Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Doo Wop at the Stonewall -- or Not

So exactly how gay-owned is the new Stonewall Inn anyway?

While reviewing and updating my piece about being pounded on by an inebriated, supremely hideous straight guy at the not always gay-friendly Stonewall, something clicked in my mind about the name Bill Morgan, who is one of the co-owners of the Stonewall (as well as the primarily straight Duplex Inn up the street.)

I recall a few years ago there was a guy named Bill Morgan who sang and worked in the Duplex and other bars in the West Village area. He would occasionally poke into the Five Oaks and sing, and he was bartender there for a brief time (perhaps he was just filling in for someone). I only saw him in the mixed bars, never in the out and out gay cruise bars for hungry men such as Ty's and Boots and Saddle, and I really had no reason to think he was anything other than straight (and still don't for that matter). Morgan seemed perfectly pleasant and more or less gay-friendly, but I never did get to know him very well. I had a gay friend at the time who was a little smitten with Morgan -- I don't think poor Morgan quite knew what to make of him -- but Morgan was not my type and I had no particular interest in ferreting out any hidden truths about his orientation, assuming there were any. All I can say is that he specialized in a kind of "doo wop" kind of singing, that I have no appreciation for, and whenever he came on at the Five Oaks (I didn't go to the Duplex very often, and when I did usually went to the gayer bar upstairs) I figured it would be a good time to go to the rest room. I've no doubt he did Doo Wop as well as anyone, but I'm not surprised he didn't make a career of it. Can anyone make a career of Doo Wop these days -- who knows?

I read that after working at the Duplex for many years, he became the co-owner of that bar along with Tony DeCicco. Writing about their acquisition of the Stonewall Inn in 2007 (along with Kurt Kelly, who now manages Stonewall), most reporters assumed Morgan and DeCicco were a gay couple, but it is quite possible both are simply heterosexual business partners. On his "My Space" page Morgan mentions how he owns both bars (he does not mention either co-owner) and on the list of personal statistics says that he is "married" and "straight." Oddly, while there are several photographs on his page, there is none of his wife -- there doesn't even seem to be a mention of her. (I'm assuming there is or was a wife because he says "straight" and "married.") Morgan does not mention being married on his page on the Duplex web site, but DeCicco mentions his "lovely wife Donna" and his two children on the same site.

Now let me make it clear that I am not saying that this is the case, but wouldn't it be bizarre -- and a little funny/sad considering the bar they co-own -- if DeCicco were Morgan's "wife?" If Morgan and DeCicco were gay or bi but say they're strictly straight when they co-own the bar that ushered in the whole modern-day Gay Rights Movement? I'm not saying this is the case -- and frankly I hope it isn't -- but remember it was in the Stonewall Inn that I met young Mike, the bartender who told everyone he was straight with a girlfriend but confided in me that he also "fooled around with men" (but couldn't even go so far as to identify as bisexual). So who the hell knows?

Now if both Morgan and DeCicco are actually straight -- which they may be (and with a wife and children DeCicco is clearly living a straight lifestyle, but this doesn't necessarily make him a married homosexual) -- they get points for not going out of their way to point that out in all the interviews they gave on their acquisition of the Stonewall. They could be two cool straight guys who know there's nothing wrong in being gay and don't really care if some people wrongly think they're homos. Or do they get points? Perhaps they only let everyone assume they were gay and didn't correct them because they didn't want everyone in the gay community to know that the ol' Stonewall was still primarily straight-owned, that it was two straight businessmen who were taking over a spot that meant so much to the gay community. Which may explain why the place hasn't fulfilled its promise to become a great gay bar for the whole community and has just turned into a bland (gay and straight) mixed cocktail lounge that might as well be called The Duplex II. They downplayed their hetero status, played up that house queer Kurt Kelly would be co-owner (of how big a chunk, one wonders?), and made him manager, even as all three men made statements about how the previous owner of the Stonewall had done such a lousy job because he was -- you guessed it -- a straight guy (with a gay staff and probably gay manager, so what's the diff?)

I'd be willing to bet that the two straight guys are really calling the shots at the Stonewall Inn, and that they bought the place not to preserve it for the gay community but to eventually turn it into just what it's become, the Duplex II. They brought in prominent and gullible gay and lesbian investors for cash and appearance's sake, all the while knowing that most of the younger bar-happy gays in the city didn't remember and in general couldn't care less about the Stonewall Rebellion. If the straight overflow from the Duplex drove the gay customers away, why should Morgan and DeCicco care? That's ultimately just what they were hoping for, and that's just what's happening. If some gay groups who aren't in the loop occasionally hold a function there, so much the better. The bar will continue to hold on to some form of gay pedigree, and gay tourists with a sense of history will inoocently wander into the place and buy drinks -- although they probably won't stay very long.

I have to say I'm troubled that on Morgan's MySpace page he has a photo of himself with good buddy Danny Bonaduce - I think I'd be embarrassed to be a friend of Bonaduce's -- and lists one of his favorite TV shows as Hardball with the virulently homophobic host Chris Matthews! Also on his MySpace page Morgan has one "moving" photo of himself standing in front of the Stonewall. Jeez -- the camera pans down over his basket as if its some gay code or something. I'm not saying there aren't some gay people who might find him attractive but he's more likely to find them across the avenue at Boots and Saddle or down at the Dug Out -- well, maybe not, he's not exactly a macho bear-type -- than at the Stonewall, which seems more welcoming these days to drunken straights than it is to Out and Proud Gay Men.

But who knows?

All I know is that the slogan of the Stonewall Inn is "Where Pride Began" without the word "Gay." And I also know that a straight man (no matter how presumably gay-friendly or gay-supportive) -- or possibly a gay/bi man who says he's straight on his MySpace page? -- is probably not going to have much of a vested interest in making The Stonewall Inn the living homage to Gay Rights, and the Great Gay Bar, that people like me were hoping it would be.

Personally, I think the gay community was taken for a ride.

But then, The Stonewall Inn is all about money and has nothing whatsoever to do with Gay Pride. And anyone who doesn't realize it is a fool.


Queers United said...

how is Chris Matthews homophobic? I find him to be very accepting of the LGBT community and marriage equality from what I have seen of him.

Bill Samuels said...

Maybe Matthews has cleaned up his act? In 2006 GLAAD [Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation] put him on their list of anti-gay offenders for more than one incident. A google search will bring up more.

Thanks for your comment.

Anonymous said...

With regards to your post, are you suggesting or implying that Mr. Morgan is "de-gaying" Stonewall while profitting off the gay community there?

Bill Samuels said...

ng, what I'm saying is that Morgan and his business partner are less interested in preserving a spot that has historical significance for the gay community than in acquiring prime real estate for the overflow from The Duplex and making lots of moola -- which doesn't make them bad people or raging homophobes, just good businessmen. Let's just say I don't see them as "heroes" of the community for re-opening the Stonewall and keeping the name, and I don't think they especially care if the place remains primarily gay or serves the whole LGBT community or what-not. In other words, they're not gay activists, they're not even gay -- they're (straight) business men. Just because gay people go into their bars doesn't mean they themselves have any strong connection to the LGBT community. That's not neccesarily a criticism of these two men -- just an observation, but one which I think is true. Thanks for your question, Bill.

marulisanchez said...

yes! im glad i found this post!
i do find it inspring and a thing of relief!
hope to read more from you..
keep on rocking and keep the fire burning!
your blog is incredible and fabulous!

Bill Samuels said...

Thanks so much for your kind words and your comments!

I like your blog Leaves of Grass as well and wish you much luck with it.

Best, Bill

Queers United said...

I will have to google that, but I am glad to see he has since cleaned up his act. Thanks.