Billionaire Investor Peter Thiel Explains Why Gay CEOs are Still Too Afraid to Come Out

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Never has being openly gay been easier in America, which is not to say that it’s easy — just easier. But while there are still a lot of issues both big and small confronting gay men and women, it’s safe to say that as a whole most gay individuals are probably better off being out of the closet today than they were years ago.

With that in mind, Business Insider asked the openly gay Peter Thiel, a Paypal founder and billionaire investor, why there weren’t any publicly gay CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.

“A lot of these businesses are global in reach, and when you have customers all over the world, it becomes a question of ‘Will they hold that (being gay) against you?’ ” Thiel told the publication.

“I think that there is this globalization element to it that sort of cuts in a weirdly different way. It’s not really a question of how tolerant people are in California.”

“You could say Hollywood is very tolerant of gay people, but the movie viewers, the global audience, is what makes people nervous (about coming out).”

In other words, profit is god, and alienating homophobic people around the world could cut into that, undermining the very thing CEOs are supposed to nurture.

Thiel also cited generational issues as a possible reason for less CEOs coming out, and he predicted that we would probably see more come out over the next decade.

Indicative of there being a generational divide over attitudes toward gay people, the results of a Pew Research Center study conducted earlier this year revealed that of young American Democrats and Republicans aged 18-29, a majority 69 percent favored allowing same-sex marriage, as opposed to only about 48 percent of their 30 and up kin.

In another Pew national survey, from last year, 60 percent of Americans surveyed answered “Yes” when asked whether society should accept homosexuality, as opposed to 33 percent who answered “No.” That’s 11 percent more than those who answered in the affirmative when asked the same question in 2007.

Homosexuality in the workplace, however, may be a slightly different story. A Deloitte report cited by the New York Times found that “83 percent of gay, lesbian and bisexual people hide aspects of their identity at work, often because they say their bosses expect them to.” This is despite the fact that the vast majority (91 percent) of Fortune 500 companies prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexuality, according the Human Rights Campaign.

One of the bigger reasons for the discrepancy, however, may be because sexuality in general, gay or otherwise, is usually taboo in the workplace. Straight men and women don’t make coming out statements about their heterosexuality — so why should gay people be expected to?

Of course, loud and proud activism is a hallmark of the Millennial generation, but as “Diversity in the Power Elite” author and psychology professor Richard Zweigenhaft points out in a NYT column by James B. Stewart, “The kind of person who becomes a C.E.O. isn’t going to surprise the board by coming out in The New York Times.”

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