Billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel made waves in Silicon Valley this week, after it was revealed that he donated $1.25 million to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Now, many in Silicon Valley say that Mr. Thiel’s support for Mr. Trump crosses a line due to the candidate’s attitudes towards certain ethnic and religious groups, and are calling for Thiel’s resignation. Others argue that Thiel's right to donate to and support whichever candidate he chooses is a fundamental freedom that should be enjoyed by any citizen of the United States.
Thiel has a long legacy in Silicon Valley, where he has served as the co-founder of PayPal and the first outside investor in Facebook. Currently, Thiel is the cofounder and chairman of Palantir, a software and services company, and a part-time partner at startup incubator Y Combinator.
Despite the public outcry surrounding Thiel’s donation, Y Combinator president Sam Altman refused to fire Thiel, tweeting that doing so would be bad for democracy.
“YC is not going to fire someone for supporting a major party nominee,” Mr. Altman wrote.
Some observers of the political scene say they see Thiel as a study in contradictions. Given a prime time speaking slot at the Republican National Convention this year, Thiel declared his pride in his sexual orientation.
“I am proud to be gay; I am proud to be a Republican; but most of all, I’m proud to be an American,” he told the audience, receiving a standing ovation.
While Trump himself says that he is a friend to the gay community, the Republican party’s 2016 platform is seen by some as anything but friendly. The party opposes same-sex marriage and laws allowing transgender people to use the restroom aligned with their gender identity, and does not oppose conversion therapy, stances that are at odds with the LGBT activist community.
Thiel’s convention speech addressed few of the party’s LGBT policies beyond questioning the salience of the transgender bathroom debate and imparting a general statement that he disagreed with several planks of the party’s platform.
Critics of Thiel’s support for Trump say that it isn’t the candidate’s attitude (positive or negative) towards LGBT individuals that make Trump such a threat. Instead, they say that Trump’s generally negative and critical attitude towards members of a number of ethnic and religious groups engenders hate and fear.
"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," former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao wrote in a blog post, adding:
"Giving more power to someone whose ascension and behavior strike fear into so many people is unacceptable. His [Trump's] 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."
Ms. Pao’s Project Include works with Y Combinator startups to help them build more diverse organizations. After Thiel’s donation to the Trump campaign became public, however, Pao announced that she plans to cut ties with Y Combinator.
Other Silicon Valley groups are also examining their connections with Thiel.
Nevertheless, Altman remains staunch in his decision to retain Thiel, arguing that firing him for his political views would be a “dangerous path to start down.”
Altman tweeted on Sunday,
“Diversity of opinion is painful but critical to the health of a democratic society. We can't start purging people for political support.”