"I don't expect massive progress on gay rights in this administration."
It was late November 2016, and Tim Gill sat across from me at his private office in Denver. Donald Trump had just gotten elected. The mood in the room was somber. I asked Gill what he thought the new Trump administration would be like. Trump had campaigned as a supporter of LGBT people—“I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs,” he once tweeted—and his daughter, Ivanka, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, had raised money for marriage equality. Gill wasn't exactly deadpanning when he told me he didn’t foresee “massive progress.” But he knew the next four years would be rough.
July 26th brought that reality home in a whole new way. In the morning, Trump announced in a tweet that he would reverse an Obama-era policy that allowed transgender people to serve in the military. The Justice Department intervened in a private lawsuit to say that the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 doesn’t protect workers on the basis of their sexual orientation. And to cap it off, the Trump White House named Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a social conservative who opposes same-sex marriage, as the new US ambassador at large for religious freedom. If there were any questions over whether Trump would stand by his pledge to “fight for” LBGT people, the events of July 26th put those to rest.
And so the work of Tim Gill is more essential than ever. I spent three years convincing Gill, the largest LGBT donor in American history and a visionary of the movement, to speak with me. In the last year, I spent many hours with Gill, interviewing him, observing him at events, and immersing myself in the work of the organizations he funds and oversees including the Gill Foundation, Gill Action, and Outgiving. It will take far more than one person to mount a defense of LGBT rights at the state and national level in the next few years. But whether you see his name or not, expect Gill to be at the forefront.
The Quiet Crusader
How Tim Gill turned a $500 million fortune into the nation's most powerful force for LGBTQ rights
Rolling Stone | June 23, 2017
"Now is not the time to go sit on the sidelines," Joe Biden thunders, slamming his fist on a podium branded with the vice presidential seal. "We need to push – and push hard." It's an early evening in May 2016, and 30 of the nation's most prolific LGBTQ donors are gathered in the living room of a penthouse apartment on Park Avenue in Manhattan. Biden thanks the men and women in the audience for their efforts so far. But there is one person he singles out by name, an unassuming and slightly awkward man seated in the last row of chairs, doing his best to avoid attention. "Incredible," Biden calls him. If not for the work of Tim Gill, Biden says, there is no telling where the LGBTQ-rights movement would be.
Gill, a software programmer who made a fortune in the 1990s, is not a household name – and that's by design. The 63-year-old Coloradan rarely gives interviews and describes himself as pathologically anti-social and ill at ease with publicity. In the past three decades, Gill has methodically, often stealthily, poured $422 million of his fortune into the cause of equal rights for the LGBTQ community – more than any other person in America. Within the movement, he is praised as a visionary, a computer-nerd-turned-brilliant-strategist, the megadonor who coalesced a movement around the fight for marriage equality and then pushed onward to victory.
Today, Gill's sprawling network of LGBTQ advocacy groups rivals any big-money operation in the country. The Gill Foundation, which he started in 1994, underwrites academic research, polling, litigation, data analytics and field organizing. Gill Action, a political group launched a decade later, has helped elect hundreds of pro-equality lawmakers at the local, state and federal levels. OutGiving, his donor club, coaches the country's richest pro-LGBTQ funders on how best to spend their money. Gill's fingerprints are on nearly every major victory in the march to marriage, from the 2003 Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health case, which made Massachusetts the first state to allow same-sex marriage, to the Supreme Court's Obergefell v. Hodges decision two decades later that legalized it in all 50. "Without a doubt," says Mary Bonauto, the attorney who argued the Obergefell case, "we would not be where we are without Tim Gill and the Gill Foundation."
In the wake of Obergefell, however, some donors and activists declared victory and moved on. The Ford Foundation effectively ended its giving; Bonauto's organization, Boston-based GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, saw an immediate drop in its revenue. But Gill insists the LGBTQ civil-rights movement is far from finished: In 28 states, it's still legal to discriminate against LGBTQ people in housing, employment and public accommodations like restaurants, hotels and restrooms. In these states, two lesbians can marry in the morning and be fired that afternoon for bringing a photo of their new spouse to work. It took two decades to achieve marriage equality – Gill wants to win nondiscrimination laws nationwide in half the time.