Peter Thiel: SFGN’s Person of the Year for 2016

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Each year, since its inception, SFGN has chosen one national figure as its ‘Person of the Year.’ Whether it was the Pope, or Tim Cook, the choices have not been easy.

Our duty is to survey the American landscape, and find one person who has stood out, advanced the cause of diversity, and enhanced the political debate.

In 2016, there is a standout to be sure. A lone voice in the wilderness, he bucked the LGBT establishment as he has so often in his own personal and political career. That person, that figure is the man who stood before the GOP convention in Cleveland this past July, and told its audience, “I am a proud gay man.” That man is Peter Thiel.

He is more than a guy whose startup was PayPal. Thiel is a gentleman whose contributions to technology, entrepreneurship and finance have cemented his stature as a world global leader, recognized by the World Economic Forum and Business Week, amongst a host of other foundations. But this ‘proud gay man’ has been ignored and isolated by the national gay media, probably because he has been an open, out-proud member of the GOP.

It seems that every adjective which precedes Thiel’s name in the worldwide media is ‘billionaire,’ as if the only identifying mark on his personage is a tattoo of dollar bills. How egalitarian and unfair of the press to so label and limit him.

Peter Thiel received his BA and JD from Stanford University, and used that background to become an entrepreneur and venture capitalist. He has worked with dynamic and emerging companies which have developed with worldwide success, from Facebook and PayPal, to Clarium Capital Management and Palantir Technologies. He has overcome adversities to achieve and accomplish more financially than he could probably ever have imagined growing up in Cleveland, the very city he got to talk to this past July, where the Republicans held their convention.

The bottom line for SFGN in selecting Peter Thiel as its ‘Person of the Year’ is not only his willingness to set a unique course for himself politically, but to acknowledge and appreciate what he has done philanthropically.

Let’s talk about those things for a moment.

Thiel serves as a primary supporter of the Committee to Protect Journalists, a group that promotes press freedom worldwide; the Machine Intelligence Research Institute, which seeks to foster the responsible development of advanced computing technologies; and the SENS Foundation, a medical charity dedicated to extending healthy human lifespans. But Thiel’s unique views on tomorrow’s dynamics are best expressed by the foundation once known as ‘20 Under 20.’

The Thiel Foundation's Fellowship was created and intended for students under the age of 20. Employing the umbrella of the Thiel Foundation, it offers them a total of $100,000 over two years as well as guidance and other resources to drop out of school and pursue other work, which could involve scientific research, creating a startup, or working on a social movement.

Selection for the fellowship is through a competitive annual process, with about 20-25 fellows selected annually. Stop for a moment and imagine what Mr. Thiel is suggesting- a scholarship that allows you to drop out of school and be individually creative. That’s not your average fellowship, but it could appeal to a lot of young men in South Florida spending too much time dancing their nights away at local clubs.

Another of the measures advanced by the foundation is a program entitled ‘Breakout Labs,’ a grant-making body which gives grants for early-stage scientific research that is too speculative or long-term to interest the for-profit sector and may be unsuitable for traditional sources of funding for scientific research, due to its radical or offbeat nature. Again, unusual, innovative, and one more reason Peter Thiel should be recognized for making a difference.

As a 2014 Fortune Magazine article pointed out, Breakout Labs is unique, its name a moniker ever so aptly pointing toward its goals. They support ‘contrarian contentions,’ a philosophy Thiel has advanced in essays, talks, and debates since about 2008, which has come to be known as the “tech stagnation thesis.”

Thiel contends, Fortune notes,

“that the amazing advances we have seen in computer science and communications have masked ominously disappointing progress in energy, transportation, biotech, disease prevention, and space travel.”

That slowdown, he maintains, accounts for the near stagnation in real incomes, and for widening inequality in wealth distribution.

The Fortune Magazine article on Thiel is as comprehensive as any that have been written about him, tracking his life and vision.

“In the last 40 years in the technology world,” as Thiel puts it, “we’ve had enormous progress in the world of bits, but not as much in the world of atoms.”

The notion is encapsulated in the tag line of Thiel’s venture capital firm, Founders Fund: “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.” But his ventures have made money with both ideas.

Thiel’s politics were well defined by the time he was 20 years old and a student at Stanford. Fighting back against “political correctness,” in 1987, Thiel co-founded the Stanford Review, a journal of conservative and libertarian viewpoints, and was its first editor-in-chief.

Staying in San Francisco, he inevitably remained a stranger in a strange land, a conservative icon in the land of the counter culture. A master level chess player today, Thiel was, at age 12, ranked seventh in the U.S. in his age category. Maybe he was always ahead of the game.

As a businessman, Thiel spoke out frequently, often beyond the ‘acceptable’ parameters of mainstream LGBT thought. Because of that, I am guessing, he has been inappropriately ignored, or at the very least, not rightfully acknowledged, despite his achievements and accomplishments.

Peter Thiel was one of the persons supportive of GOProud, the abated attempt to form a national voice for conservative gays. In the beginning, back in 2010, their advisers included Andrew Breitbart – yes that Andrew Breitbart, and Roger Stone – yes that Roger Stone.

It’s significant because in condemning the GOP nominee and now President-Elect, Donald Trump, gay groups kept these facts silent. Why? I sure would have liked to have known those facts early on in the debate for the GOP nomination.

Behind the scenes though, there was apparently an effort by the Trump team to recognize gay voices at the convention and within the party. Peter Thiel became that spokesperson. Too few gay groups have ever given him the proper credit for it.

The LGBT political establishment, from the Task Force to the Human Rights Campaign, is supposed to recognize diversity. It seems to have dissed it instead. Today, hopefully, by naming Peter Thiel as our ‘Person of the Year,’ the South Florida Gay News helps tear down that wall of foolishness.

Thiel was an early supporter of Donald Trump, and made national news by addressing the GOP convention in Cleveland. A few lines demonstrate why it was so compelling. Here are a few:

“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.”

and

“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?”

Thiel is not entirely right, of course. There are people who care about bathrooms because it identifies a greater concern for the shared experience of LGBT citizens everywhere. But it matters too that radical Islamic terrorists are preaching death to LGBT citizens anywhere. Thiel is not calling for discrimination, but a more enlightened and rational global perspective.

Thiel also must recognize he is aligning himself with partners who dumped GOProud from CPAC, the conservative political action conference. He must acknowledge that the President Elect is selecting representatives, both with his Vice President, and at Health and Human Services, who have disrespected the LGBT community. We must correspondingly hope that Mr. Thiel will use his name and influence to impart some wisdom and guidance to those who would silence us.

Two weeks ago, Thiel gave us cause for optimism. He told David Streitfeld of the New York Times that “A page in the book of history has turned, and there is an opening to think about some of our problems from a new perspective,” Mr. Thiel said. “I’ll try to help the president in any way I can.”

Because there are many written words of Peter Thiel to study, there are many reasons to believe he will be an advocate for a creative and growing American future. First and foremost, he thinks globally and out of the box.

In 2014, he authored ‘Zero to One,’ a book on startups and how to build the future. Fundamentally, it raises one issue, how people, businesses, and entrepreneurs should never lose faith in the possibility of discovery. Here is a paragraph worth reading:

“Consider this contrarian question: What important truth do very few people agree with you on? If we already understand as much of the natural world as we ever will--if all of today's conventional ideas are already enlightened, and if everything has already been done--then there are no good answers. Contrarian thinking doesn't make any sense unless the world still has secrets left to give up.”

His early endorsement of Donald Trump may have been in line with that thinking. In his interview with the Times last week, he stated:

“I’ve thought for quite a long time that the happy clappy Panglossian Republican politics that we had over the last few decades was deeply out of touch,” he said. “In some ways, a more pessimistic candidate would do better, because they would resonate with these broad economic realities.”

Indeed, that pessimistic candidate, Donald Trump, won the election. But in selecting a person of the year for the LGBT community, you try to find a name that stands out, not only from yesterday, but for tomorrow; someone who saw what was happening, put his name out there, and stood by the courage of his convictions, regardless of what was politically popular or socially acceptable in his circles.

Steve Jobs, like Jack Kerouac, once opined that his heroes were the "the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently."

Denounced by much of Silicon Valley and the gay political establishment, Peter Thiel, with his political acumen, his philanthropic endeavors, his entrepreneurial innovativeness, and futuristic look at a world of endless possibilities, seems to be that person in this year.

He is beyond any shadow of a doubt the South Florida Gay News Man of the Year for a historic 2016.


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