The Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City, is widely known as the catalyst for the gay rights movement when it was raided by police in late June of 1969, and the patrons finally rebelled, taking to the streets and rioting in an uprising which eventually led to all of Greenwich Village.
But who made all of this possible? According to PBS:
In the early 1960s, while homosexuality was legal in the state of New York, establishments openly serving alcohol to gay customers were considered by the State Liquor Authority (SLA) to be "disorderly houses," or places where "unlawful practices are habitually carried on by the public." The SLA refused to issue liquor licenses to many gay bars, and several popular establishments had licenses suspended or revoked for "indecent conduct." Businesses that remained open were frequently raided by the police.
Already a strong presence in New York, members of the Mafia saw a business opportunity in catering to the otherwise shunned gay population. By the mid-1960s, the Genovese crime family controlled the majority of gay bars in Greenwich Village, a neighborhood in southern Manhattan that was quickly becoming a hub for the city's burgeoning gay community. In 1966, young Genovese family member Tony Lauria purchased the Stonewall Inn, then a low-earning 'straight' bar and restaurant. "Fat Tony," as he was known, renovated at low cost and reopened the Christopher Street club as a gay bar, controlling everything from the jukebox to the cigarettes.
And who was the head of this crime family when this transformation took place? None other than Vito Genovese himself.
Genovese may seem an unlikely hero of the gay rights movement. His life reads like a history of the Mob in the twentieth century. At various times he teamed with Lucky Luciano, Albert Anastasia, Bugsy Siegel, and Carlo Gambino. He heaped organize the famous Apalachin conference. At the 1958 US Senate McClellan Hearings, he invoked the 5th Amendment 150 separate times. He participated in and ordered numerous murders, including that of a man whose wife he wanted for himself.
Eventually, in 1959, Genovese was convicted of conspiring to import and sell narcotics. He spent the rest of his life behind bars, though he continued to run his crime family from there, and ordered several hits from prison.
It is unknown how Vito himself felt about homosexuals. His personal resume does not bear much similarity to that of, say, Harvey Fierstein (author of Torch Song Trilogy).
Genovese died in February 1969, four months before the uprising, so he didn't live quite long enough to see the pivotal, historic role his Stonewall Inn would play.
So far the gay rights movement doesn't seem to have taken any great pride in its association with Genovese.
One can't help but wonder what he, in turn, would think of the movement he helped spark.
(Don't ask me why I wrote this silly post; I just thought it was sort of funny that Genovese was so closely connected to this symbol of gay liberation.)