The Guardian reports today that a backlash is brewing against a startup called Yass, a planned coworking space in San Francisco that’s backed by FF Angel, the early-stage investment arm of Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund.
A vocal supporter of President Trump, whose administration has attacked LGBTQ rights, Thiel has historically been less than keen to associate himself with gay issues and causes. Thiel financed the lawsuit that brought down Gawker last year in retaliation for the site reporting on his homosexuality (the suit has spawned a troubling spate of new cases against media organizations). While Thiel isn’t involved in getting Yass up and running, the financial connection has made waves in San Francisco, with one gay community leader telling the Guardian, “we don’t need a [new LGBTQ] space that is tainted by the hate of Donald Trump.”
Arielle Zuckerberg, an investor and the sister of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, sits on Yass’s board.
What’s more, Yass seems to exemplify Silicon Valley’s tone-deaf elitism. Critics the Guardian spoke with accuse CEO Brian Tran of profiting off of the gentrification that’s transformed San Francisco, particularly its historically Latinx Mission District, where Yass is set to open. The company will charge tiered membership dues ranging from $50 to $300 a month in an effort to be accessible. By contrast, most LGBTQ centers across the country offer resources, space, job training, networking, and community events that are free to all. (Every gay dive bar I’ve been to sells $3 beers and lets you stick around as long as you want.)
But speaking to several members of San Francisco’s LGBTQ community, the Guardian’s Sam Levin found that the name “Yass” touches a nerve–for notably similar reasons as those that earned “Bodega” widespread derision last fall. The term, Levin points out, “is based on a phrase rooted in the drag ball culture, linked with black and Latino queer communities in Harlem. Recently, some queer people of color have criticized white people for using the term ‘yass,’ citing it as another example of cultural appropriation.”RB