Wrong signal from Gill 

Between the Lines

Please don't be messing with us, Gill Foundation.

Don't tell us that you're closing your Gay & Lesbian Fund for Colorado office here, even in part, because "the battle" has been won for acceptance and tolerance in the Colorado Springs community.

Don't tell us, without any warning, that you'll be eliminating your staff here as of Dec. 31 — with the added point that the fund's grants beyond 2012 won't be guaranteed — while also insisting the parent Gill Foundation is still stable financially.

And don't simply shut down your wonderful office building at 315 E. Costilla St. without regard for the many nonprofits who have been using and appreciating that space for their meetings and events. Offering those facilities, free of charge, to local nonprofits has been a major pillar of your presence and positive image in the Pikes Peak region.

Now you're just going to shut the doors, cut your operation and house it all in Denver? While your CEO, Tim Sweeney, insists you'll still have a "large presence" here?

Sorry, Tim. It can't be that easy. Not after you've spent so many years nurturing and taking pride in the Gay & Lesbian Fund's impact on Colorado Springs.

When the news came late last week, it stunned everyone — starting with the fund's actual staff here. There had been no indication, no hint of troubles from the Gill Foundation, no inkling that jobs would be lost and the building might be vacated.

That alone was a serious public-relations blunder, and the Gill leaders should have prevented that. They should have realized how much of a shock it would be. They should have included their local driving force, Mary Lou Makepeace, in the process of making the decision and planning how to let the community know. Instead, when the word came, Makepeace had to admit she had just learned about it.

The former mayor of Colorado Springs has devoted eight years of her life to championing the cause, and that's what she gets in return? Bad form.

To her credit, Makepeace has defended some of the reasoning, but she knows better than to claim total victory in "the battle" against rampant anti-gay prejudice and narrow-mindedness in this community. It's here, and it's all around us. We can agree that gays probably aren't as threatened locally as they were 20 years ago, but they still have to be careful.

Something else: Nobody from the Gay & Lesbian Fund, or the Gill Foundation, ever said that having their headquarters here would end whenever they felt they had achieved enough acceptance in Colorado Springs. Starting with Makepeace, they immersed themselves in the local scene and built strong and supposedly permanent relationships across the city.

Now that all seems shallow. One has to wonder whether the Gill Foundation board and staff in Denver fully grasped how much the Gay & Lesbian Fund was achieving here, far beyond the generosity. It wasn't just about the money. It was about being here.

Of course, the foundation is a private entity and can do whatever it wants with its money and resources. Obviously, there will be an evolving philosophy about the Gay & Lesbian Fund's grants, especially beyond 2012, and the public has no say in that.

But we can offer one strong suggestion.

Since the Gill Foundation says it's still in good shape financially, there's an opportunity to salvage an abundance of goodwill in Colorado Springs. Nothing complicated, either. It's all about doing the right thing with that neat, modernized building on Costilla Street.

What the foundation should do, as soon as possible, is find a buyer or a tenant from the region's nonprofit community and offer a sweetheart deal to purchase or lease that facility — with a guarantee that the new occupant will continue providing a rent-free venue for any other nonprofits.

With that, the Gill Foundation could salvage much of its image and credibility in Colorado Springs.

Because the crusade for tolerance and gay acceptance will continue, for years and probably generations to come. And the Gay & Lesbian Fund can leave behind some kind of physical legacy to help in that crusade, even if it's just a building for others to use.

Otherwise, there's no way the Gill Foundation's story in Colorado Springs can have a positive ending.



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