"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."
He launched the Gill Foundation, mainly to fund LGBTQ projects in Colorado. He had no grand strategy; he left that to the professional activists. After a few years, though, Gill grew tired of dabbling in the LGBTQ movement. In 1999, he sold his stake in Quark for a reported $500 million and went to work running the Gill Foundation full time. Then as now, he set a goal to help as many LGBTQ people as fast as possible, so he set his sights on winning battles in individual states. "We said, 'This is the goal for this state,' " Gill recalls. " 'We think we can achieve it in this period of time. These are the steps to get there.' " Around that time, he bumped into another gay-rights donor at a conference. "You know, Tim," the donor said, "as I get older, I don't give money away as much because I might need it." To avoid a similar impulse, Gill moved 60 percent of his assets – more than $300 million – into an endowment for his LGBTQ work. Read more via RollingStone