In a splashy new development in the two-month-old brouhaha over two gay Manhattan hoteliers’ meeting with –– and financial contribution to –– stridently anti-gay Texas GOP Senator Ted Cruz, the activist group Queer Nation launched a beachfront fly-over of a banner urging a boycott of one of the men’s Fire Island Pines commercial properties.
For 40 minutes mid-afternoon on June 7, the group funded a plane to fly back and forth between the Pines and neighboring Cherry Grove, both popular gay and lesbian weekend communities, trailing a banner reading, “Boycott Hi/ Lo Tea! Fight For Full LGBT Rights!”
The protest was aimed at Ian Reisner and Mati Weiderpass, owners of the West 42nd Street Out Hotel, who hosted an April 20 dinner and “fireside chat” for the Republican presidential candidate at the Central Park South penthouse that the business partners and former lovers jointly own. Reisner is one of the investors who earlier this year purchased roughly 80 percent of the commercial property in the Pines for $10 million. That property includes the Blue Whale, Sip-N-Twirl, and the Pavilion, establishments that host High Tea and Low Tea on summer afternoons.
In a written statement, Ken Kidd, a Queer Nation member, said, “We can get married on Sunday and then evicted or fired on Monday in many states in this country. Yet two gay business owners are making money off of the LGBT community at a world-famous gay vacation spot and then giving that money to outspoken anti-LGBT politicians who would keep us from winning those rights.”
He added, “Is doing without a cocktail at Tea such a sacrifice to make in our struggle for true equality?”
When news of the April 20 gathering for Cruz first broke, Reisner and Weiderpass insisted the event was not a fundraiser, but instead a chance to discuss foreign policy, in particular their concerns about Israel’s security. However, on May 29, the New York Times reported that around the time of the event, Reisner wrote a check to the Cruz campaign for $2,700, the legal maximum under federal campaign finance rules.
Asked about that contribution by the Times, Reisner said, “In the interest of transparency, I gave Senator Cruz a $2,700 check to show my support for his work on behalf of Israel. When I realized his donation could be misconstrued as supporting his anti-gay marriage agenda, I asked for the money back. Senator Cruz’s office gave the money back, and I have no intention of giving any money to any politicians who aren’t in support of LGBT issues.”
Reisner and Weiderpass, in a series of media interviews and social media posts, have alternately expressed contrition for hosting the meeting and “for hurting the gay community and so many of our friends, family, allies, customers and employees” and aggressively volleyed back that their critics are extremists intolerant of diverse viewpoints within the LGBT community.
One particularly low moment in their campaign at rehabilitation came when they told New York magazine, in response to charges that they have profited off the LGBT community, that “gays are cheap” and the hotel loses money.
The same week that Cruz dined with Reisner and Weiderpass, the Texas Republican announced two pieces of legislation — one a constitutional amendment to shield states limiting marriage to different-sex couples from legal challenge and another blocking any federal court action on the question until such an amendment is adopted.
Cruz’s views on gay marriage are not simply a quibble over the principles of federalism. Last summer, writing in the New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin quoted him saying, “If ever there was an issue on which we should come to our knees to God about, it is preserving marriage of one man and one woman. And this is an issue on which we need as many praying warriors as possible to turn back the tide.”
Cruz has also voiced opposition to LGBT non-discrimination protections, both at the federal level and in Texas and its localities.
The Out Hotel has suffered cancellations from a wide array of community groups that had planned to hold events there, including Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS and the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus.
In addition to the Queer Nation action this weekend, Reisner also faced pressure from a Facebook-organized boycott group that delivered 600 palm cards to every home in the Pines and plastered the island with hundreds of posters. The group’s Facebook page includes a statement from Andrew Tobias, the financial writer and novelist long involved with the Democratic National Committee –– who had defended the two men early in the controversy –– who wrote, “The best solution would be for [Reisner] to find a buyer for his share in the Pines properties ASAP.”
Reisner and Weiderpass’ problems at the Out Hotel also multiplied last month when four current and former employees filed suit in federal court alleging businesses in the complex failed to pay required overtime wages and discriminated against two of the plaintiffs on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity.