What Gives With Gill?
Tim Gill's rise to fortune sounds pretty much like your typical, computer-age, megabyte to mega-riches story: Ambitious young software entrepreneur spends 14-hour days sequestered in his apartment, staring at a computer screeen and ordering out for pizza before making millions.Gill's Denver-based company, Quark Inc., is now a world leader in desktop-publishing software. With an estimated net worth of roughly $500 million, the Colorado native is a consistent entree on the Forbes 400 list.But 42-year-old Timothy E. Gill is not your typical, super-rich software geek. Long open about his homosexuality, Gill has emerged as a leading and visible corporate philanthropist in the field of gay and lesbian issues. (The only other individual donor in the same arena is Los Angeles-based rock promoter David Geffen, the mega-rich and openly gay founder of Geffen Records and, before that, Asylum Records.)And, according to many involved in gay politics and fund-raising, there's very little that's typical about the way Gill parts with his money.Gift for GivingGill's own political awakening came in 1992 after Colorado voters approved Amendment 2, which would have forbade cities and counties in the state from passing laws that protect gays and lesbians from discrimination.The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Amendment 2 unconstitutional, but not before Gill decided to commit $1 million toward his newly created Gill Foundation, which would not just fight Amendment 2, but support a wide range of gay and lesbian causes.It's no coincidence that the software magnate based his newly created fund in Colorado Springs, the city now known nationally as a haven for the religious right and the birthplace of Amendment 2. However, the foundation's strategic presence here has as much to do with the fact that Colorado Springs is home for its executive director, Katherine Pease."We would probably not be active here if I didn't want to be here," Pease sa id.The Gill Foundation's coffers -- and all gay and lesbian funds combined, for that matter -- constitute mere pocket change compared to the riches raised by religious groups. However, in terms of dollars, the foundation boasts the largest grant program designated for lesbian and gay causes in the country.What makes Gill's dollars particularly effective, according to gay and lesbian activists, is the way the foundation gives those greenbacks away. Instead of giving solely to gay and lesbian groups, the foundation also makes high-profile awards to general community groups, ranging from the Denver Public Library, to Habitat for Humanity and Museo de las Americas. In 1994, Gill launched the annual Cheshire Ball, a fund-raiser that has delivered tens of thousands of dollars to the Child Abuse and Prevention Team at Children's Hospital in Denver.Giving to non-gay causes is a new strategy in a field where limited resouces tend to get soaked up quickly by gay and lesbian grassroots groups. But Bob Crane, president of the New York-based, progressive Joyce Mertz Gillmore Foundation, called the tactic "brilliant," because it sends the message that gays and lesbians are an integral part of the community."Gays and lesbians, in fact, already give to a wide range of non-gender-related charities and causes," said Crane, whose foundation is one of the few major funds that donates to the gay cause. "What this does is let the world know that gays and lesbians are contributing very much to the community."During the foundation's first four years, this philosophy has evolved more formally into the Gay and Lesbian OutGiving Fund, which made a splash this spring when it donated a $5,000 matching grant to KRCC-FM during the Colorado Springs public radio station's spring fund drive. The gift resulted in one of the station's shortest fund-raisers ever -and in a dozen daily announcements that the Gay and Lesbian OutGiving Fund contributes to KRCC programming."I see our role in Colorado Springs to be one of bringing the community together and funding organizations that build bridges and coalitions," said Gill's Katherine Pease. "It's part of a way of leveling things out so that people who hold the same values as the foundation are given a better chance."Some gays and lesbians were thrilled by the on-the-air exposure."The fact that every couple minutes Lyn Akers had to say 'Gay and Lesbian OutGiving Fund' [on the air] was absolutely delightful," wrote "Ground Zero" director Frank Whitworth in a recent issue of the group's newsletter.Funding the UnderdogAside from the public-relations value, some note that the foundation's funding strategy, shaped by the politics of its birth, means they are willing to fund the underdog."The beauty of the Gill Foundation is that they are willing to take a risk to help people that other foundations may not want to help," said Roxanne White, executive director of Urban Peak, a drop-in and sleep-over outreach center for street teens in Denver.This year, the foundation gave Urban Peak $5,000 for general operating expenses, $20,000 for capital improvements and $10,000 to fund part of the salary for a specialist to work with gay and lesbian teens, necessary, White said, because reportedly some 35 percent of street teens are lesbian, gay or bisexual."For those kids, it's harder to stay in foster care, and it's harder to find appropriate foster care," said White, noting that some foster parents are put off, or just plain panicked, by the thought of taking in a gay teenager. Because of housing and job discrimination, it's also harder for those teens to move off the street, White added.Ready for the CountryBut that's not the only thing that makes the Gill Foundation unique. The Gill Foundation is the only major gay giving group outside of Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York or Washington, D.C. And it's the only major funder that gives significant bucks to groups outside those cities; in fact, the Gill Foundation makes a point of supporting gay and lesbian groups in rural areas. "There can't be more than two or three foundations that have been willing to support gay and lesbian issues in New Mexico," said Martha Trolin, secretary for GLUE New Mexico, which sponsors gay community gatherings in such hubs of queer politics as Alamagordo, Las Cruces and Truth or Consequences.Conservative rural mores force many rural queers to stay isolated and closeted, said Trolin. With rural support groups, Trolin hopes, those gays may not feel they have to move to the major east and west coast hubs to find a sense of community. "We're born everywhere, and therefore, we should be everywhere," she said, noting that gay migration from rural America is one reason anti-gay measures had done well among voters in largely rural, conservative states, such as Maine and Oregon.Gill's Uphill BattleBut the Gill Foundation clearly has an uphill battle on its hands. Of the $150 billion that Americans gave to charity last year, the bulk, roughly F percent, went to religion-related causes, according to "The Chronicle of Philanthropy". (Roughly 12.5 percent went to education, 9.2 percent to health issues, 8.1 percent to human services and 7.2 percent to arts and culture.)No single gay and lesbian group appears on the "The Chronicle's" 1996 list of top 400 American charities, where Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family is number 66, posting $88 million in private support. Another local religious non-profit, The Navigators, is number 107.In fact, organizations headed by Billy Graham, Pat Robertson and Oral Roberts fill out a list of 24 religious groups on "The Chronicle's" top 400, but there's not even an entry for an organization representing women's issues, let alone any other gender issue.Nationally, only a dozen groups give exclusively to gay and lesbian causes."The mainstream foundations have not tended to see gay and lesbian rights as human rights in the way Amnesty International does," said the Gill Foundation's Mickey McIntyre, director of the Gill Foundation's OutGiving Project. (Unlike the OutGiving Fund, the OutGiving Project seeks to boost gay and lesbian fundraising efforts.)Pease noted that, without many historical role models, the public's perceptions about gay philanthropy are just starting to take shape."We just did a study in New York, and we just asked them, 'Who are your philanthropic peers?' and Tim Gill's name came up at the top of the entire country," Pease said. "Tim is a wonderful visionary; almost everything you see, in terms of the visions and the direction the foundation is going, comes from his ability to look at things holistically and to take a step back and look at the big picture."Though it's hard to measure, some observers note that giving to gay groups has been affected by the conservative rallying cry that the "militant homosexual lobby" -- as they love to call it -- is, in fact, looking for "special rights," not civil rights.And many religious-right groups, from Focus on the Family to the Mississippi-based American Family Association, routinely claim that gays and lesbians are more affluent than most Americans and exert undue influence on the political system. "Records compiled by the "Wall Street Journal" show that homosexuals are one of the most affluent groups in America!" shouted one AFA publication.For their part, gay and lesbian activists say it's hard to counter AFA's claim, because there's been little real research in the area. But they say such assertions are skewed, because surveys have targeted mostly out-of-the-closet gays who tend to be financially secure and live in big cities, where average incomes are already higher than national norms.Ironically, some of the research and marketing hype to which conservatives cling was given more of a spotlight by gay and lesbian groups, who used claims of gay economic muscle to get political and popular visibility. In some ways, that image has come back to haunt some shoestring gay-rights groups."It's an argument used by a number of foundation and corporate giving institutions, because the research that gets the most visibility indicates that gay white men have a large amount of disposable income," said Nancy Cunningham, director of the national Working Group on Funding Gay and Lesbian Issues.Giving Under SiegeDespite all this, gay and lesbian funders see some signs of progress. Three years ago, when Cunningham's working group published its first directory of foundations that give to gay and lesbian groups, there were only 80 entries. Today, that list includes 240 foundations.And corporate giving appears to be up -- across the board and for gay and lesbian groups. Levi Strauss, The Gap, Phillip Morris -- even the traditionally conservative Coors -- are some of the key corporations that now give to gay and lesbian organizations."We've come a long way, but there's still clearly a significant level of homophobia and just general ignorance about the gay and lesbian community," said Cunningham. "There's a hesitancy among some of the mainstream philanthropic groups to fund gay and lesbian causes."McIntyre agreed. "For a long time, the giving was closeted," he said. "People couldn't give openly, because that would then mean they'd have to be out about their homosexuality. By contrast, it's not hard to be out as an environmentalist in most places."Still, giving within the gay community is on the rise, in part due to the offensives launched by its enemies. "The main reason for giving to a cause is self-preservation and fear," said McIntyre. "So when a community feels under siege, which began for the gay community with the HIV-AIDS epidemic and now with the right wing, we see donors getting together. They don't want to become any less human than they alreadyare in the eyes of the government and the country."Sunday SchoolIronically, McIntyre sees the gay and lesbian community taking some lessons from the religious right."The right is so good at fund-raising, because they've been doing it since Moses was a boy," said McIntyre. "They've been raising money forever, and they do it very, very well. They ask every Sunday. We're not very good at asking people to give money. We get all worried if we ask three times a year."And why not learn from the right. As McIntyre is quick to note, the religious right isn't the only side hawking a form of salvation. "Religion is good at raising money, because they can say, 'Be good, and you get into heaven, into salvation,' " McIntyre noted. "And if gays and lesbians don't give or fund our own organizations, then the religious people will take away our future. There will be no salvation for us."PART IIThe Interview by Cara DeGetteThe name Tim Gill may not be well-known, but his creation Quark certainly is. Quark, Inc. is the nation's leading software program for desktop publishing; nearly every newspaper and magazine you're likely to read was designed using Quark software. Gill, one of Colorado's richest men, has used his wealth and philanthropic inclination to establish the Gill Foundation. Although Gill lives in Denver, the foundation calls Colorado Springs home. While his foundation is high-profile for its gay and lesbian Outgiving Program, Gill keeps a low-profile. He rarely talks to the press, but on a recent visit to the Springs, he sat down with "The Independent's" Cara DeGette.The Foundation Q: Why did you choose to have the foundation headquartered in Colorado Springs? A: Because [foundation executive director] Katherine [Pease] wanted to live here. To me, it didn't matter too much where we were. Our mission in life is not just to service Denver. To have it outside of Denver is a wonderful thing, because it makes us more cognizant of other communities. And I think Colorado Springs is a great place.Q: What about the atmosphere of Colorado Springs? Do you find its right-wing mentality oppressive? A: No, certainly not. Wars go on longer than they need to, because the participants end up hating each other, and so it makes it harder for them to negotiate. I have no interest in hating anyone. We're all in this world together; we all have to get along. There are elements of the Colorado Springs community that have views that are very different than ours. We have years to convince them that there might be other ways to look at things.Q: What kind of flak do you get from underfunded gay and lesbian groups when you make decisions to give to non-gay organizations? A: Sometimes a gay and lesbian group will come and say, "Tim Gill, he's gay; he really should only be giving money to gay and lesbian things." That's kind of a silly point of view. I should be giving money to things I believe in, and there's a lot more things that I am besides just being a gay man.Q: Yet there are virtually no gay and lesbian foundations in the United States. A: It's really fascinating that the total budget of all gay and lesbian organizations in the United States is smaller than the amount of money raised annually by the Jewish community in Detroit.Q: How do you determine what organizations are funded? A: I begin by telling people -- and I do this in business, too -- by saying, "This is what I want to do," and then people watch me. And at some point you switch, and people start saying, "Tim, this is the decision you would make." That's kind of phase two, and phase three is Katherine coming to me and saying, "This is the decision you would make."Q: How are you involved with the foundation? A: The thing I really do with my life is run my company. And that just happens to produce some money that I can invest back in the community and things I believe in. [Katherine's] really responsible for making recommendations. But we discuss each and every organization she's funding, to make sure that [each one] fits in with our philosophical guidelines. Gay and Lesbian GivingQ: Have you run into situations where people that you want to help say, "We don't want that money"? A: We don't get that particularly through the Gill Foundation. We do from the Gay and Lesbian Outgiving Fund. And when that happens, it's an OK thing. As long as they discuss it, I think in the end, they're going to end up being educated. I suppose it's like coming out. When you're a kid and you realize you're gay, you fight it. Sometimes you try to hide it from people, and eventually, you have to accept that being gay is -- for you, anyway -- a completely normal and natural thing to be. I accept that people, when they're changing their minds and their attitudes, will take some time and have a little trouble with it at first.Q: Does it happen often? A: No, actually. Of course, we don't go looking to give money to people, as much as [they come] looking for us. So they are kind of self-selected by the time they get here. Money and PeersQ: How much do you hobnob with the rich and famous? A: I have remarkably few friends that are millionaires. Most of my friends are computer programmers, or just people whom I have known for years from back when I wasn't as successful as I am today. Just because you become successful doesn't mean you have to change your friends. They were perfectly good friends then, and they are perfectly good friends now.Q: So how much do you hobnob with the rich and famous? A: Almost not at all. Some people have stereotypes about rich people and don't know very many rich people, so there's nothing to contradict the stereotypes. The same thing is true of gay people. People don't know very many gay people, and so they evaluate people based on stereotypes. Up until about four years ago, I drove a 10-year-old Honda, and it's not because I couldn't afford anything better, but mostly because cars aren't worth it to me. It's very odd that people think of me as a rich person.Q: Who are your peers? A: I would define peers as my friends. One of my friends is a computer programmer. One of my friends is a paralegal. Another is kind of a corporate trainer. And another one is a freelance programmer. They are who I go to when I want advice.Q: Are these the same guys you hung out with when you designed computer programs and ordered out for pizza? A: Some of them are. Others are just people I met at parties that I clicked with.Q: In terms of business, who are your peers? A: CEOs or chief technical officers of companies.Q: Do you find yourself having much in common with them, personally? A: No, but that's more because I live in Colorado, and they live in Silicon Valley. The world viewed in Silicon Valley is very different than the way it is viewed in Colorado. I don't have much in common with them. I'll talk to them on the phone; I'll talk to them at trade shows; but I don't have very much interaction with them.Q: Who are your philanthropic peers? A: Some of them are gay, and some of them are not. When I start to think about peers in the philanthropic community, I think more about people, I guess, not that are my equals, but that have been at it longer, that I look up to.Q: When you meet with these philanthropic colleagues, do you talk strategy, do you talk about where the money's going to go? A: I do. I meet with them at the Outgiving Conference. The purpose is really to share philosophies, as opposed to getting together and forming a pact. Because there are so many good organizations, you really want to fund them all. You don't want to do anything that concentrates money in one place. The Gay AgendaQ: What is your gay agenda? A: [Laughs] It's funny that the religious right says there's a gay agenda. If there's a gay agenda, I've never been invited to the meetings that set it. Gay people are like everybody else. They have concerns -- some people are more concerned about their family, some are concerned about their jobs, so it really just depends on the person's background and how their life is structured. If there is a gay agenda, it would have to be that we would like to be like everyone else. We would like to have the same rights, and we would also like to have the same responsibilities.Q: Does that extend to legislation that gives you equal rights with regard to same-sex marriages, with regard to partner benefits? A: We pay taxes like everybody else, and to have society say, "You have the responsibility to pay taxes, but you don't have the right to gain the benefits of marriage," seems unreasonable. Marriage is really two things: There is a religious component, and no one in the world believes that if a church doesn't want to marry two people of the same sex, they should be forced to. But look at the purely bureaucratic rights that government has given to couples. It is beneficial to society to have couples, useful so that if one gets ill, the other one can take care of them. We just went through the death of my husband's father, and I can't imagine whatit would have been like for [my husband] if he hadn't had someone else who could come in and help make medical decisions. Society has constructed these kinds of partnerships between people, and I would like to be able to participate. But if I die, I can't give my inheritance tax-free to my partner. In my case, what would end up happening, is my company would die.Q: Because the inheritance tax is so high? A: The taxes are 60 percent of the value of your assets. Sixty percent of the value of Quark would have to go to the U.S. government at the time of my death. The company wouldn't survive that.Q: How have you worked around that? A: I try very hard not to die!Q: Did the Amendment 2 boycott against Colorado hurt your business? A: Not as far as I can tell.Q: You've been on the Forbes 400 list for quite some time, but your foundation doesn't even figure on things like the Chronicle of Philanthropy's Top 400 charities. Focus on the Family, The Navigators and other religious groups are well-placed on that list. Is there any realistic way of catching up? A: Fundamentally, people -- Americans in particular -- are committed to equality and always have been. In the long run, equality and equal opportunity pretty much always win. It's merely a matter of educating people about what gays and lesbians are so that they get rid of some of the stereotypes they have. That's a far cheaper proposition than trying to prevent people from becoming educated, [which is] really what many of our opponents are about. So I don't know that we really have to catch up with them in terms of dollars.Q: Have the Southern Baptists threatened to boycott Quark? A: No. You know, they boycott Disney, because [the company is] a large physical target, and it will make the press. But I guarantee that they have computers manufactured by companies that have domestic-partner policies. In fact, if they were only to religiously follow their own precepts and not buy things from companies that have domestic-partner policies, they'd be in the Dark Ages. They wouldn't have computers; they wouldn't have software; because most of the high-tech industry has recognized that all we really care about is employees that can do a good job. I need the best and brightest people. I can't afford to make value judgments, and I can't afford to put people in little boxes.Q: Isn't this "war" with the religious right basically a good thing for the foundation? A: I absolutely agree. The religious right brought more attention -- or advertising, if you will -- to gay and lesbian issues than the gay and lesbian community could in 20 years of trying on its own. We almost owe them a debt for that, because they activated us. They made the average American think about our issues in ways that they hadn't. I don't think it will just go away. And if, sometime, gays and lesbians are treated just like the rest of society, that's great. That means we can spend money on other things. There's so many things that need spending money on. BusinessQ: You are known as a tough business competitor. What are your ambitions now? A: The only ambition you should really have as a business is [to] do the best for your customers. That is the most fiercely competitive thing you can do, to produce high-quality products for your customers. If you look at the way Quark spends money, you won't find us spending a lot on advertising. I am not a big advocate of the hard sell. I fundamentally believe that presented with the information, the customer will make the most intelligent decision possible for them. If that makes me a tough competitor, well, everyone else should start being more honest.Q: How's your company doing? A: I am happy that we've done a good job. One of the problems our chief competitor has is that they became complacent. They just assumed people would just go on buying their product, no matter what. It was Aldus, bought out by Adobe. I give little speeches from time to time, and my favorite saying is, "Success isn't a place at which you arrive. Success is a process in which you engage." The20people that fail are typically the ones that say , I'm successful, and I can sit back and relax now. As soon as you do that, you begin the process of failing. PersonalQ: What is your coming-out story? A: I came out in 1972; it was about a week after I left for college. There was a gay organization on campus [at the University of Colorado at Boulder]. I really knew I was gay since I was 13 or 14, but I didn't think there were any gay people in Colorado. I knew that they lived in New York, because I had read an article in Life magazine, but I didn't think there were any gay people in Colorado. I was kind of a naive kid. So when I found out that there were, I went in [to the gay center], and I was absolutely petrified. My first word was "Hi," and my second word was "Hello," and then I just shook for 30 minutes. The man who was in there just calmly talked to me, and after about 30 minutes, I was OK with it and haven't really had any problems since. I went around speaking on campus about being gay and helped organize some of the events the Boulder Gay and Lesbian Liberation put on. My parents, I told them about two months later. They took me to see the psychiatrist the next day, and the psychiatrist said that I was fine, but we would have to work on my parents. My mother 8A was so disturbed by this that she started reading all these pop psychology books, like I'm OK, You're OK, and she got so into it [that] she went back to school and got a masters in psychology. [But now] they're wonderful with it.Q: How long did it take? A: It took them about two years. They never said, "I hate you." It was always, "We love you, but we wish you wouldn't be this way." But now I think they're actually very happy with it. I have the longest-term relationship in our family. My husband and I have been together for almost 11 years.Q: You're a Trekkie, right? New Trek or Old Trek? A: I like them both, but currently, I don't like Deep Space Nine. I really love Star Trek Voyager, because I love the idea of a female captain. The captain of Voyager reminds me a little of Katharine Hepburn.Q: What is your relationship with the media? A: Depends on which media. The media that is smart and intelligent and thoughtful, I like. There's parts of the media that their mission in life isn't really to understand the truth; their mission in life is to create controversy. I've had some reporters that come in, they know what their story is before they interview me, and their objective is to get a quote that supports what it is they believe. Reality is never that simple. So I kind of have a relationship with the media that varies, depending on who the reporter is and what the story is.Q: Are you a vegetarian? A: Yes, I am. Have been since I was a junior in high school.Q: And you don't wear leather? A: I do wear leather.Q: What didn't I ask you? A: You didn't ask me what my favorite color is.Q: And what would that be? A: When I was a kid, it was purple.Q: And now? A: I don't know, but it wouldn't be pink.