Foundation picks AIDS activist, author, athlete.
By Jennifer Whytock
DENVER [03.29.04] — Rodger McFarlane likes to depend on people in a crunch, from his nuclear-submarine shipmates and expedition-race teammates to colleagues who fought AIDS issues, and he hopes people always can depend on him.
As the new executive director of the Denver-based Gill Foundation, many nonprofits throughout the U.S. will depend on him to support their causes.
During 25 years working at nonprofits, McFarlane often struggled to raise money, and he is looking forward to being at a foundation where he can help decide where money should go.
Since Tim Gill, founder of the Quark software company, began the foundation 10 years ago to secure equal opportunity for all people regardless of sexual orientation, it has given nearly $54 million to nonprofits.
The foundation also has trained over 10,000 nonprofit staff and board members in grant-writing, fundraising and management, and won a 2004 award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals.
McFarlane, a founder of the protest group ACT UP New York, ran several AIDS groups, including the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and Bailey House.
McFarlane pinned ribbons on actors Julie Andrews and Jeremy Irons at the Tony Awards in 1992 to help start a trend of actors promoting AIDS awareness through red ribbons.
“I have received two Tony awards, but I am most proud of a special Tony for mobilizing the national theater community,” he says.
In school, McFarlane was taller and stronger than most classmates and would fight for kids who could not fight for themselves, and now he continues to fight for people in his work, he says.
“History has forced me into what I do,” he says. “When friends are dying, you can run away or you can fight.”
After taking care of friends with AIDS and relatives with various diseases, McFarlane wrote the book “The Complete Bedside Companion: No Nonsense Advice on Caring for the Seriously Ill”.
He has written two other books and plans to write several more.
McFarlane began his career in the 1970s as a nuclear reactor operator on a fast-attack submarine, where he was openly gay.
“If you were good at what you did, it didn’t matter who you slept with,” he says. “My job there set the standard of professionalism in my life, because anyone’s mistake could kill us all.”
McFarlane thinks it would be harder now to be openly gay in the military, but he believes Americans in general are more tolerant today, and the foundation is funding research to better understand what Americans really think about gay people.
“Most people, when presented with gay family members, are decent and thoughtful about it,” he says. “It’s more the elected officials and right-wing pundits who deliberately try to use the issue because it’s an easy wedge to whip people into a frenzy.”
McFarlane is always looking for challenges, and has completed seven over-ice expeditions to the North Pole, and competed in many triathlons and two Eco Challenge 500-mile expedition races.
In his most recent Eco Challenge in 2002, McFarlane broke his back deep in the jungle of Fiji, and was carried out by his female teammates, but he is fully recovered and looking forward to exploring more challenges in Colorado, his new home after 26 years living in New York City.