I don’t like Ted Cruz. I disagree with him on a variety of issues, not the least of which is his opposition to marriage equality for gay couples. My dislike is predicated upon more than ideological concerns but temperamental ones as well. Cruz is a show-boater, not unusual in Washington, but he takes vanity to an absurd degree. As we saw in 2013, he was willing to shut down the government on a point of personal pique.
Most politicians are vain and self-obsessed; fewer can be called megalomaniacs, which is how I would describe Cruz (“wacko bird,” as John McCain once characterized him, also captures Cruz well). Cruz would, to my mind, make a terrible president.
Now that that’s out of the way, let me say this: Like the vast majority of people who don’t like Ted Cruz, I’ve never met the junior senator from Texas. Were we to discuss the state of the world over a “fireside chat,” my impression of him would undoubtedly change: maybe for the better, quite possibly for the worse. But as someone with a natural curiosity about the world, and who believes that talking about political differences is far more productive (and interesting!) than shouting at or silencing those with whom I disagree, I would relish the opportunity to put Ted Cruz in the hot seat.
If only more gay people agreed. Because according to a large and vocal portion of the LGBT community, we can now add supping at the same table with someone who opposes gay marriage to the list of unforgivable homophobic acts worthy of condemnation and ostracism.
That’s the lesson gleaned from the ordeal of Ian Reisner and Mati Weiderpass, two wealthy gay hoteliers, who hosted Cruz and his wife at their Manhattan apartment last week for said “fireside chat.”
The event was not a fundraiser, though it has mistakenly been called such (including by my Beast colleague Jay Michaelson), and so no one can claim that Reisner and Weiderpass were offering support to Cruz’s nascent presidential bid.
The purpose of the meeting was twofold: to discuss the political situation in the Middle East and gay rights. On the former, the group was in agreement, with Riesner telling The New York Times that Cruz “was on point on every issue that has to do with national security.” Regarding the latter, there was “strong” disagreement, what with Riesner and Wiederpass both big-money contributors to gay rights causes.
Gay marriage “is done—it’s just going to happen,” Riesner told the Times. Ted Cruz probably disagrees with that triumphalism, but by all accounts, the group enjoyed a civil discussion in which differences were aired in a respectful and productive manner.
To some on the gay left, however, such subtleties are irrelevant. Immediately, the gay outrage squad went into action mode, doing what it usually does: calling for economic boycotts and heads to roll. On Facebook, someone too cowardly to reveal his own name started a group demanding the boycott of lodging establishments owned by the two men. As of this writing, it has nearly 10,000 supporters. Elsewhere on Facebook, Riesner and Weiderpass were called “cockroaches,” likened to Nazi collaborators, and worse.
Reisner was the first to buckle. Initially defending his decision to host Cruz, he changed his tune after a major AIDS fundraiser and the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus both canceled events scheduled to take place at venues he co-owns with Weiderpass. “I made a terrible mistake,” Reisner wrote on Facebook, prostrating himself before the bullies.
“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 will try my best to make up for my poor judgement. Again, I am deeply sorry.”
Weiderpass was quick to follow Reisner in the groveling. “I share Ian’s remorse,” he pleaded. “I made a terrible mistake. Unfortunately, I cannot undo this. You taught me a painful but important lesson. The people that know me know the work that I have done over the last 20 years for the advancement of gay rights. Today, I came to realize that I might have nullified my past efforts and accomplishments in just one week.”
The self-pitying over-dramatization was pathetic. Two decades of significant financial support to gay-rights causes—certainly more substantial than what many of his online antagonists, whose notion of activism entails calling people names on social media, have ever done—“nullified” because he broke bread with a senator whose view on gay marriage is essentially the same as the one expressed by Barack Obama a mere three years ago?
The pile-on resembles high school peer-pressure tactics, ironic considering the hell that many gay men—and it’s been mostly men going after Riesner and Weiderpass—endure through their adolescent years. But it also, sadly, makes sense. Most gay men, from a young age up through early adulthood if not beyond, endure a degree of trauma that straight people can never truly understand. They are made to feel worthless and are often bullied by their peers; some are kicked out of their homes and disowned by those who are supposed to love them unconditionally.
When I watch the overheated and frankly fanatical response to two gay men who simply invited an anti-gay politician and his wife into their home not to raise money for him but to understand him better and perhaps even make a positive impression that might influence his views, I can’t help but think that the vituperation is a form of psychological projection. Bullied and taunted in high school, they’re taking out their legitimate frustrations with an unfair, homophobic world on anyone remotely seen as upholding it: in this case, two fabulously wealthy gay guys who invited Ted Cruz into their house and didn’t poison the fondue.
The mob-inducing qualities of social media, in which the more hateful a comment is the more likes and retweets it generates, exacerbates the problem, especially when the community is one predisposed to employ camp, drama and hysterics as substitute for argument.
But there’s something deeper and frankly ominous about the gay left’s response to this “incident,” an absurd word to bestow upon what ought to have been a simple dinner party. For an increasingly large segment of the gay activist community, the debate about homosexuality and society is no longer about equality before the law—if it ever was. It’s about enforcing groupthink. This attitude largely explains the furor over various religious liberty laws, which would, for example, permit some businessmen to abstain from offering their services at gay weddings.
Gays have won the cultural argument and are likely about to win the legal argument definitively this summer, when the Supreme Court is expected to find in favor of a national right to same-sex marriage. But some of us won’t be content until every hillbilly baker in the country is obliged to make cakes for gay nuptials.
Nor is simple agreement with gay marriage sufficient. Even respectable elements of the gay left will not be satisfied until everyone accepts the full panoply of the progressive policy agenda, and, moreover, make a public show of that commitment. “It’s not a coincidence that Cruz is anti-gay and also anti-social-safety net, anti-reproductive justice, and anti-affirmative action,” wrote Michaelson. “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.”
It would seem to follow that being deemed an acceptable interlocutor is dependent upon your acceptance of the “one big package” that is contemporary progressivism. Are you pro-gay marriage but support tax cuts? Maybe you’re a gay Catholic who opposes abortion, an issue that it no way affects gay men? Do you believe that citizens should be judged not by the color of their skin, but the content of their character, and therefore oppose race-based preferences in hiring? If so, are you then a sell-out, because “these all go together” with being attracted to people of the same sex?
This thinking is the curse that the post-modern concept of “intersectionality” has plagued upon our culture, mandating that all forms of “oppression” are “interconnected.” What l’affaire Cruz reveals is that it’s not just opposition to gay marriage that the gay left finds intolerable—it’s any view with which they happen to disagree, including ones not even remotely related to legal equality. Ted Cruz could come out tomorrow in favor of gay marriage and announce his grand marshal-ship of the New York City gay pride parade and it would not make a lick of difference to many of the people now calling for boycotts of the city’s gay clubs and hotels.
Had Reisner and Weiderpass raised money for Cruz, then those gays up in arms would have more justification for their outrage. But all that the pair did was host the senator for “an open dialogue,” in Reisner’s words, something that, far from being devious was in fact admirable, as talking “with those who have differing political opinions is a part of what this country was founded on.” If Obama can meet with the likes of Raul Castro, who heads a regime that threw gay men into concentration camps where they were worked to death, why can’t a couple of gay businessmen have dinner with a politician who opposes same-sex marriage?
It’s ironic that Reisner and Weiderpass are being lambasted for being greedy when their swift denunciation of Cruz and profuse apologies for having the gall to host him were so evidently motivated by fear of backlash against their various businesses (gay-themed hotels and bars), so heavily dependent upon gay community patronage. Had Reisner and Weiderpass stood their ground and ignored the braying hordes, they might have lost some business. But they would have proven their critics—who accuse them of venality—wrong. By caving in, they confirm that accusation.
In their anger at the hoteliers, many LGBTs are missing an important development, which is what Cruz allegedly said during the conversation. In addition to reiterating his well-known opposition to gay marriage, the Texas senator also told the assembled guests that, “If one of my daughters was gay, I would love them just as much.”
That might seem like a low bar for those of us gay people lucky enough to have parents who accepted us as we are. But it’s the right thing to say nonetheless—an important thing to say—and a far cry from what other Republican candidates with anti-equality views have uttered (and in some cases done) to their own gay children. By his mere visiting the home of a pair of prominent, openly gay businessmen, and with his comments about loving his hypothetical gay daughter, Cruz set an important marker for conservative Republican politicians.
What’s most troubling about this entire episode is that so many gay people believe it is perfectly acceptable to use illiberal tactics to threaten other gay people simply for the act of having a conversation. It’s ironic, because gays won their newfound equality through free speech and free association, not bullying. For the younger generation of gays—who know next to nothing about the gay experience in America—the ignorance of this history is understandable, if lamentable. It’s the behavior of the older ones I find unforgivable.
Speaking one’s mind, particularly with those with whom we disagree, is the very lifeblood of democracy. Gay people won the argument about homosexuality because they decided to make one: forcefully, eloquently and repeatedly.
The riots at Stonewall were the spark, but they were hardly enough. It was people like Frank Kameny, fired from his job in the Army Map Service, who argued successfully that homosexuality should be removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s list of mental disorders, and who lobbied the federal government to lift its ban on homosexuals working in the civil service. Andrew Sullivan penned eloquent essays making the case for same-sex marriage at a time when most people—many of them fellow homosexuals—thought he was crazy. A dedicated team of gay legal geniuses has argued cases across the country and at the Supreme Court, tracing the case for gay equality to the country’s founding documents. And yes, countless gay people have held “fireside chats” with those who didn’t understand them, or found them perverted or ungodly—and changed their minds.
Ian Reisner and Mati Weiderpass apparently didn’t change Ted Cruz’s mind. But if anyone should be apologizing it’s not the gay hoteliers, but rather the social media brigades who attacked them.