-run gay bars. In The Gay Militants: How Gay Liberation Began In America, 1969 – 1971 (Stein and Day: 1971), Donn Teal writes:
Two Gay Activists Alliance leaders have explained police-syndicate involvement in the harassment of gay bars this way: "The police hit the bars at the prime hours, not so much so that they can give petty fines to the bar owners—it's for the effect of terrorizing the customers and sometimes physically abusing them. This drives the people away, alienates them, and forces the owner to either 'up' the payoff or close down." Q.—So they will raid places that are already paying off to the police? "Sure. The more successful a place becomes, it's a certain thing that harassment will step up so that they can get more money. It's happened to bars, it's happened to baths, it's happened to restaurants." Q.—And this is whether the place that is paying off is run by the syndicate or not? "Right, because there are individuals who run businesses that are not directly connected with the syndicate. The only reason they have been able to exist is because they've allowed themselves to become corrupted. They've had to go the route of the syndicate and pay off the police. And, then, inevitably, if they are successful they'll probably be taken over by the syndicate."
One of the twelve founding members of the Gay Activists Alliance, and perhaps the most courageous in his efforts to bring public attention to the Mafia control of gay bars in New York City, was Marty Robinson. Mr. Robinson participated in the 1969 Stonewall riots, and ran with the momentum following the event to highlight the problem of the mob using gay culture as a criminal enterprise.
In July 1970 Mr. Robinson, together with several other Gay Activists Alliance representatives, met with Police Commission Howard Leary and, as recounted in the 1972 book Gay Crusaders by Kay Tobin, told him:
"We're here about a social condition-- syndicate control of gay bars and payoffs to police. The bars are run shabbily and are a bad influence on young kids just coming out who patronize these places, and who already don't know what to make of themselves because of the way society receives them. Such gay bars shouldn't be tolerated in these years. We can't live with it. We want to see legitimate bars where there's no guy at the door with a cigar in his face saying to kids, ‘Welcome to your life -- this is it, your subculture, your subterranean existence.' Commissioner, our desire now is what anyone who's honest can get into business and stay in without a shakedown, and can get police protection."
On another occasion, Mr. Robinson and several other Gay Activists Alliance members confronted Governor Rockefeller on his way out of a speech in New York City in September 1970, and as they shook his hand asked the Governor "what he would do to repeal that state laws against sodomy and to probe syndicate control of gay bars." Governor Rockefeller "played dumb and skirted the issues," and a photograph of the confrontation appeared in the October 26, 1970 issue of Gay showing Mr. Robinson in the face of the Governor under the headline: "Rockefeller Ignorant of Sodomy; Says Gay Bars Not Mob Owned." Kay Tobin further quotes Mr. Robinson in Gay Crusaders:
"[T]he fact is, almost all bars and gathering places in New York and many other cities are under the domination or outright ownership of the mob. This doesn't help create a free society with cultural alternatives for gays, beyond what the syndicate deems profitable. But now we are capable of establishing a secure gay environment within the larger society. Now at last we have the chance to step outside a life designed for us by a tradition of oppression."
The headquarters for the Gay Activists Alliance – a former firehouse at 99 Wooster Street – was destroyed by arson in October 1974. An October 16, 1974 article ("Arson Destroys Gay Activist Site") by Laurie Johnston from the New York Times states:
An early morning fire set by an arsonist yesterday destroyed the offices and social center of the Gay Activists Alliance in a former firehouse at 99 Wooster Street, in the SoHo section. Chief Fire Marshal Edwin H. Sheppard said the fire, which broke out soon after 3 A.M., had been "set in at least six places" on the upper floors of the three-story building. The renovated firehouse, now owned by a private landlord, had been occupied by the organization for more than four years. * * * Arthur Bell, one of the founders of the alliance, said the cause of the fire "could have been any one of six different things," including "an organized-crime job or an inside job" brought on by factionalism in the organization.
One of the principal goals of the Gay Liberation Front was to eliminate the near-monopoly involvement of the Mafia from the gay bars. Included within the FBI files on the Gay Liberation Front is an excerpt from an article which appeared in the August 12-26, 1969 issue of the Rat – a publication by the Students for a Democratic Society – entitled "Gay Revolution Comes Out" which states:
Q: What does the GLF intend to do?
A: We are relating the militancy generated by the bar bust and by increasing pig harassment to a program that allows homosexuals and sexually liberated persons to confront themselves and society through encounter groups, demonstrations, dances, a newspaper, and by just being ourselves on the street. The program will create revolution of mind and body as we all confront the opposition. At this time we have specific plans to open a coffee house, a working commune, and experimental living communes. We hope to extend the coffee house idea as an alternative to the exploitative over-priced syndicate run gay bars.
The FBI files also contain leaflets, pamphlets and newsletters of the Gay Liberation Front including GLF News, Gay Flames, Come Out!, Red Butterfly and Gay Journal. One GLF newsletter promotes an August 16, 1969 dance, and states: "We are holding this dance to raise money to further the work of the Gay Liberation Front's work in the gay community and also to provide you with an alternative to the tacky, overpriced Mafia run bars."
And the 1970 pamphlet "Gay Liberation" by the Gay Liberation Front states:
The movement fully came to light in June 1969 when, after much of the usual police harassment of closing bars and arresting people for being in certain neighborhoods, the police raided the Stonewall bar on Christopher Street in New York City. The police thought this would be just another routine matter, but this was not the case. The people in the bar started to push the pigs back and onto the street. The police warned the crowd that was gathering to disperse or be arrested. The people ignored the warning, and more people joined the crowd that had assembled to confront the pigs. They had taken enough shit. The police called in reinforcements to put the crowd back in place, but found out that word had spread throughout the West Village, and many more sisters and brothers came down to help those defending the bar from pig invasion. It was not the Mafia bar as such which was being defended. Rather, it was the idea of defending just one place, even in a gay ghetto, where people could meet without harassment and intimidation.
After the firehouse meeting place of the Gay Activists Alliance was torched in 1974, the activist groups pretty much fell silent in their criticism of the Mafia. It's not that the mobsters no longer were behind many of the gay bars. Organized crime cut some so-called "Auntie Gays" into the racket as their fronts, and killed off a few others who refused to bottom. Indeed, throughout the 1970s and into the mid-1980s the Mafia maintained significant involvement in gay nightlife. For example, as recently as 1980 the FBI reported that Eddie DeCurtis -- the Gambino soldier about whom the Mattachine Society was complaining in 1965 -- "probably continues to maintain secret interests in bars in lower Manhattan that cater to homosexuals," and in 1985 reputed Genovese capo Matthew "Matty the Horse" Ianniello was convicted with several associates for skimming profits out of several bars including the tranny bar Gilded Grape and the hustler bar Hay Market.