This is what we've descended to when it comes to cultural engagement: A charity group that raises millions of dollars annually to fight AIDS has canceled a fundraiser because the gay guys who own the club hosted a reception with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
To be clear: There is no evidence that these two men, Ian Reisner and Mati Weiderpass, have given any money to Cruz. The reception was not a fundraiser. In fact, Reisner's donation history shows him giving thousands of dollars to the Democratic Party. He has also given money to Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. He also gave money to Republican Rudy Giuliani when he ran for president back in 2008. He's not entirely a single party donor, but he is definitely focusing on Democrats. Weiderpass has a very similar donation history.
But that's apparently not enough. The two men hosted a meeting with Cruz, as The New York Times reported last week. The purpose of the meeting appeared to be to talk about Israel, but they did push Cruz on his position on gay marriage.
Somehow this was a bad and wrong thing to do, according to some in the gay community. The men are, I guess, supposed to boycott Cruz. Since they did not boycott Cruz, there are now calls to boycott them. I took note of this on Friday afternoon, but I didn't think much would come of it because it seemed just too petty, even in our era of online outrage.
Nope. Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is a significant New York charity that raises millions of dollars every year to give out as grants. They have the best idea for a fund-raiser, too; they convince the attractive young men and women of Broadway to put on a burlesque show every year and take off their clothes. It's called Broadway Bares. They also do separate strip show fund-raisers. One of these, Broadway Bares Solo Strips, was scheduled for May 10 at one of the clubs owned by Reisner and Weiderpass. Hardly any time passed since the news broke of the meeting between Cruz and the two men when the executive director of the show announced they were flat out canceling it. From their executive director's statement:
We do business with and accept fundraising support from a variety of people across a wide spectrum of political and religious affiliations. The rich diversity of our community makes what we do together so special. It is a rare instance where the actions of a donor negatively impacts us as an organization and potentially jeopardizes our relationship with others whose support is integral to our success. But when it does occur, in a way that's blatantly against all we stand and work for, we can't pretend it doesn't come with consequences. Silence is not a neutral position. It is complicit.
This is not about partisan politics or punishment. This is about doing what's right to ultimately ensure that our commitment to the men, women and children we serve cannot be questioned.
They canceled a charitable fundraiser because the owners of the club hosting it met with and talked to a candidate for president with unpalatable views on gay marriage recognition. It is indeed partisan and obviously punishment (it's certainly punishment for whoever may have been the intended recipient of the donations). The New York City Gay Men's Chorus also canceled a fundraiser.
The two men are now falling all over themselves to apologize, because as I noted above, most of their financial donations have gone to Democrats and they are obviously huge supporters of the gay community. From Reisner's response:
"I was ignorant, naïve 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's 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."
Apparently Democratic LGBT groups are planning a protest outside of one of their hotels today, which is a good reason to repeat, again, that most of these guys' political donations have gone to the Democratic Party.
Back in 1999, I had the opportunity to cover a group of gay Christians from a then-new group called Soulforce. They trekked to Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, to meet with Jerry Falwell and his followers to push for gay acceptance. They were applauded for their activism in trying to lobby for a cultural shift in attitudes. It was a big media spectacle, and the University was protested not by angry gays but by the virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church, who thought Falwell was being too kind for agreeing to meet with them.
How did we get to a point that attempting to even engage ideological opponents in discussion is now beyond the pale? Here's a thing to think about: Cruz is probably the worst of the front-runner Republican candidates on gay issues. He is campaigning on his religious conservative opposition to recognizing gay marriages.
And yet, the legislation that he's proposing—the massive representation of his opposition—is not a ban at all. He is trying to keep power over marriage recognition in the hands of the states. Even if Cruz got his way—and he's not going to—we could still end up with legal gay marriage recognition in much of the country. Compare Cruz's position today with the kinds of things people were saying (in both parties) about gay marriage back in 1999.
Reisner and Weiderpass were absolutely right to meet with Cruz and attempt to push him on gay issues. Furthermore, every single rich gay person or gay ally should strive to do the same. Anybody who has enough power to get access to any presidential candidate should use the opportunity to try to get these conservatives to understand where culture is on gay marriage and make it very clear that opposition is not a winning issue. Boycotting these two guys in a fit of pique expresses a lack of maturity.
Also, the cynic in me expects that the charity strip show will be back on before May 10, once Reisner and Weiderpass offer a big donation to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS to match their apologies.