CLEVELAND — Tech billionaire Peter Thiel got a roaring response from the Republican National Convention crowd when he declared he was “proud to be gay” and “proud to be a Republican” during his big speech Thursday night.
Republicans at the event told Business Insider that it was generally “good” to have someone represent the LGBT community on the stage — the first to do so in 16 years — but that it wasn’t the major point of Thiel’s speech.
“Well, Peter Thiel is a remarkable person,” Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama told Business Insider, before Thiel took the stage in Cleveland. “He’s got some brilliant ideas and I think we’ll all be interested in listening to him and I think it’s good to have and I certainly think it’s alright that he has a lifestyle, whatever he wants.”
Renee Slinkard, an alternate delegate from Kansas, said she didn’t “have a problem” with Thiel mentioning his sexual identity.
“I thought it was fine,” she told Business Insider of the speech. “If he wants to say he’s gay that’s fine. I don’t have a problem with that.”
Thiel, a friend of Trump, spoke of how Trump is pushing the conversation away from “distractions” that are hampering the country.
“When I was a kid, the great debate was about how to defeat the Soviet Union,” he said. “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,” he continued. “I am proud to be gay. I am proud to be a Republican. But most of all I am proud to be an American.”
He admitted that he doesn’t “pretend to agree with every plank” in the Republican Party platform, which included that marriage is between one man and one woman.
“But fake culture wars only distract us from our economic decline,” he continued. “And nobody in this race is being honest about it except Donald Trump.”
Gary Teal, an alternate delegate from Washington, DC, thought it would have been “easy enough” for Thiel to not even mention being gay because “it’s really not relevant to economic kinds of issues” — but the fact he did led to something much greater.
“The reaction was unequivocal,” Teal told Business Insider. “He was cheered, and I think that’s important and significant.”
The DC delegate called some of the strong anti-LGBT platform planks “more than unfortunate” and “not representative of every delegate, much less every Republican in the country.”
“And, ironically, it’s something that clearly the nominee is not in concert with,” he said of Trump’s stance on LGBT issues. “So it was good to have a speaker that really made that clear to anyone watching TV.”
“And I realise that on the other side they’re going to use this as an issue and that’s fair enough,” he continued. “They should. But, I believe that anyone watching that speech saw Peter Thiel say ‘I am gay’ and people cheered, and I think that’s important.”
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