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Why We Did It: Gay Hoteliers Open Up About Why They Hosted Ted Cruz



Almost two weeks after they hosted a dinner – which they insist was not a fundraiser – for Ted Cruz, two gay NYC real estate developers open up about why they did it and what happened before, during, and after – including something about a previous naked game of Twister at the “scene of the crime.”


Despite the media calling them prominent businessmen in the gay community, until last month the names Mati Weiderpass and Ian Reisner would almost certainly draw a “who?” from almost any NYC LGBT person. But today, the former romantic and current business partners who own a gay Hell’s Kitchen hotel they named The OUT NYC, along with several dozen other properties in Manhattan and a reported three-quarters of the land in the very gay-friendly getaway known as the Fire Island Pines, have made a name for themselves, and it’s not a positive one.

The pair hosted virulently anti-gay U.S. Senator and declared Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz in their Central Park South home now almost two weeks ago. When word got out – via a tip some say they gave to the New York Times, and because Weiderpass proudly posted photos on his Facebook page – the LGBT community and their allies went ballistic.

So did Ted Cruz’s supporters – even the Log Cabin Republicans, who in great likelihood will support him if he becomes the GOP nominee. The right quickly reminded the embattled Texas Tea Party darling that a 23-year old had died of a drug overdose in that very apartment just months earlier. 

Protests came quickly, first via social media, and a boycott group on Facebook, and Weiderpass and Reisner say, email. Lots and lots of email. Then, over 100 activists waving signs this past Monday in front of their OUT NYC hotel. 

The pair first issued a press release lauding the dinner. Despite the fact that Cruz was in New York that night to hop from one fundraiser to another to another – reportedly five or six – they claimed in their statement this was not a fundraiser; it was a conversation about Israel, ISIS, and other foreign policy interests the couple say they share with the Senator. The self-congratulatory press release, also an attempt to put out the quickly growing firestorm, lauded their accomplishment of getting Cruz to say he would “unconditionally” love his daughter, were she to be gay.

Later, they backtracked, calling the dinner “a terrible mistake.”

In response to his critics, Cruz claimed he defended traditional marriage during the event, while those there said he merely claimed it should be a states’ rights issue. But Cruz also issue a press release, saying that the dinner proved he is a “big tent Republican.”

In a week during which Republican presidential candidates were racing to or from microphones when asked if they would attend a same-sex wedding, giving the “family values” Texas Tea Partier an opportunity to look good was not really a win for the LGBT community, albeit, fortunately, one for Cruz’s offspring. 

Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, and several other prominent LGBT organizations canceled scheduled events at The OUT NYC, with Broadway Cares referring to Weiderpass and Reisner as “toxic.”

Also attacking Weiderpass and Reisner was U.S. Congressman Mark Pocan, who penned an open letter to the LGBT community directed at the NYC real estate magnates. “People, we need to get ourselves together,” the Democratic Representative from Wisconsin implored. He added, “let’s not support those who believe we’ll burn in hell because of who we are and who we love.”

And just yesterday, the LGBT Caucus of the New York City Council issued a statement denouncing Weiderpass and Reisner, calling their hosting of Cruz, and a recent fundraiser for Republican Senator Ron Johnson, who is no friend of the gay community, “the height of irresponsibility.”

“Owning businesses that cater to the LGBT community comes with a heightened level of responsibility. For the proprietors of the OUTnyc and Fire Island Pines, hosting anti-LGBT politicians like Senators Ted Cruz and Ron Johnson in their home – for whatever reason – was the height of irresponsibility. We hope that the events of the last week send a message to businesses that serve our community: you cannot make money from our community and support those who don’t support our basic civil rights.”

So, why did they do it?

In an interview with New York Magazine’s Carl Swanson, published late Friday, the pair reveal why, how the dinner came to be, and what happened that night. 

The interview begins thusly:

So this is where Cruz sat?
Reisner: This is the crime scene. Yellow ribbon. 
Weiderpass: A friend of mine, when he saw the article, said, “Wait a minute, don’t you remember when I came over, it was several years ago, and we had a game of Twister in the same exact spot?” And it was actually a game of naked Twister. 
Reisner: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let’s not go there.

And Reisner explains how the dinner came to be – as it turns out, through a mutual friend. Apparently, Ted Cruz – who days after dining with “the gays” filed two bills to halt same-sex marriage and to make banning it constitutional – has gay friends. 

So how did this dinner happen? 
Reisner: A friend of mine for 20 years, Kalman Sporn, he’s a political strategist. He actually is doing some advisory — was doing some advisory work for the state of Israel for the Cruz campaign. And I think they’ve since put him on hold. He called just a couple days before and said, “I’m going to be at this event with Senator Cruz at the New York Athletic Club, a fund-raiser, and he’s going to be with his wife. Would you like to invite your [business] partner Sam Domb?” Sam is almost 80 years old, an Orthodox Jew, a New Yorker at heart, been here 50 years, owns a lot of hotels — welfare hotels, regular hotels — very strong supporter of the state of Israel, worked for Giuliani, was his campaign manager, I think, unofficially way back when he first started … He’s our godfather; he taught us the business. He’s even the landlord on the Out.

Weiderpass also talks about serving in the Army, how difficult it was to be gay, or to realize you are gay, and be in the service during Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and how he worked with SLDN, an LGBT soldiers’ support and advocacy group to repeal DADT.

He says it was a “natural” for him, “to go up against people” who are against him. And “the opportunity came along to meet somebody who is in the Senate, running for president, is against gay rights … he came to my home for a private dinner, not a fund-raiser. That was absolute — it was not a fund-raiser.”

“There were no checks given,” says Reisner, echoing the insistence. “It was nothing like that.”

And then Weiderpass says he turned the conversation to LGBT rights.

“And so after dinner was over, then I invited the senator’s wife to come sit over here, we had the fireplace going, and then I just sort of eased into it as, I said, you realize that you’re having dinner at a gay household. It was sort of the elephant in the room. And it just came out. And then he says, yes. And then I said to him, I noticed that you only took one phone call the entire night. You know, when you have politicians they’re always on their BlackBerries or sending text messages and stuff. No one took a phone call. He took one; it was for his 7-year-old daughter. So I said that to him and I said, so what would happen if your daughter turned out to be a lesbian? And he said, I would love her just the same.”

And more:

“So now if you have a daughter who’s a lesbian, now the next thing is, now she’s grown up. Where’s she going to get married? Does she have to go shopping around for a state that allows gay marriage? Are you going to go to your own daughter’s wedding? Or are you going to boycott it? Are you going to invite your friends? Are your friends going to be embarrassed to come? How do you reconcile all that? It doesn’t. And that’s what I tried to do in a very polite, respectful way — to create this situation which in your mind is hard to reconcile. And then I asked about, do you have any gay friends? They were so proud to tell us about all their gay friends. So then it’s like, how can you be so anti-gay out there with a platform when you’re bragging about your gay friends? Again, it doesn’t make sense.”

The interview certainly paints a more developed picture of how the dinner-slash-totally-not-a-fundraiser-or-anything-like-that came to be, and what they hoped to accomplish.

But the fact remains that they did this to themselves. The smart thing to do would have been to be transparent and public about the dinner, perhaps include, or at least consult with members of the NYC LGBT community, and not make it seem so self-promotional in the first place.

Are we in an age where people with opposing views can’t even sit together for dinner without the media and each side throwing stones? No. Does making your fortune off a group of oppressed people carry great responsibility to not support those who, as Rep. Pocan said, “believe we’ll burn in hell because of who we are and who we love”?

Hell yes.


Image, top, via Facebook
Hat tip: TJ


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