By Michael Ditto
Major donor to many gay and non-gay organizations, all in the name of the queer community, not to mention founder of one of the most successful companies in recent memory, Tim Gill has been of great interest to me for many years. It has been an honor to speak with him in person, as well as electronically, the way in which most of this interview was conducted. Tim has been a major guiding force for many queer youth in and around Denver, Colorado and has served quite well as a role model for a long time. He has donated well over $4 million to various gay and lesbian causes over the past several years.
A Colorado native, Gill showed his aptitude for software development at an early age. During his time as an undergraduate at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins he worked on Hewlett-Packard systems as a programmer in accounting and statistical analysis., and through the contacts he made there, eventually got a job working on a new operating system for HP. Only a few years later, he founded what was to become one of the major forces in electronic publishing, Quark Inc., with over $200 million in sales each year.
Oasis caught Tim right during the development of Quark's new multimedia software, QuarkImmedia. Since Tim is very much at the core of development at Quark, and therefore very busy, we chose to do the interview via e-mail. I thought this was quite symbolic of how I and many other teens are coming out in the 1990's, via the Internet. The matter of coming out is where Oasis first began chatting with Tim Gill.
Oasis: How old were you when you first knew you were gay?
Tim: There are several answers to that. I knew that I was attracted to men at about age 12 or so. Since I was kind of a loner anyway, I hadn't been exposed to terms like "fag" or "queer", so I really didn't know that that was a "bad" thing. Around 14 or 15, I first noticed other kids using the word "homosexual" in a derogatory way. I looked up the word "homosexual". It described who I was and the kids had already taught me that being a homosexual was a bad thing. I tortured myself about it through high school. But deep down I knew that I was unalterably gay.
I even knew there were other gay people because I had read an article in Life magazine. But surely there weren't any in Colorado.
It wasn't until just before I went to college that I found out there were other gay people in Colorado. I was 17 and the university sent me a copy of the student newspaper a month before school had started. In it there was an 1/8 page ad for a camp out sponsored by the Boulder Gay Liberation Front. I was ecstatic! There were gay people in Colorado. Now if I could only find an excuse to sneak away from home and go. Then I noticed the date on the paper. It was published at the beginning of the summer. I'd missed the camp out.
I had to contain myself for 4 more weeks. But within two days I was in the BGLF office. My first word was "hi", my second was "hello" and then I shook for about 30 minutes while the man there talked to me about what it was like to be gay. At the end of it I was doing fine.
I came out to my roommate a week later. I came out to all my friends within a month. I came out to my sisters in November, and I came out to my parents in December.
It wasn't all easy. My parents took me to see a psychiatrist. Fortunately, for the time, he was fairly enlightened. He said that if I really wanted to change, that he would try to help me, but if I didn't, we'd just have to work on my parents.
Obviously, we worked on my parents. Mom started reading all these pop psychology books. She finally became so interested that she went back to school and got her masters in psychology.
Now they're just fine with my being gay. They like my boyfriend. We spend holidays with both sets of parents as well as the rest of the family. My parents even spend time with his parents when we're not around.
I'm pretty lucky I guess. You hear so many stories about kids kicked out of their homes, or kids attempting suicide. But I managed to avoid the worst parts. I'm very lucky to have a family that can accept me for what I am.
So it sounds like Tim had a pretty normal experience growing up. Most of us who have come out have similar stories to tell. Sometimes the process yields better or worse results, and for some of us it's easier, and for some of us it's rockier. But once we are grown up and out, what we do from there is up to us. Tim is a great example of what is possible when you find your niche and put your energies into it.
Oasis: Once you were grown up and out of the house and school, what was it like working in the computer field and starting your own company?
Tim: I actually started work while I was still in college to get my degree in Mathematics and Computer Science.. My parents gave me the choice of paying for my last year of schooling or buying me a used car and then I'd pay for my last year of school. I went for the car.
I did consulting work on computers mostly in accounting and statistical analysis. It wasn't really the kind of programming I wanted to be doing, but I got experience. And I had a job using computers!
One of the systems I was working with was made by Hewlett-Packard, so I got to know the HP sales reps. They even found a number of jobs for me.
It also turns out they had said good things about me to HP's engineering department. So, one day I got a call from a project leader wanting to know if I'd be willing to work part time doing QA on the operating system of a new machine. It was a dream come true. I got to work for the company I had always admired. And I got the job before I had even graduated!
According to Tim, he eventually left HP to come to Denver, where there is a larger gay population than in Ft. Collins. He worked in a small business that was comprised of friends from high school, all of whom knew he was gay. He would later start Quark, which would eventually become the large international company it is today. Just recently, Quark unveiled its new multimedia product, QuarkImmedia. One of its functions is the ability to author multimedia-rich content for the Internet. So Oasis asked Mr. Gill about the possibilities of the Internet for queer youth in the 90's.
Oasis: The Internet has opened all sorts of new doors for gay and lesbian teens. They now have the ability to communicate with one another, anonymously if they so choose, meet and talk to one another virtually, without having to come out first. What are your feelings about the possibilities of the Internet?
Tim: I think the Internet is great! I wish it'd been available to me when I was in high school. I would have come out before I was 16. And I would have had friends to support me when I was feeling like I was the only gay person in Colorado.
I think it also can make young people more sophisticated. The Internet exposes you to so many points of view and you get to interact with so many different kinds of people. I think it can give you a bit distorted view of life though. It's hard to get to know someone really well through email. I don't think that many people purposely misrepresent themselves, but I do think that the way someone reacts when they are using email is different than how they react in person.
We can glean from this conversation with Tim Gill that anything is possible. If you are reading this now, you most likely have access to the Internet and the resources available here. Communicate with other people who can offer guidance and support and friendship, and when it's time to make your move, come out to the world and take it on with everything you have. If you focus on your talents and seek out your objectives, and stay true to yourself, things will eventually fall into place.