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The Mob and the Roots of the Stonewall Uprising

On June 24, 1969, the Stonewall Inn was raided by New York City Police, four nights before the infamous raids that sparked the Stonewall Riots.  This was not the first time the police had targeted the bar for a raid, nor would it be the last.  That night, in one of a series of what had become routine raids, the police arrested some of the employees of the Stonewall Inn and confiscated some of its liquor; the portions of their stock that the police deemed “illegal.” Police targeted the bar for operating without a proper liquor license, but the real long term goal was to shut down the bar, which served as a haven for the city’s gay, lesbian, and transgender community.

That night was one spark in the flame that would ignite the beginning of what is now known as the Stonewall uprising; a series of violent protests and street demonstrations that would launch a new era of resistance and revolution. The riots were a watershed moment in both cultural history and the gay rights movement.

Stonewall Inn June 1969 Photo courtesy of the Estate of Fred W. McDarrah

In 1969, homosexual acts were illegal in every state in the U.S., with the exception of Illinois. Bars and restaurants could be shut down for having gay employees or serving gay patrons. As the gay community blossomed in New York City in the 1960s, they had few places to gather publicly. Shunned and criminalized by the broader culture, LGBT people were eager for any spot where they could safely come together. The mafia saw a clear advantage in the predicament and moved to wrest control of the bars where the gay population congregated.

Photo by Fred W. McDarrah courtesy of Getty Images

The owner of the Stonewall, Tony Lauria, was reputed to be a front man for Matty Ianniello (known as “Matty the Horse”), a capo in the Genovese crime family who oversaw a string of clubs in the city, many of which served watered-down drinks at inflated prices, often made with ill-gotten liquor from truck hijackings. The scheme worked for the mobsters in a criminally tried and true fashion: citing disorderly behavior laws, the State Liquor Authority ruled that bars catering to openly homosexual patrons were not entitled to liquor licenses. That made gay bars effectively illegal, which left them to the mob. The mob would run clubs without liquor licenses and would pay the police to look the other way. It would be several years after Stonewall before the first clubs with openly gay owners would be licensed — places like the Ballroom on West Broadway and Reno Sweeney on West 13th Street. Another fallout from the Stonewall riots was that the mob would lose its crushing grip on the gay community.

That, however, did not save The Stonewall Inn from falling into obscurity for a while.  The Stonewall’s patrons continued to face police harassment and were growing increasingly uncomfortable with the mob affiliation. Months after the uprising, the Stonewall closed its doors as a club. The building was later leased as two separate spaces to a number of different businesses over the years;  a juice bar, a bagel shop, a Chinese restaurant, and a shoe store were operating there in the 1970s and 1980s. Unfortunately, none of the original Stonewall Inn’s interior finishes remain.  The current management bought the bar in 2006 and have operated it as a club, once again called Stonewall Inn, ever since. And naturally, everyone is now welcome there.

Happy Pride!!!!

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