“You can’t post that photo,” said the founder and CEO of a prominent, exited startup. He was talking to his PR agent in a W hotel suite in Times Square. I had just taken a selfie with the two of them, at the publicist’s request, and then excused myself to use the restroom.
“Seriously, you can’t post that,” said the CEO. “I look so gay in that picture.”
I made my way back into the main living room, having heard everything.
“Not that there’s anything wrong with being gay,” he said, awkwardly laughing as I popped around the corner.
I look pretty gay in that picture, too. Because I am gay. And I’ll admit that in my youth, I used that word in the wrong way, too. I’m ashamed of it. As someone who loves words, there’s absolutely no justification for using the word “gay” to describe something that is uncool, or outside the norm, or weak, or undesirable in any way.
Why is this something that you’re reading on TechCrunch? Because I firmly believe that the tech industry is not just at the forefront of technology, but it will determine the future of everything, from healthcare to environmental awareness to social norms.
It is inaccurate to call this community further evolved. Like any community, we are comprised of many different people. Some set incredible examples while others behave badly.
However, I choose to hold myself and my peers in the tech world to a higher standard. We are a community that has undoubtedly accelerated the progress of the gay rights movement, and I refuse to let this founder’s words slip by as a casual mistake.
This founder was hooked up to a mic, with a camera pointed at him (though not recording) as he said these words. He was preparing to do an interview and was on the record.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen an executive say something they definitely shouldn’t have in front of the press. Just this week Uber exec Emil Michael mentioned at a dinner that Uber might investigate journalists who have been covering the transportation startup, a statement that Uber quickly apologized for.
In order for us to be true pioneers for the future, we have to set a leading example today. I have no idea what this man feels in his heart towards the gay community. But he’s the leader of a company that hires people. He is someone that other people look up to. And he was talking to press.
It’s not enough to say “there’s nothing wrong with being gay” in a hurried attempt to make up for the fact that he had just insulted all gay people by saying that a photo is inherently unsharable… because he looked gay in it? What does that even mean?
The word “gay” is a label for people interested in romantic endeavors with members of the same sex. I aim to stay away from as many labels as possible, simply because I find them restrictive to my own personality. However, I call myself gay and am proud to because I want to make sure that Jordan counts as a vote as we work towards greater equality as a community.
But as we’ve learned from Tim Cook, and Jason Goldberg, and Peter Thiel, and Kara Swisher, and Sara Sperling, and Nick Denton, and Owen Thomas, and Keith Rabois, and Joel Simkhai, and Megan Smith (and the list could go on and on)… not all gay people are made the same way. Being gay is a small part of a person’s identity, and while it shouldn’t be a piece that excludes someone from basic inalienable rights, it also shouldn’t be a definition for who a person is.
And it certainly shouldn’t be a definition for “I look bad in this picture.”
Editorial Note: An earlier version of this article used the word “lame”, which was insensitive, as the commenters have pointed out. We apologize to anyone this may have offended.