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At RNC, Peter Thiel talks gay pride, warns Republicans away from 'fake culture wars'

During a speech at the Republican National Convention, the PayPal co-founder calls gender issues a "distraction from our real problems" and says Trump can rebuild an ailing economy.

Culture

Peter Thiel: "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?"

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Stop worrying about gender issues and turn your attention to the economy and other matters.

That's the message to Republicans from controversial tech investor and Trump supporter Peter Thiel, who delivered a speech Thursday at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

The PayPal co-founder and early Facebook backer -- who had a prime speaking spot, just a few slots before Trump himself -- became the first-ever speaker at an RNC to announce that he's proud to be gay. He also said GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump would be the right person to bring Silicon Valley's level of success to the US as a whole.

"When I was a kid, the great debate was about how to defeat the Soviet Union. And we won," Thiel said. "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?"

"I am proud to be gay. I am proud to be a Republican. But most of all I am proud to be an American," Thiel said. "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."

Thiel's appearance at the RNC comes as some other high-profile members of the technorati have been busy distancing themselves from Trump. Apple, HP and Motorola all pulled out of sponsoring the convention this time around. (They've traditionally provided equipment and other support to both parties' confabs.) And last week a number of tech VIPs, including former executives with Apple, Facebook and Google, signed an open letter saying that Trump "campaigns on anger, bigotry, fear of new ideas and new people" and would be "a disaster for innovation."

Thiel has also raised some eyebrows in the Valley by quietly bankrolling a successful lawsuit by Terry Bollea, aka Hulk Hogan, against Gawker Media. The case pitted freedom of the press against a celebrity's right to privacy and led Gawker into bankruptcy, raising questions about whether Thiel's campaign to undo Gawker could have a chilling effect on other publications. Thiel, outed as gay by Gawker publication Valleywag in 2007, has said he was fighting a bully that has ruined people's lives.

But Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said he didn't think "a billionaire should be able to fund a lawsuit to kill Gawker."

In his RNC speech, Thiel conjured up a golden age when innovation and opportunity existed throughout the United States and not just in a West Coast tech hub, an era when the US was preparing to send a man to the moon and "the future felt limitless."

"But today our government is broken,"

he said. "Our nuclear bases still use floppy disks. Our newest fighter jets can't even fly in the rain. And it would be kind to say the government's software works poorly, because much of the time it doesn't even work at all."

Thiel's "who cares" remark at the RNC, about gender issues, might not line up with the thinking of a number of Silicon Valley's elite. In March, more than 90 business leaders, including the CEOs of Apple, Facebook, Twitter and Salesforce.com, pushed politicians in North Carolina to repeal a law there that they feared could be used to discriminate against people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

As for Trump and LGBT rights, it's complicated. The candidate is said by some to be more accepting of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community than GOP leaders have been. "He will be the most gay-friendly Republican nominee for president ever," Gregory T. Angelo, president of LGBT-rights group the Log Cabin Republicans, told The New York Times in April.

The following month, however, Angelo backed off a bit, noting in a comment to the Daily Mail that Trump "has taken documented stands on both sides of the marriage equality debate." And this week, Angelo told The Wall Street Journal that the GOP's current platform is "the most anti-LGBT platform in the party's 162-year history."

If Trump is sometimes hard to read, that's only fitting for his iconoclastic approach to election season.

"I'm not a politician," Thiel said. "But neither is Donald Trump. He is a builder, and it's time to rebuild America."

Full text of Thiel's speech

Good evening. I'm Peter Thiel.

I build companies and I support people who are building new things, from social networks to rocket ships.

I'm not a politician.

But neither is Donald Trump.

He is a builder, and it's time to rebuild America.

Where I work in Silicon Valley, it's hard to see where America has gone wrong.

My industry has made a lot of progress in computers and in software, and, of course, it's made a lot of money.

But Silicon Valley is a small place.

Drive out to Sacramento, or even just across the bridge to Oakland, and you won't see the same prosperity. That's just how small it is.

Across the country, wages are flat.

Americans get paid less today than ten years ago. But healthcare and college tuition cost more every year. Meanwhile Wall Street bankers inflate bubbles in everything from government bonds to Hillary Clinton's speaking fees.

Our economy is broken. If you're watching me right now, you understand this better than any politician in Washington. And you know this isn't the dream we looked forward to. Back when my parents came to America looking for that dream, they found it--right here in Cleveland.

They brought me here as a one-year-old, and this is where I became an American.

Opportunity was everywhere.

My Dad studied engineering at Case Western Reserve University, just down the road from where we are now. Because in 1968, the world's high tech capital wasn't just one city: all of America was high tech.

It's hard to remember this, but our government was once high tech, too. When I moved to Cleveland, defense research was laying the foundations for the Internet. The Apollo program was just about to put a man on the moon--and it was Neil Armstrong, from right here in Ohio.

The future felt limitless.

But today our government is broken. Our nuclear bases still use floppy disks. Our newest fighter jets can't even fly in the rain. And it would be kind to say the government's software works poorly, because much of the time it doesn't even work at all.

That is a staggering decline for the country that completed the Manhattan Project. We don't accept such incompetence in Silicon Valley, and we must not accept it from our government.

Instead of going to Mars, we have invaded the Middle East. We don't need to see Hillary Clinton's deleted emails: her incompetence is in plain sight. She pushed for a war in Libya, and today it's a training ground for ISIS. On this most important issue, Donald Trump is right. It's time to end the era of stupid wars and rebuild our country.

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 am 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.

While it is fitting to talk about who we are, today it's even more important to remember where we came from. For me that is Cleveland, and the bright future it promised.

When Donald Trump asks us to Make America Great Again, he's not suggesting a return to the past. He's running to lead us back to that bright future.

Tonight I urge all of my fellow Americans to stand up and vote for Donald Trump.

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