RNC 2016: Paypal founder Peter Thiel becomes first person to acknowledge he is gay on a Republican convention stage

'Fake culture wars only distract us from our economic decline and nobody in this race is being honest about it except Donald Trump,' the billionaire investor said

Tim Walker
Friday 22 July 2016 02:54 BST
Mr Thiel, 48, was recently revealed as the secret donor behind Hulk Hogan's lawsuit against Gawker
Mr Thiel, 48, was recently revealed as the secret donor behind Hulk Hogan's lawsuit against Gawker ((Getty Images))

He’s a super-rich tech investor, a Californian, a gay man – and a Trump supporter. Peter Thiel, the founder of Paypal and the first venture capitalist to invest in Facebook, was perhaps the most high-profile businessman to speak at the Republican National Convention, besides the nominee himself. Yet his endorsement of Donald Trump has the potential to make him a pariah, both in Silicon Valley and in the LGBT community.

“I am proud to be gay,” Mr Thiel told the audience at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. “I am proud to be a Republican. But most of all I am proud to be an American.” Urging the crowd to come out and vote for the Republican nominee in November, he said: “I am not a politician, but neither is Donald Trump. He is a builder and it is time to rebuild America.”

The billionaire investor is the first person ever to acknowledge his or her homosexuality on a Republican convention stage, yet it is a convention that adopted a virulently anti-LGBT policy platform, including opposition to same-sex marriage and new transgender bathroom rules, and support for controversial, so-called “conversion therapy.”

Mr Thiel, 48, said he did not agree with every plank of the GOP platform, but described the debate over “who gets to use which bathroom” as “a distraction from our real problems”, explaining: “Fake culture wars only distract us from our economic decline and nobody in this race is being honest about it, except Donald Trump.”

From wealthy Silicon Valley, Mr Thiel admitted, “it is hard to see where America has gone wrong.” Calling the US economy “broken”, he lamented the stagnation of wages and the accumulation of wealth in Wall Street where, he said, “bankers inflate everything, from government bonds to Hillary Clinton’s speaking fees.”

Mr Thiel shares a libertarian streak with some other Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, harbouring a distaste for government so intense that he once floated the notion of launching vast ships in international waters, where he could operate beyond the reach of regulation. Recently, he was revealed as the secret donor behind Hulk Hogan’s privacy lawsuit against Gawker, spending millions of dollars in an effort to bankrupt the website that had publicly outed him in 2007.

Most of Silicon Valley tends to lean left, with Barack Obama raising more funds from tech donors in 2008 and 2012 than his Republican opponents, John McCain and Mitt Romney. During the 2016 primary season, Hillary Clinton received more contributions from the tech executive class than any other candidate.

But Mr Thiel broke with that norm, describing Ms Clinton as “incompetent” and blaming her for the long-term failure of the US intervention in Libya. “It is time to end the era of stupid wars and rebuild our country,” he said, echoing Mr Trump’s own isolationist rhetoric.

The technology industry instinctively approves of immigration and globalisation, the very bugbears that have driven so much of the Trump campaign’s success. Tech titans from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos have voiced distaste for the Republican nominee or his proposals. Last week, more than 130 tech industry leaders signed an open letter warning that Mr Trump “would be a disaster for innovation.”

Mr Thiel appeared to disagree. The German-born entrepreneur, whose parents moved to Cleveland from Frnakfurt when he was a one-year-old, harked back to the Cold War space programme as a time when the US government encouraged technological innovation. Today, he asserted, “Our nuclear bases still use floppy disks. Our newest fighter jets can’t fly in the rain. It would be kind to say our government’s technology works poorly, because it often doesn’t work at all."

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