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Peter Thiel’s $1.25 million donation to Donald Trump is a lot more than ‘free speech’

Today, we struggle to rationalize Thiel’s power and influence as he moves further and further out there.

Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, delivers a speech during the evening session on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention.
Chip Somodevilla / Getty

A version of this essay was published on Medium.

Diversity and inclusion are hard, especially in tech. Doing them right means agreeing on values, setting standards, calling out bad behavior and sometimes firing people. At Project Include, we call it getting comfortable being uncomfortable with the hard work of reshaping a homogeneous industry.

Today, we struggle to rationalize Peter Thiel’s power and influence as he moves further and further out there. We were confused by his seasteading funding, angered by his negative views on women’s voting rights, amused by his reported fixation with living to 120, and annoyed by his keynoting the Republican National Convention.

But we are completely outraged to read about Thiel donating $1.25 million to Trump, "apparently unfazed by the storm around the candidate in the last week following the broadcasting of lewd conversations."

While all of us believe in the ideas of free speech and open platforms, we draw a line here. We agree that people shouldn’t be fired for their political views, but this isn’t a disagreement on tax policy, this is advocating hatred and violence.

And donating $1.25 million is a lot more than speech.

Money is power.

Giving more power to someone whose ascension and behavior strike fear into so many people is unacceptable. His attacks on Black, Mexican, Asian, Muslim and Jewish people, on women and on others are more than just political speech; fueled by hate and encouraging violence, they make each of us feel unsafe.

At Project Include, our mission is to give everyone a fair chance to succeed in the workplace. "Everyone" means all groups to us, but we draw a line at individuals who fund violence and hate. We believe differences should be bridged with tolerance and empathy, not amplified by rage and fear. Diversity and inclusion are the source of open discussions and better decisions.

Y Combinator has cited many reasons for leaving Thiel in his current role, some of which we can understand. We at Project Include have no direct relationship with Thiel, so it is easier for us to explicitly distance ourselves from him.

We have hope for YC; YC has openly acknowledged bias and harassment problems in tech, and it has made progress in diversity and inclusion in its own organization over the last few years. We saw an opportunity to work with YC companies interested in building vibrant and diverse organizations, and we actively invited YC as a contributor to our VC Include program to gain access to its nearly 1,000 companies and CEOs, who are greatly admired and emulated.

But Thiel’s actions are in direct conflict with our values at Project Include. Because of his continued connection to YC, we are compelled to break off our relationship with YC. We hope this situation changes, and that we are both willing to move forward together in the future. Today it is clear to us that our values are not aligned.

Sometimes hard decisions aren’t that hard after all.

Ellen Pao is the co-founder of Project Include, an open community working toward providing meaningful diversity and inclusion solutions for tech companies. A former partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, she was also former interim CEO at Reddit. She can be reached on Twitter @ekp.

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