Stonewalling Ben Kampler

It’s been an academic 14 years for Ben Kampler.

After graduating from Staples High School in 2001, he headed to Brandeis. He took his degree (English major, women’s studies minor), added a pair of master’s (queer theory/sexuality studies from NYU, sociology from Queens College), and embarked on a teaching career (Statistics, Introduction to Sociology Research, The Sociology of Sexuality) at Queens and Hunter College.

So of course, he’s also a bartender.

As a gay man, Kampler was happy to get a job at the Stonewall Inn. From outside on Christopher Street, it doesn’t look like much. But it’s considered the birth of the gay rights movement, because in 1969 the patrons fought back after one more in a long series of police raids. (“Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad” headlined the New York Daily News. A framed copy hangs inside the Stonewall today.)

Ben Kampler, behind the  Stonewall bar.

Ben Kampler, behind the Stonewall bar.

But in the mid-2000s, the Stonewall Inn was barely hanging on. “We ran out of glasses, and bought our liquor from a store down the block,” Kampler recalls.

He moved to another bar. In 2007, though, it reopened under a new owner. Kampler returned.

He’s been there ever since.

Ben Kampler (left) and his husband Jeff Bravo.

Ben Kampler (left) and his husband Jeff Bravo.

Working at perhaps the most historic bar (gay or straight) in the world — last month, New York’s Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously to give it landmark status — has its perks.

One of Kampler’s co-workers is a 75-year-old veteran of that famous June, 1969 night. (“He tells people, ‘I saw fighting and went the other way,'” Kampler says. Still…)

The Stonewall Inn is a bona fide tourist attraction. “People make pilgrimages,” Kampler notes. “They stand there in awe.”

Then they come in for a drink (or three). Sometimes, they engage the bartender in conversation. He’s happy to oblige — if he’s not too busy working.

After all, it is a bar. “We have our regulars,” Kampler says. “It’s very ‘Cheers’-like.”

Still, no one was prepared for the day last month when the US Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage constitutional in all 50 states.

Kampler’s regular Friday shift starts at 4 p.m. He heard the news at 10 a.m., and was called in immediately. It was all hands on deck.

Crowds swelled. News crews gathered. All of Greenwich Village was a party — and Stonewall was its epicenter.

“It was amazing,” Kampler reports. “Except we ran out of champagne and food.”

Two days later, New York celebrated Gay Pride. Once again, the place was crazy.

“As a staff, we appreciate what goes on,” Kampler says. “But it really was a marathon weekend.”

Ben Kampler took this photo of the crowd outside the Stonewall Inn, on the day the US Supreme  Court declared same-sex marriage constitutional in all 50 states.

Ben Kampler took this photo of the crowd outside the Stonewall Inn, on the day the US Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage constitutional in all 50 states.

Working at the  Stonewall Inn has given Kampler great friends. He likes his co-workers and boss.

“I’ve been there through history — the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Defense of Marriage Act, New York marriage, and now marriage everywhere in the country,” Kampler says.

“And Stonewall has supported me through 2 master’s degrees.”

But he won’t be there much longer. This fall, Kampler begins a Ph.D. program in sociology at Boston University.

His goal is to teach and do research in women’s, gender and queer studies. Of particular interest: examining the patterns of law enforcement in gay bars, and the social changes occurring in those bars.

Odds are good he’s the only person in that field with nearly a decade of bartending experience in the most famous gay bar in the world.

7 responses to “Stonewalling Ben Kampler

  1. Ann Marie Flynn

    I’m delighted with the write-up on Ben. Hopefully, his studies will educate the misinformed on life styles that many still deem unacceptable.
    If you count the number of youngsters that commit suicide/made to sleep on streets/bullied/thrown out of their home by ignorant families and disowned by the public in general, you too might be happy to wish Ben success in his studies. He will be opening doors for all to see in and be educated. And, the violence should lessen.
    All the best, Ben.

  2. Congratulations, Ben! I’m a friend of your brother, Zach (I found this on his post of this blog on Facebook), and I was very excited to read this. Good for you, and best wishes to you as you start your PhD program!

  3. Jill Turner Odice

    As a long time resident of Provincetown, many of my friends are gay. A gay couple introduced me to my husband by sending me a free R/T plane ticket to Ca. where they now live. They wanted me to meet this guy who delivered flowers for them. I ended up marrying him with them there as our witnesses. Now after 15 years of them being together they finally get the chance to invite us to their wedding 🙂 It’s about time that everybody is allowed to legally marry the person they love! Ben sounds like a very cool guy and I wish him great success whatever he does and wherever he goes.

  4. Ben is a person I would love to meet. Congratulations, Ben, and good luck on the PHD program.

  5. This is a truly excellent post. History, Education, Resolve combined into one simple concept of Humanity. My own son is a social worker helping at-risk youth, the kids who were thrown out of their homes, those who seek community, those who can find that they are not alone.
    Perhaps, very soon, words like exclusivity and inequality will finally fade away, along with Ignorance.

    When in NY, we’ll be sure to stop by the Stonewall for a glass of champagne… Everyone should. Cheers!

    Thanks Dan and Ben for this.
    (I was going to stay quiet on this blog, but this post is just too important).

    • By the way, the NYT June 6/15 Children’s Book Reviews included two good reads:
      “Rethinking Normal” by Katie Rain Hill, and
      “George” by Alex Gino

  6. Sharon Paulsen

    What a pleasure to read about this truly progressive and smart young man!
    I’d never heard of the Stonewall bar and its history – also a great nugget of info.
    Thanks Dan – love it!