The secret lesbian life of Kitty Genovese
But Kitty Genovese was more than that: she was also a lesbian who had a love and a life of her own in a time when being openly gay was considered dangerous.
Though the crime was not an act of anti-LGBT violence, the subsequent effect almost did erase that essential part of her from history.
The tragedy of Kitty Genovese
The murder of Kitty Genovese took place on March 13, 1964. When it was reported by Martin Gansberg of the New York Times, its headlines declared that “37 Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call the Police.”
This was an exaggeration as a few of the witnesses did report the crime as it was happening to the police. There were also not as many witnesses as the article reported.
However, her death sparked a major outcry and a lot of soul-searching over how city living left people numb and apathetic from crimes that happened around them.
This was later called ‘the bystander effect’ or ‘the Genovese Syndrome,’ supposedly because an individual would more likely help more as compared to a group of individuals when a crime was happening.
The incident likewise gave rise to the development of a number of Good Samaritan Laws as well as the nationwide adoption of the current 911 system, a faster way to call the police and emergency services.
The lesbian life and love of Kitty Genovese
But Kitty Genovese was more than just a victim.
Born on July 7, 1935 in Brooklyn, Catherine “Kitty” Genovese grew up in New York City and loved it so much that when her family moved to Connecticut, she opted to stay behind.
She had a job as a bar manager at Ev’s 11th Hour in Hollis and lived in Kew Gardens. She viewed herself as an independent woman, telling her father that, “No man could support me because I make more than a man.”
She also had a partner, Mary Ann Zielonko, whom she met at an underground lesbian bar called Swing Rendezvous in Greenwich Village.
After their first meeting, Kitty managed to leave a note on Mary Ann’s apartment that said, “Will call you at the street corner phone booth at 7. – Kitty G”
From there, the two fell in love and moved in together. On the night Kitty was murdered, Mary Ann was asleep, waiting for Kitty to come home from her shift.
The erasure of Kitty Genovese
Though the nation knew Kitty as a murder victim, nobody knew or wanted to talk about how she was also a lesbian.
The police knew and harassed Mary Ann for hours, initially suspecting her of being a jealous lover who murdered Kitty.
In Kevin Cook‘s 2014 book Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime That Changed America, Mary Ann said she didn’t want to let the police know: “What right did they have to know?”
During Moseley’s trial, the authorities suppressed the information that Kitty was a lesbian so that the public wouldn’t get “distracted.” They introduced Mary Ann as Kitty’s friend and “roommate.”
Likewise, Kitty’s family ignored Mary Ann in the aftermath of their daughter’s death despite the latter having accompanied Kitty several times to the family’s Connecticut home.
“Kitty’s parents knew for sure, but they were very Catholic. It’s like they knew but didn’t want to. It made them uncomfortable. I made them uncomfortable,” Mary Ann said.
“But they tried to treat me nice and I liked them for that,” she added.
It was only decades after that Mary Ann was able to speak out in public about her relationship with Kitty.