Abject apologies, posted on Facebook on April 26, from the two gay Manhattan developers who last week hosted a highly publicized dinner and “fireside chat” with Texas Senator Ted Cruz did little to calm an explosion of online fury. Nor did they prevent a crowd of more than 100 protesters from descending on the West Side hotel they jointly own the following evening.
“I am shaken to my bones by the e-mails, texts, postings and phone calls of the past few days,” wrote Ian Reisner, a developer and owner of the Out Hotel, a West 42nd Street establishment with a heavily gay clientele. “I made a terrible mistake. I was ignorant, naive and much too quick in accepting a request to co-host a dinner with Cruz at my home without taking the time to completely understand all of his positions on gay rights... I sincerely apologize for hurting the gay community and so many of our friends, family, allies, customers and employees. I will try my best to make up for my poor judgment. Again, I am deeply sorry.”
Reisner is one of the investors who earlier this year purchased roughly 80 percent of the commercial property in the Fire Island Pines for $10 million. He and Mati Weiderpass, his co-owner at the Out Hotel, business partner at Parkview Developers, and former lover, hosted the Texas senator, a 2016 GOP presidential hopeful, at the Central Park South penthouse they own together. Hours after Reisner posted his April 26 Facebook mea culpa, Weiderpass followed suit.
The April 20 Cruz event spawned nearly instant viral online ire aimed at Reisner and Weiderpass — including a Facebook page calling for a boycott of the Out Hotel and Reisner’s Fire Island properties. The boycott page, which has garnered more than 11,000 likes, more than 20 percent of them since the men issued their apologies, chronicles growing pressure on the two gay developers, including an April 25 letter in which Reisner’s Fire Island business partner attempted to distance himself from Reisner as well as numerous cancellations of Out Hotel events from groups including the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus and Urban Bear NYC.
One of the highest profile repudiations came from Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS, which announced on April 24 that it was cancelling a fundraiser planned for the 42West Club, a nightspot located inside the Out Hotel.
The same day, activists led by the Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club of Queens’ Michael Mallon announced plans for the protest the following Monday. Mallon’s call was soon joined by Brooklyn’s Lambda Independent Democrats, the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, and the Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City, and throughout the weekend Queer Nation circulated word of the action.
The protest was coordinated in tandem with a Times Square rally in support of marriage equality on the eve of the April 28 Supreme Court hearing. Many in the crowd of roughly 150 in Times Square apparently proceeded from there to the Out Hotel several blocks to the west.
“They make their fortune off us and invite Cruz into their home,” said Floyd Rumohr, one of the protesters. “They deserve what they get. Do you believe they didn't know his record? It was an apology but I don't know if it was sincere or it was driven by another motive.” Rumohr added, “With wealth comes responsibility.”
Aner Candelario, an abstract artist who said he has work on display at the Out Hotel, was also critical of Reisner and Weiderpass. “I’m taking down my artwork from the hotel, though it breaks my heart to do so,” Candelario said. “It was at the Out Hotel where I proposed to Matt,” his fiancé.
Brandon Cuicchi, a member of ACT UP New York, was also scathing in his criticism. “It’s baloney that they didn’t know his record on gay right and marriage,” he said. “No apology, especially on Facebook, is enough. They are insincere and lying. They can donate to other supportive LGBT causes and candidates. They can also make a clear statement that they don’t support Ted Cruz.”
At least one person on hand at the Times Square marriage gathering was sympathetic to the developers’ decision to host Cruz. “I am a gay Republican and support them,” said Danny Orono, in New York from Palm Springs. “I will not be protesting, but I support everyone's right to do so. Ian and Mati are my friends and they have been pilloried for trying to mend a bridge, and that’s the only way we are going to change things. We need more influence, not less.”
According to a New York Times account of Cruz’s visit to the Reisner-Weiderpass home — which first came to light when Weiderpass posted a photo of himself with Cruz at the event on Facebook — the Texas senator did not mention his opposition to marriage equality, saying simply that it is an issue that should be left to the states. Later the same week, 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 in the proposed federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act and in local Texas ordinances. When he first ran for the Senate, in 2012, Cruz faulted his Republican primary opponent Tom Leppert, a former Dallas mayor, for participating in LGBT Pride parades in that city, according to Texas media reports. He has repeatedly characterized being gay as a choice.
Guests at the Weiderpass-Reisner home last week, however, could be forgiven for thinking it is a choice the Texas senator, who was joined there by his wife Heidi, would accept from his daughters, now four and seven. “If one of my daughters was gay, I would love them just as much,” Reisner recalled Cruz saying.
In comments to the Times and in subsequent Facebook posts, Reisner and Weiderpass emphasized that foreign policy, in particular their concerns about Israel’s security, motivated their invitation to Cruz and dominated the evening’s discussion. Reisner told the Times he lost relatives in the Holocaust. According to the newspaper, the evening included discussion about how much better on LGBT rights Israel is versus its Middle East neighbors, which largely take a more draconian posture toward the gay community than does Cruz.
A week before the Cruz event, Reisner hosted a private fundraiser for Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson, who chairs the Homeland Security Committee. According to a release from Reisner, Johnson warned of the dangers of giving President Barack Obama a free hand in negotiating with Iran. Recalling the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, Reisner said, “I don’t want to see New Yorkers once again incinerated by Islamic extremists from the Middle East.”
Cruz’s new legislative proposals to halt the advance of marriage equality drew fire last week from the Human Rights Campaign, which on April 24 denounced the senator’s effort in a statement that included a link to a comprehensive overview the group compiled earlier this year on his anti-LGBT record.
Both Reisner and Weiderpass initially took to Facebook to defend the Cruz event, though the two took different tacks. Weiderpass, in a decidedly defensive tone, lamented the “passion and energy” that critics are “wast[ing] on Ian and me.” The Texas senator being photographed in the home of two gay men and saying he could live with his daughters being lesbians, Weiderpass argued, “will make it more difficult for Ted Cruz to be the champion against gay rights.” Warning that his critics are simply giving the right wing the chance to depict “gays as being less tolerant of each other than Cruz,” Weiderpass included in his post an excerpt from an anti-gay contributor to Breitbart.com, who characterized boycott calls as part of “the Left’s fascist rampage” against those who don’t fall into line on LGBT rights.
Throughout the controversy — until his apology — Reisner seemed more inclined to wave off criticism of the Cruz event. Regarding the senator’s fierce opposition to marriage equality, he told the Times that the issue “is done — it’s just going to happen.”
If Reisner has now thought better of his evening with Ted Cruz, the Texas senator’s campaign staff acknowledges at least some second thoughts as well. In a written statement, Cruz insisted he had voiced “directly and unambiguously” his opposition to marriage equality in front of the Reisner-Weiderpass crowd. And he portrayed his unwillingness to pander when speaking to an audience he disagrees with as evidence he is a true “big tent Republican.”
Confronted with details from the original Times story about the evening that pointed to the death last October of a 23-year-old man from an apparent drug overdose in the apartment where Cruz appeared, a spokesperson for his campaign, Rick Tyler, said, “Knowing what we know now about the setting, I think we would have chosen a different venue.” -- Additional reporting by Troy Masters
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