Queeroes: Vito Genovese and the Mafia

Angel Rojas looks at some unexpected roots of pride and LGBTQ+ history


First, before we talk about the contributions made by the Genovese mafia we must discuss the early beginnings of the LGBTQ+ movement and what led to the Riots. In the 1950’s and 60’s during the early stages of the cold war and the lavender scare three prominent groups, the  Mattachine Society, Janus Society, and the Daughters of Bilitis were formed. They emerged as a response to the anti-homosexual policies followed by the FBI and the military. They began to exclude flamboyant LGBTQ+ members and drag queens. They were against any which showed sexual expression they saw as deviant. They tried their best to silence those “expressive” members of the community and promoted an image that required members of the LGBTQ+ to act like their straight, middle-class counterparts in society.  They believed that this was the best way to gain full rights and liberties. They promoted marriage as a way to restrain members and the community from adopting actions that they saw as deviant. However, the drag queens, bull-dykes, and openly queer members of the community sought refuge within establishments run by the mafia that caters to them. Such as the ones at Stonewall Inn.

They were against anything that showed sexual expression or deviance.

Gangsters, otherwise known as the mafia had always been responsible for some of the freedoms we here in the United States take for granted. Such as the creation of Las Vegas, Jazz, Speakeasies, Hollywood, and LGBTQ+ movement. Vito Genovese was an Italian mobster who was head of the Genovese crime family that were responsible for countless deaths, extortions, and other crimes. By the early 1930’s, the mob began to invest in LGBTQ+ nightclubs and bars. Many have theorized that this is because Vito’s wife was a patron to some of the lesbian bars and clubs. By the 1950’s, the mafia was able to bribe police departments to stay away from these bars and clubs. Although, it is likely that the mafia used these clubs as a cover for their activities. Under “Fat Tony” Laura, Stonewall Inn was turned from a restaurant into a gay club. Fat Tony was notable for having male lovers. In fact, a lot of the mobsters engaged in same-sexual activities at these nightclubs. One of the most powerful mobsters named Petey dated a drag queen known as Desiree. Ed Murphy who was the manager of the Stonewall Inn at the time of the riots worked as a bouncer for all of his life and on the mob’s payroll. It is believed he worked there because he could meet the black and Latino men he preferred.

Gangsters, otherwise known as the mafia had always been responsible for some of the freedoms we here in the United States take for granted.

Since the Mafia were paid off the police, the LGBTQ+ community was allowed to be who they wanted in those clubs. Even while groups such as the Mattachine Society were promoting sexual conservatism. However, the FBI were not on the payroll. Police harassment and abuse were still not an uncommon. So, when the FBI staged a sting operation, notifying the NYPD sixth police precinct a little too late of the operation. The FBI and members of the police department (not on payroll) raided the club. The patrons saw this as continuing oppression of them. As the FBI agents dragged out each person one by one, many began to resist. They started chanting; “We’re faggots! And we’re not going home!” Trans activist Slyvia Rivera who was one of the demonstrators said, “You’ve been treating us like shit all these years. Now it’s our turn.”With the police continuing to assault them the area was engulfed in a riot. Members of the LGBTQ+ community began to burn up police cars and assault officers. They marched and chanted. The Genovese family felt guilty and sorry for the fact that these LGBTQ+ people were victims of oppression and conservatism and their activities criminalized. They began to fund and sponsor the annual pride parades. They still fund these parades to this day. Without their patronage and support, Stonewall might have been delayed and possibly went a different way. Ed Murphy the manager of the Stonewall Inn ended up  leading the parades and was crowned “Mayor of Christopher Street.”

Follow Angel Rojas on Twitter (@angelrojas450)

Books recommended by Angel Rojas

1. Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution by David Carter

2. Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America by John D’Emillo and Estelle Freedman

3. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay World, 1890-1940 by George Chauncey

4. Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America by Lillian Faderman

5. Men Like That: A Southern Queer History by John Howard

6. Transgender History by Susan Stryker

7. The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government by David K. Johnson

8. Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War II by Allan Berube

9. Gay Power: An American Revolution by David Eisenbach

10. Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians by Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons

11. Wide-Open Town: A History of Queer San Francisco to 1965 by Nan Alamilla Boyd

12. The Mob and the City: The Hidden History of How the Mafia Captured New York by C. Alexander Hortis

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