Born to Republican parents in Indiana on October 18, 1953, Tim Gill studied computer science and mathematics at the University of Colorado at Boulder. During his freshman year, he became involved with a gay-liberation group on campus and he informed his parents that he was a homosexual.
In 1981 Gill created the Denver-based software company Quark, whose remarkable success quickly earned the founder a fortune large enough to propel him onto the Forbes 400 list. Sometime in 1992, Gill discovered that one of his Quark employees supported an amendment to the Colorado state constitution that sought to rescind state and local laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Around that same time, a poll showed that almost 60% of Americans did not personally know even a single gay or lesbian individual. “That’s not right,” Gill thought to himself. “We can fix that.” In 1994 he established the Gill Foundation as a way to “advanc[e] equality by supporting nonprofit organizations that serve lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, [LGBT] and allied individuals, as well as people with HIV/AIDS.” Toward those ends, the foundation began to underwrite academic research, polling, litigation, field organizing, and data analytics as they pertained to gay-rights issues.
In 1999 Gill sold his stake in Quark for $500 million, so that he could devote the bulk of his time and energy to his philanthropic endeavors. He also placed $300 million – approximately three-fifths of his total assets – into an endowment that was to be used strictly for LGBT activism.
As part of his pro-LGBT strategy, Gill resolved to help put Democrats in control of state governments wherever possible. He and his political adviser, Ted Trimpa, reasoned that any effort to affect the outcome of political elections had a much greater likelihood of succeeding on the state level – where relatively small but smartly placed investments could flip an entire legislative chamber from anti-LGBT to pro-LGBT in a short time period – than on the federal level. State-level races, Gill explained, were not only “a cheaper date” from a financial perspective, but they also served as “better laboratories” for determining which spending strategies were most effective. Thus, as Colorado State University political scientist John Straayer reported, most of the “big checks” Gill was writing in the early to mid-2000s were “pretty strategic in terms of targeting legislative races and then unleashing torrents of mail into those districts.” Those targeted initiatives were generally carried out stealthily, with no public announcement in advance.
Focusing first on Colorado, Gill and three other wealthy donors in 2004 contributed millions of dollars to help groups like the Alliance for Colorado’s Families and the Coalition for a Better Colorado create state-of-the-art databases from which microtargeted advertising campaigns and get-out-the-vote drives could be developed. In part because of this, Democrats recaptured control of both state legislative chambers in Colorado for the first time in three decades.
During the 2006 midterm election season, Gill reportedly spent $15 million on a political operation which he dubbed “Gill Action,” targeting 70 political candidates (in 12 states) whom he perceived to be hostile toward gay rights; fifty of those candidates lost their respective races that year. “Like George Soros, Tim Gill is actually changing the political landscape,” said Denver political analyst Floyd Ciruli in 2007.
Gill’s philanthropy has been directed not only toward specific political candidates, but also toward various social causes like the promotion of gay-marriage rights. As an in-depth Rolling Stone report on Gill stated in 2017: “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,” said Mary Bonauto, the attorney who argued the Obergefell case, “we would not be where we are without Tim Gill and the Gill Foundation.”
When Republican state lawmakers in 2015 began introducing various religious-liberty bills – modeled after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) which then-Representative Charles Schumer had introduced to Congress in 1993 – Gill and his pro-LGBT cohorts conducted a nationwide counterattack claiming that the bills were designed to legalize discrimination. Because this initiative placed particular emphasis on southern states, Gill called it his “Southern strategy.” “We’re going into the hardest states in the country,” he said. “We’re going to punish the wicked.”
Gill succeeded first in Georgia, where in 2016 he helped form Georgia Prospers, an organization opposing RFRA legislation in that state. Though the Georgia legislature passed an RFRA bill in March of that year, Republican governor Nathan Deal – facing intense pressure from numerous corporations that supported Georgia Prospers while threatening to cut their business ties to the state if the governor were to sign the bill – vetoed it.
In 2016 as well, the combination of Gill’s campaign donations and his “Southern strategy” was instrumental in electing a Democrat to unseat Pat McCrory, North Carolina’s Republican governor. McCrory, to Gill’s dismay, had recently signed into law the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act – a so-called “transgender bathroom” bill which mandated that in government buildings, individuals would only be permitted to use the restrooms corresponding to their biological sex.
By mid-2017, Gill over the years had spent approximately $422 million to advance homosexual rights. “I have no illusions that there’s an endgame,” he said at that time. “These problems never go away. You have to educate every single generation about this and make sure it doesn’t creep back into our society. There’s no sense in which the job is ever done.” In May 2018, the Denver Business Journal reported that Gill was “on course to [eventually] spend $1 billion pushing for LGBTQ equality.”
Gill lives in Colorado with his husband, Scott Miller.
For additional information on Tim Gill, click here.
Further Reading: “Meet the Megadonor Behind the LGBTQ Rights Movement” (Rolling Stone, 6-23-2017); “Founder Tim Gill Exits Quark” (Zdnet.com, 10-25-2000); “The Gay Mogul Changing U.S. Politics” (Time, 4-4-2007); “LGBT Mega-Donor Reveals Next Goal: ‘Punish the Wicked’ Gay Marriage Opponents” (Christian Post, 6-30-2017).