Peter Thiel came out as gay on the RNC stage and no-one knew how to react

‘It’s between him and God, and when he dies, he’ll have to face God, and God will make that judgement’

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CLEVELAND – Peter Thiel is rich. Between pumping cash into startups from a $700 million hedge fund and bank-rolling the libel case that brought the Gawker media empire to its knees, the Paypal and Palantir co-founder is the kind of rich everyone in the Republican Party imagines they’d be if it weren’t for government intervention.

There isn’t a more relaxing place for rich people on earth than the Quicken Loans Arena during the GOP Convention. But tonight as he addresses the Quicken Loans Arena, the billionaire seems nervy.

He speaks incredibly fast at the start, settling himself into his pace by describing where he’s from, who his parents were, what they taught him. It’s an opening structure we’ve seen countless times before – Mike Pence employed it last night, and Mary Fallin just a few minutes before. But then Peter Thiel does something deeply unconventional.

“I am proud to be gay, I am proud to be a Republican, but most of all, I’m proud to be an American.”

With that, Peter Thiel becomes the first person to come out as a homosexual on the RNC stage. And the room didn’t know what to do with itself.

I watched Thiel’s speech from the convention floor, crouched between New York and California’s delegations, two of the more moderate groups present. He paused after each part of that sentence – after “I am proud to be gay”, three female New York delegates stood up and started clapping. The rest of the room looked bemused. It was only after the second and third parts, where Thiel declares himself a “Republican” and an “American”, that the rest of the arena found its voice.

If the room’s slow reaction wasn’t enough of a hint, gayness is still very much a divisive issue on the American Right.

Many Republicans received Thiel with open arms, as I learned while speaking to them about the prospect before his historic move.

Steve Perkins is an alternate delegate from South Dakota, and this is his sixth Republican Convention since 1972.

“I think good for him,” he said. “We’re a big tent party and all are welcome. He’s certainly not the first gay Republican, let me tell you that. Doing it on the stage though, that seems a little dramatic.”

“The platform is pretty far from the base on these issues,” Jeremiah Wingstedt, a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota and alternate delegate tells me.

“If the platform isn’t going to endorse alternate lifestyles, we need to do our best to rich out to all minorities, and not reach out to a shrinking and dying section of society.

“If he comes out, I’ll give him a standing ovation. I’m sure the boos will be louder than the applause. I hope the younger part of the delegation appreciates his willingness to express himself.”

Arcadio Casillas is one of the leading figures in the New York delegation. “I think it’s great. Why not?” he told me on the convention floor. “We’ve had a prominent group, the Log Cabin Republicans for some time now.”

While those from the East Coast and Midwest welcomed Thiel, Southern Republicans were more reserved with their praise.

“He’s a smart guy,” says Jonathan Hayes, a delegate from Georgia in a white and blue striped suit. “He’s a quiet, private guy. I don’t think he deserves an award for that, for his sexuality, no more than I do for mine.

“It’s between him and God, and when he dies, he’ll have to face God, and God will make that judgement.”

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