Tag Archives: Ben Kampler

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.

Ben Kampler’s Stonewall Days (And Nights)

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.

Protesters posing at the Stonewall Inn, soon after the 1969 riots.

Protesters posing at the Stonewall Inn, soon after the 1969 riots.

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.

Ben Kampler, behind the Stonewall bar.

Staples Class of 2001 graduate Ben Kampler, behind the Stonewall bar.

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.

The Stonewall Inn, getting ready for 2013 Gay Pride.

The Stonewall Inn, getting ready for 2013 Gay Pride.

“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.