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‘Proud to be gay’ Peter Thiel has a top job on the transition team that just appointed a virulently anti-gay politician to shepherd domestic policy vetting

Literal versus serious is getting too close for comfort to an important rights issue for tech.

Trump Supporter And Entrepreneur Peter Thiel Discusses Presidential Elections
Peter Thiel is proud to be gay — most of the time, at least.
Alex Wong / Getty Images

Strong support of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues has been a hallmark of tech companies in Silicon Valley for a very long time now, with major players like Apple and Salesforce backing issues like gay marriage or fighting loudly against retrograde laws aimed at limiting gay rights in states like Indiana and North Carolina.

Even investor Peter Thiel made an issue of it at the Republican National Convention this summer when he spoke in support of now president-elect Donald J. Trump. Thiel said the party needed to stop focusing on social issues, like who gets to go to which bathroom.

"This is a distraction from our real problems. Who cares?" said the ultimate pragmatist Thiel, who also declared, “I am proud to be gay.”

Still, the expert-at-threading-the-needle Thiel also noted that “I don't pretend to agree with every plank of our party platform,” which included some pretty awful ones attacking LGBT rights.

Just words, right? As Thiel later noted in another speech to the National Press Club, “the media takes Trump literally but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously but not literally.” I am still trying to grok that bizarre pretzel logic, but I think he means Trump is largely just punking us all on the crazier stuff.

But maybe not so much, since the transition team — Thiel was just named to the 16-person executive committee — just announced that former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell will head the handling of domestic policy issues for the administration. That means he’ll play a big role in vetting who gets the plum jobs in a range of key areas.

In case you never heard of him, Blackwell is now a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, the Christian lobbying organization well known for its persistently ugly attacks on LGBT rights. Blackwell is right there with them, saying in 2006 when he was running for governor of Ohio: “I think homosexuality is a lifestyle, it’s a choice, and that lifestyle can be changed. I think it is a transgression against God’s law, God’s will.”

In that Q&A with the Columbus Dispatch, he also added this gem: “The reality is … that I think we make choices all the time. And I think you make good choices and bad choices in terms of lifestyle. Our expectation is that one’s genetic makeup might make one more inclined to be an arsonist or might make one more inclined to be a kleptomaniac. Do I think that they can be changed? Yes.”

Now is that literal or serious, Peter, that Blackwell thinks you like to steal or set fire to things? (I am a fire lady myself!)

Doubtlessly, Thiel would argue with his always forceful intelligence that none of this really matters and that it’s a big and complex transition over which he has only some influence. (But let’s review: There are only 16 people on the transition executive committee and Thiel clearly can out-think and out-maneuver them all, except maybe the crafty Trump campaign CEO Steve Bannon.)

But it seems as if he either has no real influence or chooses to not exercise it on issues like gay rights that have long mattered to techies, except perhaps advocating for their business interests. Thiel is on the board of Facebook and is a big investor in high-profile companies like Palantir (privacy regulation), Airbnb (hotel regulation) and SoFi (financial regulation), all of which will need a lifeline into the new Trump regime.

Since he is pretty much Silicon Valley’s only conduit to the new administration at this point, it will be interesting to see what he pushes for and what he does not. So far, on the gay rights issues that tech has always supported strongly: Silence.

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