Today is Gay Pride Day in New York. In the wake of last week’s Supreme Court rulings — striking down part of the Defense of Marriage Act, and letting stand a lower court ruling that California’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional — this afternoon’s parade down 5th Avenue will be especially joyful.
The modern gay rights movement was kick-started on June 28, 1969. For the 1st time, members of the gay community fought back against police raids on a Greenwich Village gay bar. (The New York Daily News chirped: “Cops Raid Homo Nest; Queen Bees Stinging Mad.”)
The site was the Stonewall Inn, on Christopher Street. It’s still there, 44 years later. And last Wednesday — when the Supreme Court delivered its twin decisions — thousands of gay people and straight allies gravitated there.
Ben Kampler had a front-row view of that historic day. The 2001 Staples graduate has spent the last 6 years as a Stonewall bartender.
That’s not all he does. A very talented trumpet player who majored in English, and minored in women and gender studies at Brandeis, Ben earned a master’s from NYU in queer theory and gender studies.
He’s now working on a master’s in sociology at Queens College, hoping to apply queer theory and sociology in a career that involves research and teaching.
But right now, bartending pays the bills.
Though Stonewall draws tourists from around the world — many of whom say they are on “pilgrimages” — it’s also a neighborhood place.
“It is an icon, and historically significant,” Ben admits. “But it’s changed hands so many times. It’s not the same place it was in 1969.”
That didn’t stop crowds from coming last Wednesday. They hugged and drank Champagne when the decision was announced just after 10 a.m. Also at Stonewall: hordes of reporters.
By noon, the bar was packed. When Ben left at midnight, it was still jammed.
“I married my husband Jeff 2 years ago when New York made it legal,” Ben says. “That was a little more emotional for me. This was just like adding some rights on to what we already have.”
But, he knows, “this whole Pride weekend will be insane.” He worked the 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. shift today. Tonight he’s on at 6 p.m., and will stay through 5 a.m. tomorrow.
Ben will be on his feet, serving drinks to thousands of people who’ve come from around the corner — and the world — to celebrate who they are. They’ll do it just days after the Supreme Court handed them 2 important victories.
Ben will be with them in spirit. But he’ll be working hard.
So hard, in fact, he won’t even have time to celebrate another milestone. Yesterday, he turned 30.