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2006: The Rise (and Eventual Fall) of Gawker

The Rise (and Eventual Fall) of Gawker
AP Photos from left: Nick Denton and Peter Thiel

An “outing” defined and destroyed the gay-owned website that defined the Aughts.

For 25 years, OUT has celebrated queer culture. To mark our silver jubilee, we look back at some of the biggest, brightest moments of the past 9,131 days.

When I think about Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley billionaire who poured $10 million into a lawsuit that effectively shuttered Gawker, a site I used to write for, one unanswered question loops in my mind: How does a gay man go, within less than a decade, from not feeling good about a public discussion of his sexuality to proclaiming on a national stage, at the Republican National Convention, "I am proud to be gay. I am proud to be a Republican. But most of all I am proud to be an American"? Where in between do shame and pride reconcile?

Thiel claimed Gawker outed him in what would become the most expensive blog post in history. "Peter Thiel Is Totally Gay, People" by Owen Thomas, another gay man, ran on Gawker's tech offshoot, Valleywag, in 2007. Thomas, in a retrospective piece in 2016 written in the thick of the Hulk Hogan sex-tape trial that would end up wiping Gawker from the internet, disagreed with Thiel. The post, he explained, was a celebration of the success of a man many already knew was gay and an exploration of why people in Northern California should be reluctant to discuss it. In an op-ed for the Times, Thiel bemoaned, "Gawker violated my privacy and cashed in on it."

When it comes to discussing an absent party's sexuality in public before they do, one could make the argument that there's nothing wrong with talking about sexuality, that not discussing it keeps it taboo and is bad for gay people. Or one could argue that these matters are personal, and everybody should get to control their own narrative, that not letting them do so is bad for that person. Both sides are capable of making reasonable points. However, Thiel's maneuvering clobbered the former side, effectively obliterating the conversation. In the end, one gay man wielded his power to put another gay man, Gawker founder Nick Denton, out of business. History is full of gay feuds, but rarely do they threaten the very concept of free speech. This one is for the record books--if those in power end up keeping them around.

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Rich Juzwiak