Reisner, Weiderpass, and the GOP Bid for Jewish Votes

The LGBT community has, in recent decades, made itself a major factor in presidential politics, not least when large sums of money have been raised at gala events for Democratic candidates. To the extent that Republican hopefuls have engaged gays and lesbians at all, it has been at considerable distance, often in quiet meetings with the Log Cabin Republicans attended only by campaign staff. So, it was striking when a particularly unlikely candidate, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, reached out last week to gay men as part of a larger drive to pull Jewish voters into the GOP fold.

The effort to woo the Jewish community couldn’t have higher stakes. Among white males in the US, Jews and gays are the most reliable Democratic voters. It would be a game changer if Jews in significant numbers joined joined the GOP coalition — a possibility that has generated all sorts of speculation since Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, addressed Congress to complain about President Barack Obama’s handling of negotiations with Iran.

Whoever approached developers Ian Reisner and Mati Weiderpass told the two men Cruz was a good friend of Israel, and that apparently was enough for them. Despite Cruz’s base among evangelical fundamentalist voters and his anti-gay zealotry across a wide spectrum of issues, the men, without any obvious deep thought, saw sentiments like the senator saying he would still love a daughter who was gay as evidence of his good will.

The Long View

As if a politician’s posture toward the LGBT community could be reduced to the private matter of how you treat someone in your own family. Community and politics are about much more than that; they involve solidarity with groups and individuals outside yourself. Obvious as this may be, it was apparently a novel idea to the penthouse party-givers.

Cruz is proud, outspoken, and fervent is his opposition to LGBT equality. He has voiced an eagerness to lead a last-ditch battle to undo any prospective favorable Supreme Court marriage ruling, he belittles Texas politicians who reach out to the LGBT community, and he issues clarion calls urging homophobes to stand firm against the incursions he believes gay rights make against the nation’s tradition of “religious freedom.” We need “praying warriors,” he says, to preserve marriage between one man and one woman.

Reisner and Weiderpass, if their most recent words mean anything, have quickly wised up to the fact that they must find a way to fight for Israel while also standing with the LGBT community. In a carefully crafted, abject apology, they acknowledged the hurt they caused “friends” and “customers,” “allies” and “employees.” LGBT organizations including Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus, and Urban Bear, gay political clubs, and Queer Nation had all made clear — but fast — that West 42nd Street’s Out Hotel and the Fire Island Pines businesses where the men are owners would be off-limits unless a reconciliation were forged.

The outpouring of organizational and social media outrage about the Cruz event practically clubbed Reisner and Weiderpass into reaching a conclusion that should have been obvious from the start. Their political sympathies for Israel may pull them to the right, but their business depends on the good will of the LGBT community — one that largely aligns itself on the Democratic left.

Their verbal apologies are only a start. Reisner and Weiderpass are now living in a fish bowl and people will watch to judge the full measure of their amends.

Despite longstanding antipathy among Orthodox Jews toward the LGBT community, the ties between gays and mainstream Jews are strong and reflect decades of cooperation. Even in the Orthodox community, some are now listening to pleas for change, growing from an awareness that rejecting gay children will only lose them to the religion.

Unprying Jewish voters from the Democratic coalition would be a big win for the Republican Party, and Netanyahu has been only too happy to act as the fulcrum of that effort in his bid to undermine Obama’s Middle East policy. But the longstanding support the Jewish community has shown for anti-discrimination and equality initiatives remains solid, and it’s remarkable that two high-profile gay men, Reisner and Weiderpass, were willing to leave that legacy behind. Here’s hoping that they’ve learned something about the meaning of community over the past week.

It would be a dreadful outcome if the victory of marriage equality were to lead other gays to follow Reisner’s simplistic assertion that “it’s done,” that the community’s political goals have all been achieved. There remains a leading political party in which many leaders believe queers can, without peril, be ignored. Perhaps that complacency was shaken, at least a bit, by the outpouring of anger here in New York against Ted Cruz.