Like many of my peers, I nearly choked after hearing that gay businessmen Mati Weiderpass and Ian Reisner hosted U.S. senator and presidential aspirant Ted Cruz for a small gathering in their Central Park South penthouse last week. The evening was not billed as a fundraiser, just a cozy "fireside chat" with the Senate's resident firebrand.
On reflection, it makes unfortunate sense. Everybody knows the gays have money, and though Cruz fervently believes the government should discriminate against LGBT people because of whom we love, he is not about to discriminate when it comes to accepting campaign donations in a crowded field of GOP candidates.
As owners of Manhattan's Out NYC Hotel, with its XL and 42West nightclubs, and commercial properties in Fire Island Pines, Weiderpass and Reisner have done well for themselves. They are among the wealthy elite of New York City, where money buys access and the vast gulf between the richest rich and the poorest poor is on full display.
But in holding court with Cruz, Weiderpass and Reisner exhibited remarkable tone-deafness to the implications of allowing a fox like Cruz into the proverbial henhouse. Their prominence in our community and social scene renders them role models and tastemakers; their friendly evening with Cruz is tantamount to a stamp of approval.
And make no mistake: As audacious as it might be for an opponent of the "radical gay agenda," Cruz was courting Weiderpass, Reisner, and other gays by extension. The New York Timesreported that Cruz "told the group that Peter Thiel, an openly gay investor, is a close friend of his ... [and] has been a generous contributor to Mr. Cruz's campaigns." (Translation: "Even some gay people support me. You should too.") Following public outcry, calls to boycott their businesses, and a rally outside the Out NYC Hotel, Reisner and Weiderpass have been in damage control mode, assuring us they were simply having a "dialogue" with Cruz -- you know, the kind of "dialogue" that happens out of public view with a select audience in a Manhattan penthouse. They issued a statement emphasizing their commitment to marriage equality and donations to LGBT causes. A contrite Reisner posted on Facebook that he is "shaken to [his] bones" and regrets having not learned of Cruz's troubling statements on gay marriage before having him over to "dialogue."
As if Cruz's opposition to same-sex marriage (alone) is what makes him so contentious. The GOP's drift rightward has been decades in the making, but Cruz is a rare breed indeed. In his brief time as a senator, Cruz has distinguished himself by taking extreme policy positions that would needlessly harm millions of Americans, most of whom will never see the kind of wealth Weiderpass and Reisner have amassed. Worse, Cruz has advocated reckless and destructive tactics to achieve these ends.
In October 2013, he helped engineer a 16-day government shutdown to stop the implementation of Obamacare. Had he been successful, his gambit would have prevented millions from gaining health insurance. He's denounced what he calls "illegal amnesty" for unauthorized immigrants and dismissed global warming as climate "alarmism." He supports means-testing Medicare and Social Security and a "flat tax" that favors the wealthy and corporations.
To be sure, the policies Cruz advocates would have little or no impact on wealthy businesspeople like Weiderpass and Reisner, and might even ease their tax burden, but the fact is, they would be damaging to the vast majority. No one is suggesting that the LGBT population is monolithic or that our members should toe a singular party line. Our tent has historically been big enough to include diverse viewpoints, from Log Cabin Republicans to the many LGBT academics who criticized marriage equality from the left as heteronormative.
Still, in 2015, while anticipating a historic Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, the LGBT community -- specifically our wealthier members -- must be mindful of our own privileged position. The newfound freedom we're growing into is far from universal, and too many people, gay and straight, are still left behind because of race, sex, age, poverty, disability, gender identity and expression, and HIV status.
And it's these "left behinds" -- not the Weiderpasses, Reisners, and their ilk -- who have the most to lose under a Cruz presidency. So the next time Weiderpass and Reisner decide to flirt with a firebrand, they should remember it's not just same-sex marriage policy that divides us and that not all of us have been as fortunate to have risen so far so fast.
PETER BASSO is a civil rights attorney and community activist living in Jersey City, N.J.