Peter Thiel, the openly gay PayPal co-founder and Silicon Valley entrepreneur who spent almost a decade plotting the destruction of Gawker for publishing the open secret of his sexual orientation in 2007, told the crowd at the Republican National Convention Thursday night that personal identity doesn’t matter all that much. Instead of worrying about protecting marginalized Americans from identity-based violence and discrimination, Thiel suggested, we should be focusing on the economy and getting to Mars.
Here’s the transcript:
When I was a kid, the great debate was about how to defeat the Soviet Union. And we won. Now we are told that the great debate is about who gets to use which bathroom. This is a distraction from our real problems. Who cares? Of course, every American has a unique identity. I am proud to be gay. I’m proud to be a Republican. But most of all, I am proud to be an American. I don’t pretend to agree with every plank in our party’s platform, but fake culture wars only distract us from our economic decline. And nobody in this race is being honest about it except Donald Trump.
Who cares! In the bathroom line, Thiel is referring to the ongoing battle over the right of transgender people to use gendered facilities that comport with their identities. A generous reading of his intent here, given his vocal libertarianism, is that the state shouldn’t be involved in policing where people pee. With this, trans folks and their supporters would generally agree. The trouble is, plenty of people, both in the government and on the street, are extremely interested in policing, often violently, bathroom use and many other private activities that are part of LGBTQ lives. Which is why nondiscrimination laws—like the one in Charlotte that North Carolina’s HB2 overruled—are so necessary. Until such protections are in place, “fake culture wars” are very real indeed.
Of course, all the arrogance of this statement really proves is that Thiel lives in a reality-disrupting cocoon of privilege. Only in the last few years could a white gay man like him feel secure enough in American society to think that identity-based discrimination isn’t a “real problem.” Luckily, most of the LGBTQ community isn’t so blind.