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Silicon Valley Republicans praised billionaire investor Peter Thiel for his speech at the Republican Party Convention on Thursday night, in particular, for calling on the party to focus on real issues such as wealth inequality, the economy and security, instead of what some termed faux culture wars and identity politics.
The debate about who gets to use which bathroom is a distraction from real problems, said Thiel, a comment which strongly resonated with members of the San Francisco Republican Party and The San Francisco Log Cabin Republicans — the founding chapter of the nation's largest Republican LGBT organization — at a viewing party hosted by a tech incubator located in the same San Francisco building as Twitter.
"I love that he said that because I feel strongly about that," said Eric Gonzalles, a tech worker at a company which recently went public, and former Marine who completed two tours of duty in Iraq.
The overriding perception — at least, at this party — was that Thiel's speech, with its focus on tech, the economy and small government, had been a resounding success.
"He hit on exactly what he needed to, which was that we need to focus down on what's important for the average American," said John Hessling, a tech worker who plans to vote for Trump. "Economics and national security are things that are the most important in everyone's lives."
Thiel's public acknowledgment of his homosexuality on the GOP stage — and the positive response he received from GOP delegates — was another highlight, said attendees we spoke with. Among Log Cabin members, both gay and straight, many felt that Thiel had struck the right balance by establishing his Republican credentials before telling the audience he is proud to be gay and proud to be a Republican.
"This convention is to focus on the party's future, candidates and winning in November," said Fred Schein, a retired federal auditor and Vietnam veteran who is openly gay and the president of Log Cabin Marin, Calif. "His gayness was not directly relevant to that, and so there was no need to focus on that, and he didn't."
"It's Important for people not to look at gay people within the Republican party as token gays," said Michael Gofman, an incoming freshman to the University of California, Davis and member of the San Francisco Log Cabin Republicans. Gofman is straight but said the Log Cabin group has the most interesting and diverse mix of people and events.
"He showed mainstream Republicans, 'I look just like you,' and he showed regular gay people that, 'you could look just like me,' said Gofman.
Many people expressed relief to see Thiel elevated within the Republican party, an indication that there is a level of tolerance not necessarily consistent with the GOP's anti-gay platform. This is particularly important to young voters, said Gofman.
"You hear the GOP's platform and you see 'wow what an anti-gay platform - everyone in the GOP must be a straight white male,' and then you see this guy and you go 'oh wow, obviously there's a little more to this,' he said.
Gofman was so impressed by Thiel's speech, he said had he been on the fence about whether to cast his vote in Trump's favor, he would have been convinced.
That said, feelings about Trump remained mixed among this crowd, with some still undecided as to whether they would in fact vote for their party's nominee for the White House.
"I have a really hard time with some of his rhetoric," said Troy Bodnar, a nurse and openly gay member of the Log Camp Republicans who may vote Libertarian in November. "It's going to take me a lot to vote for Trump."
Several other attendees said they had come around to their party's nominee for President, and were pleased that Thiel had so strongly endorsed him.
It is rare to talk openly about politics in Silicon Valley, especially with tech CEOs "preaching these liberal policies" and "colleagues wearing paraphernalia in support of Hillary Clinton," said Gonzalles. He plans to vote for Trump, though Ted Cruz had been his first choice.
"I do feel uncomfortable to speak about it, but I am a proud conservative," he said.