In the face of a protest planned for April 27, one of two gay Manhattan developers who last week hosted a highly publicized dinner and “fireside chat” with Texas Senator Ted Cruz –– a Republican presidential candidate long outspoken in his opposition to LGBT equality –– has issued an abject apology on Facebook.
“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, on the evening of April 26. “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've spent the past 24 hours reviewing videos of Cruz’ statements on gay marriage and I am shocked and angry. 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 and Mati Weiderpass, his co-owner at the Out Hotel, business partner at Parkview Developers, and former lover, hosted the Texas senator at the Central Park South penthouse they own together.
Earlier this year, Reisner and a Fire Island businessman announced their joint purchase of roughly 80 percent of the commercial property in the Fire Island Pines for $10 million.
In the wake of the April 20 Cruz event, Reisner and Weiderpass became the subject of widespread online ire –– including a Facebook page calling for a boycott of the Out Hotel and Reisner’s Fire Island properties that garnered nearly 8,400 likes by the evening of April 26. The boycott page chronicled 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.
Also on April 24, activists began organizing a rally planned for early evening on April 27 –– to mark both the eve of Supreme Court arguments expected to settle the question of marriage equality nationwide by June 30 and to protest Reisner and Weiderpass’ flirtation with Cruz. The call to protest was endorsed by the city’s LGBT Democratic clubs –– Brooklyn’s Lambda Independent Democrats, the Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club of Queens, the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, and the Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City –– as well as the direct action group Queer Nation. Demonstrators were expected to gather at Broadway and 46th Street at 5:45 p.m. for a marriage equality vigil and, at 7, march to the Out Hotel at 510 West 42nd Street to voice their anger over the Cruz fête.
As this story was posted, neither the clubs nor Queer Nation had yet responded to Gay City News' query about whether Reisner's apology would affect their protest plans.
[Editor's note: On the morning of April 27, several people among the organizers of the protest told Gay City News it would go forward as originally planned.]
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. He was critical of Governor Mike Pence when the Indiana Republican recently backed down in the face of furor over that state’s radical religious freedom bill widely seen as a license to discriminate against gays. He also blasted business leaders who put pressure on Pence to modify the new law.
When Cruz first ran for the Senate, in 2012, he 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.
“What I am saying is that when a mayor of a city chooses twice to march in a parade celebrating gay pride, that’s a statement –– and it’s not a statement I agree with,” said Cruz, who has repeatedly voiced the view that homosexuality is 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.
According to the Times, during his penthouse fireside chat the Texas senator mentioned his close friendship with Peter Thiel, a gay investor who has been a “generous” campaign contributor. The event was moderated by Kalman Sporn, who advises Cruz on Middle East issues, the newspaper reported.
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.”
Sporn, the Cruz adviser, was also at the Johnson event.
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.
In explaining Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS’ decision to cancel its Out Hotel event, Tom Viola, the group’s longtime executive director, wrote, “I have never considered that all of our many supporters would ever vote monolithically, nor is there a political litmus test for any one of us. But when any politician publicly holds so many of us in contempt and promotes the institution of law and public policy that condemns or diminishes all that BC/EFA stands for, full equality for all and the very people who we are committed to embrace, we cannot be misunderstood as standing with him/ her. And unfortunately, silence, or in this case inaction, is not a neutral position. This is not about partisan politics or punishment. This is about doing what’s right to ultimately ensure that BC/EFA's commitment to the men, women and children we serve cannot be questioned.”
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.
As of the time when this story was posted, Weiderpass had not joined Reisner in recanting his decision to host Cruz.
[Editor's note: Late in the night of April 26, Weiderpass posted a message on Facebook that said, in part, "I share in Ian's remorse. I, too, lay humbled with what has happened in the last week. I made a terrible mistake."]
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.” In a subsequent Facebook post, Reisner said he’s been an “ardent supporter and activist” for LGBT rights worldwide his entire adult life. He also claimed to have hosted a Ready for Hillary event at the Out Hotel earlier this year, an assertion challenged by Queer Nation, which pointed out he was not listed as a sponsor or contributor on the event’s online page.
Asked to clarify that issue, Reisner told Gay City News, “I personally arranged and organized and encouraged the event” with Ready for Hillary activists, but explained, “I don't put my name on events fliers in general,” given the large number of charitable and political events the hotel hosts.
Lane Hudson, one of the two lead organizers of the Clinton event, in an email to Gay City News, was full of praise for Reisner’s assistance in planning what he said was the most successful Ready for Hillary event anywhere, but acknowledged that Reisner’s engagement differed little from his typical businessman’s role as barkeep at the 42West club inside the Out Hotel. “The space was provided at no cost,” Hudson said in an email. “42West made money off of the liquor sales.”
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.”