“Things are getting freer. Even a few years ago, I couldn’t wear what I’m wearing now without inviting a rebuke. The scarves are getting brighter and looser. The sleeves are getting shorter. The laughter is getting louder. This is a very young country. More than half the population is under 30. Have you ever seen an Iranian child? They are the most mischievous children on the planet. If you want an Iranian child to do something– tell them not to do it. Tell them not to kiss. Tell them not to hold hands. Tell them to dress in black. Tell them not to use Facebook. This country is full of mischievous, curious Iranian children. And the people who make the rules are getting older. And just like the Iranian parent, they are getting exhausted.”
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Handwritten chalk text on a boarded-up window of the Stonewall Inn (1969)
Why did the Mafia own virtually every gay bar including the historic Stonewall Inn?
In the early 1960s the State Liquor Authority (SLA) of New York considered establishments that openly served alcohol to gay people to be “disorderly houses” as well as places where “unlawful practices are habitually carried on by the public”. Consequently, the SLA refused to issue liquor licenses to gay bars and revoked popular gay establishments’ licenses for “indecent conduct”. Sounds like a bulletproof plan to put an end to “indecent conduct”, right?
🍷 👨❤️💋👨 🙅 💰 👮 👯 🌈 😷 🔪 💰
How it became every homophobes’ nightmare:
- The Mafia realized that there was a huge, profitable, and untapped market for creating drinking establishments catered towards homosexuals. By the mid-60s, the Genovese crime family controlled the majority of the gay bars in Greenwich Village.
- The Mob owner of the famous Stonewall Inn, Tony Lauria Genovese or “Fat Tony”, made as much as $5,000 to $6,000 on the average Friday night from almost a 100% profit.
- As a result, Fat Tony had no trouble sliding the New York’s Sixth Police Precinct an envelope with $1,200 a month to turn a blind eye to his many city code violations.
- However, the payoffs did not meant that the Mafia-run establishments were exempt from state laws. Luckily, a choreographed dance routine was established between mobsters and cops so that they could each play out their appearances without threatening their mutual access to easy cash.
- For instance, police raids never occurred on the busy nights and the owners were always prepared for regular raids. And the managers made sure that there were only a few liquor bottles on the actual premise as they would be confiscated during the police raid, meaning that owners like Fat Tony could continue be open for business again from only suffering minor losses.
It could be said that the price of banning gay bars made the Mafia richer whilst allowing “indecent conducts” such as slow dancing with someone of your own sex, and realizing that you might belong to something of a minority group, to thrive. Unfortunately for the homophobes, this would eventually contribute to the outbreak of the Stonewall Riots, the catalyst for the modern LGBTQ+ movement.
Despite the benefits the new era of LGBTQ+ activism would reap, it shouldn’t be overlooked that the system was also a nightmare to the patrons of gay bars:
- The payoffs to the police also enabled Fat Tony to cut corners on hygiene. For instance, Stonewall did not have access to running water so drinks were served in dirty used glasses. The bar was accused of a breakout of hepatitis among its patrons by many Gay Rights groups.
- Safety was a serious issue at the Stonewall. The bar lacked a rear exit. which meant that the only escape in the event of a fire or emergency was the narrow front door.
- Rumour has it that the alcohol served at the gay bars were stolen or bootlegged. Yet, they were watered down and sold at top-shelf prices when the majority of the patrons of gay bars belonged to the poorest group of New York city.
- The more wealthy patrons were subject to blackmail for large sums of money by the Mafia. The employees would single out affluent customers whom were not publicly open with their sexuality. This practice of extortion is said to have been the most profitable aspect of the Mafia club-management.
Overall, the system the Mafia had been established only benefited them. The real nightmare was of course the health and security risks the patrons of gay bars suffered from as the result of SLA’s unfair and homophobic treatment. Thankfully, Stonewall Riots would come out of this and pave the way for the fight towards equality for all sexualities and gender identities.
Documentaries: Stonewall Uprising directed by Kate Davis and David Heilbroner
Image: Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images