Why Are Two Wealthy Gay Men Hosting a Benefit for Ted Cruz? Israel.
If you’ve ever been to Fire Island Pines, one of the leading gay utopias on the planet, you know that there isn’t much to do. There’s only one commercial center with a couple of stores, a bar, and a hotel.
And yet, in less than 24 hours, over 4,000 people have said they’re going to boycott it. The reason? It’s owned by Ian Reisner and Mati Weiderpass, the self-described “prominent NYC hotel owners” who recently hosted a “fireside chat” with Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz.
No Tea Dance at the Sip n’ Twirl? Hard to believe, but that’s LGBT politics for you.
As if that weren’t enough, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS went one step further, canceling their their "Broadway Bares Solo Strips" benefit. It had been scheduled for May 10 at the Out Hotel, which Reisner and Weiderpass own. “I have never considered that all of our many supporters would ever vote monolithically,” executive director Tom Viola wrote on his Facebook page. “But when any politician publicly holds so many of us in contempt… we cannot be misunderstood as standing with him/her.”
This is Ted Cruz, after all, one of 19 members of Congress on the Human Rights Campaign’s “Hall of Shame,” the man who authored the 2014 “State Marriage Defense Act,” which would ensure that gay people get no federal protections, ever. And who recently penned a letter sent to tens of thousands of Christian pastors, asking them to pray, preach, and presumably vote for him to support “biblical marriage.”
(Biblical marriage is actually polygamy and concubinage, but I digress.)
The first question many people must be asking themselves is, what the hell were Reisner and Weiderpass thinking? In the words of gay performer and humorist Justin Sayre, who is supporting the boycott, “Of all the people in the world to invite to a gay party, Ted Cruz? What was it? His sparkling wit? His fair and balanced repartee? Do you have a thing for Canadians? Does he make a mean gin rickey?”
Not quite. In a self-serving press release, the two said they “ignited a dialogue” on the issue of same-sex marriage.
But that’s not it either. In fact, before the backlash hit, they told The New York Times the real reason for the event:
Mr. Reisner and Kalman Sporn, who advises Mr. Cruz’s Middle East team and served as the moderator for the evening, said the senator told the group that marriage should be left up to the states. The evening focused primarily on foreign policy, including a discussion of gay rights in Israel versus the rest of the Middle East, and opposition to President Obama.
In other words, this was about Israel.
Notice who the moderator was: Ted Cruz’s Jewish/Israel point man, himself a gay Jewish man and longtime Republican consultant.
Nor was this the first time Ian Reisner has hosted a Republican benefit at his home for that reason. Earlier this month, his Central Park South penthouse—where, incidentally, a 23-year-old gay man was found dead of a drug overdose just a few months ago—hosted a fundraiser for Republican Senator Ron Johnson.
Shamelessly invoking the Holocaust, Reisner said at the time that his great aunt “was murdered in Auschwitz” and that “we are not too far from history to be wary of politicians who make bad decisions that threaten our lives. The deal with Iran concerns me. Anti-Semitic murder in Paris and Copenhagen concerns me. Bringing Senator Johnson to New York to discuss foreign policy and security helped educate my close friends about these very real issues.”
Reisner is hardly alone in this regard. Gay porn king Michael Lucas -- who was not at the event in question -- has been outspoken in his support of Israel’s right-wing government, going so far as to bully New York’s LGBT Center into banning a pro-Palestinian group from meeting there. (After a yearlong brouhaha, the center banned both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups.)
Lucas has often “discussed” the contrast between “gay rights in Israel versus the rest of the Middle East.” This is what’s known as pinkwashing, the highlighting of Israel’s excellent record on LGBT equality as a way of defending its totally unrelated policies regarding Palestine or Iran. Israel is pro-gay, therefore support Israel in all ways.
Likewise, conservatives like Cruz, who write laws preventing my partner from visiting me in the hospital, suddenly wave the rainbow flag when it comes to Iran.
In other words, what happened in that penthouse was part of a much larger pattern of gay Jewish Republicans putting LGBT civil rights aside, and putting Israel First.
Now, maybe this should be all right. After all, why should gay people have to be single-issue voters? Sure, Cruz is bad on LGBT issues (very bad, in fact), but why should that be the only issue on which a politician is judged? Maybe Cruz loses 10 points on the gay thing, but wins so many points on Israel that the benefits outweigh the costs.
This, basically, is what Reisner has been saying in his recent press blitz. On Facebook, he said that “for my entire adult life, I have been an ardent supporter and activist for gay rights and LGBT organizations worldwide. I was given the opportunity to have a candid conversation with Senator Ted Cruz on where he stood on issues including the state of Israel and national security, which are the only places where we share common ground.”
Reisner added that he’d just hosted a “Ready for Hillary” benefit at the Out Hotel.
So, should LGBT folks cut Reisner some slack?
It’s no coincidence that Reisner and Weiderpass are rich, white, cisgender men cozying up to another rich, white, cisgender man. They may be gay, but they profoundly don’t get it—the “it” being that the same privilege that oppresses gays is the privilege that oppresses people of color, immigrants, women, and the poor—precisely the groups that Cruz’s policies would hurt the most.
It’s not a coincidence that Cruz is anti-gay and also anti-social-safety net, anti-reproductive justice, and anti-affirmative action. What extremely fortunate white gay men like Reisner and Weiderpass don’t understand is that it’s all one big package: the classism, the religious conservatism, the social conservatism—these all go together.
“A Gays” like Reisner act as though Republicans just happen to have a blind spot when it comes to gays, but otherwise they’re just fine. They can’t understand why the LGBT Log Cabin Republicans, for example, have such a rough go of it. If only the GOP could get over this particular prejudice, then there’s no reason why gay people shouldn’t support them.
But it’s not one particular prejudice. Right-wing extremists are extremist through and through. It’s a whole package.
And that includes Israel. Hard-right conservatives are hard-right on Israel for the same reasons they’re hard-right on anti-LGBT and anti-choice politics. They’ve got one extreme conservative narrative: It’s us versus them, Americans versus the gays, Freedom Lovers versus Muslims, civilization versus barbarism. Iran, Palestinians, gay people, poor people, “illegal immigrants,” welfare queens, rowdy young black men—these are bad people. These kinds of dogmatic conservative values are clear, unmistakable, unshakeable.
To be sure, not every foreign policy hawk, Republican, or conservative thinks this way. But Ted Cruz is a moralist on Iran the same way he is a moralist on family values.
That’s why Reisner and Weiderpass don’t deserve a pass. Supporting Ted Cruz isn’t a matter of weighing his hawkish Iran views against his backward anti-gay views, because they are but two aspects of a consistent, conservative ideology that also includes climate denial, allowing the wealth gap to increase, and dismantling the social safety net. You can’t pull the one thread you like out of the tapestry; the whole thing unravels.
I have no doubt that Reisner is sincere when he says he supports LGBT equality. But the reason to do so shouldn’t be in order to win rights for a few, privileged people like him. It should be in order to question assumptions of us and them, whoever the “them” is said to be. It should be about justice.
UPDATE 4/28/15: This article has been updated to make it clear that Michael Lucas was not at the Cruz event. In an email, Lucas told The Daily Beast, “I do not support Ted Cruz and I do not want to be used as a tool to promote the false claim that gay Jewish conservatives are more loyal to Israel than to gay rights in America.”