As early as the 1930s, when homosexuality was illegal in the U.S., Mafia-connected establishments were around to provide gay and lesbian customers a place to meet, mingle and spend money. At one point, the Mafia had a monopoly on gay bars in New York City and probably ran similar spots in other cities around the country.
In fact, the Genovese family ran Manhattan's Stonewall Inn, the site of the infamous 1969 Stonewall riots, which took place after patrons fought back against police raiding the bar. Investing in the former straight bar, Tony "Fat Tony" Lauria purchased and transformed The Stonewall in 1966, seeing more potential in the neighborhood's growing gay community.
His motives were far from pure. Because customers were forced to live in the shadows, the mob could keep standards low. Drinks were overpriced and watered down, and conditions were not hygienic or well-maintained. And while Fat Tony reportedly paid the cops up to $1,200 a month to stay away, Stonewall's owners still made big profits by extorting customers in exchange for turning a blind eye to their illegal behavior.
Another Genovese guy, Matthew "Matty the Horse" Ianniello, had a hand in running more than 80 bars, restaurants and discos in the 1970s, many of them catering to the gay community. He also ran holding companies offering an array of services (from the obligatory money lending and garbage collection to topless dancing and interior decorating). These companies served as money-laundering fronts until the law caught up with him, and he went to jail for tax evasion [source: Vitello].
As gay activism gained ground, the connection between gays and the mob weakened [source: PBS]. There are likely still Mafia members connected to bars and clubs in cities across the country, but the LGBT community today isn't reliant on the mob's (or anyone else's) subpar services.