ILLUSTRATION BY MICHAEL SHIREY
As Out Hotel developers and owners Ian Reisner and Mati Weiderpass planned their April 20 dinner/ fireside chat with Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a long-shot Republican presidential candidate, they clearly had convinced themselves they were players. A week before, a similar event — this one a reelection fundraiser — was held at chez Reisner-Weiderpass on Central Park South for Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, who heads the Homeland Security Committee. Support for Israel and trash talk about President Barack Obama’s negotiations with Iran were apparently animating themes of both events.
“Would any of you ask President Obama to negotiate on your behalf?,” Johnson asked the gay hoteliers’ guests, according to a release from Reisner, who continued, “After the laughter subsided, Johnson listed his numerous concerns with Obama’s pending nuclear-weapons agreement with Iran’s dictatorship.” Recalling 9/11, Reisner wrote, “I don’t want to see New Yorkers once again incinerated by Islamic extremists from the Middle East.” Explaining the Cruz event to the New York Times, Reisner said, “Ted Cruz was on point on every issue that has to do with national security,” he said.
For now, I’ll leave aside the issue of Cruz’s — and many other Republicans’ — unseemly canoodling with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the expense of a longstanding US foreign policy tradition of not undermining the commander-in-chief. I will say, however, that given the outrage that Ted Cruz’s Big Gay Party has sparked in New York’s LGBT community, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Netanyahu — never one to be shy about doing or saying the outrageous — has nonetheless been tempted to get on the phone to Reisner or Weiderpass and shout, “Don’t drag me into this mess, boys!”
The sheer cravenness these two gay men showed in turning a blind eye to Cruz’s vicious homophobia is difficult to take in, and their groveling Facebook apologies on Sunday night — claiming that they simply didn’t know! — are very, very hard to take at face value.
Also distressing is the notion Reisner put forward to the Times in addressing the contradiction between Cruz’s anti-gay record and the developer’s cozying up to the Texan. Marriage equality “is done,” Reisner said. “It’s just going to happen.” Meaning what? That there’s nothing left that divides us from the homophobes? No insidious religious exemption laws? No refusal to accord the community basic civil rights protections in employment, housing, and public accommodations? No efforts at ex-gay conversion or at slandering transgender people as cross-dressing perverts? No dog whistles meant to inflame homophobic and transphobic emotions for political gain?
There’s a lot of loose talk out there about the cluelessness and callousness of rich, white gay men — but it’s very hard to offer any other explanation for how Reisner and Weiderpass could be so indifferent to pressing needs our community faces.
But beyond all this, I am left with my initial gut reaction to this whole business — how terribly pathetic it is.
Reisner and Weiderpass think the Republicans can better represent their passion for the State of Israel. And they have convinced themselves that there are opportunities to build bridges between GOP conservatives and the gay community.
But Ted Cruz was the best they could do in advancing those hopes? You want to show you’re a player in the game of finding common ground between Republicans, on one side, and Jews and gays on the other? Get Jeb Bush up into your penthouse. Or open it up to Chris Christie to help him try to rehabilitate his presidential dreams.
I don’t agree with either Bush or Christie, and I suspect that current political realities will not allow the LGBT community to make much true progress with either. But if you’re serious about engaging the GOP, that’s the sort of avenue you go down.
As for Reisner and Weiderpass, the Beatles had it just about right in “Revolution”: “If you want money for people with minds that hate/ All I can tell you is brother you have to wait… If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao/ You ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow.”