Tim Gill Puts Big Money Into Gay Rights

  • Public-Policy Reform
  • 1994

In 1994, Tim Gill, founder of the software company Quark, set up his Gill Foundation with a fierce focus on changing public policies and officeholders to advance gay rights. A decade later he established a political-action arm focused directly on influencing elections, and formulated a specific plan to legalize gay marriage within ten years. Gill subsequently devoted more than $300 million of personal and foundation gifts to these causes, to great effect.

Gill’s gay-marriage goals were largely achieved within his ten-year time frame. And his donations also helped swell AIDS funding, create new hate-crime categories, defeat a Constitutional amendment to define marriage in traditional ways, repeal the military’s prohibitions on overt homosexuality, undo religious-freedom protections in federal and state laws, and promote the Employment Non-Discrimination Act legislation making sexual orientation and gender identity protected categories in labor law. “Normalizing LGBT people in the eyes of the public” has been at the heart of his effort.

Gill made a special push to turn his home state of Colorado into a model. Working with three wealthy colleagues, he set out to establish a cautionary for policymakers in other places by defeating political candidates viewed as hostile to gay causes. The heavily funded effort succeeded at flipping Colorado politics for a period of years (see 2008 entry), a success that public-policy donors in other states subsequently worked to copy.

In 2014 it was reported that Gill will spend at least $25 million over the next few years to remake policies and attitudes in Southern and Western states into forms more friendly to gay rights. This funding will help nonprofit groups like the Human Rights Campaign and the ACLU bring in new staff for major initiatives to shift law and culture in culturally conservative states.