A new LGBT community workspace called Yass debuts next year in San Francisco — if it can survive the backlash of having Peter Thiel as a backer.
Thiel is Silicon Valley’s best known Donald Trump supporter, and Yass would become a members-only community gathering place that costs up to $300 per month in dues. Its website calls it “A headquarters & hangout for today's generation of queer people to bring out the best in each other.” How much you pay to join (what seems a lot like an LGBT center, which are usually free) depends on your industry.
The Guardian reported Thursday that Thiel’s venture capital firm is its only backer. There's no word on how much Thiel's firm has put behind the center; he reportedly gave $1.25 million to the Trump campaign.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Thiel’s association isn’t clear cut: “The investment in Yass, though it came from a Thiel-backed firm, was actually made by Cyan Banister, a venture capitalist and entrepreneur who told Wired in 2016 that she identifies as both a man and a woman and calls herself genderqueer. Banister is a partner at Founders Fund, the Presidio-based venture capital firm Peter Thiel co-founded in 2005.”
Still, even that much of a link comes with consequences. The Huffington Post reports that some on Twitter are pledging never to join.
Thiel’s connection to the LGBT community is tentative. He famously sued Gawker into oblivion in retribution for outing him. He did it by secretly backing a number of unrelated lawsuits, with the Hulk Hogan case breaking the company.
After historian Jim Downs wrote a guest op-ed for The Advocate calling out Thiel for backing Trump, Thiel lashed out at all LGBT people, saying their "intolerance has taken on some bizarre forms. The Advocate, a magazine which once praised me as a 'gay innovator,' even published an article saying that as of now I am, and I quote, 'not a gay man,' because I don't agree with their politics. The lie behind the buzzword of 'diversity' could not be made more clear: If you don't conform, then you don't count as 'diverse,' no matter what your personal background."
Downs had written that, "By the logic of gay liberation, Thiel is an example of a man who has sex with other men, but not a gay man. Because he does not embrace the struggle of people to embrace their distinctive identity."
Thiel spoke at the Republican National Convention and proudly declared he’s gay, helping to drive home the notion that Trump would be a good choice for LGBT people. Trump went on as president to try banning transgender people from the military while rolling back inclusive guidelines for trans students. His Justice Department, led by Jeff Sessions, issued a "religious freedom" order that lets federal agencies and contractors turn away LGBT people without repercussions. Activists call it a “license to discriminate.” Most recently, Trump’s spokesperson said he believes religious freedom means businesses can post “No Gays Allowed” signs.
Having Thiel’s support these days isn’t what it once was. In November, Silicon Valley learned that famed incubator Y Combinator was no longer affiliated with Thiel. That’s according to a news release from 2015 when the company had announced it was welcoming Thiel. It’s now been revised.
Whether Yass can recover from the Thiel affiliation, it will still have to contend with criticism that its name further appropriates ball culture, and that its location is another example of the worst kinds of gentrification. Read more at about those issue from SFGate.com.