Utah billionaire leaves Mormon church, donates $600,000 to LGBTQ group
Jeff Green, a billionaire thought to be the richest person from Utah, resigned from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, writing in a letter to the church’s president that he believes the institution has “hindered global progress in women’s rights, civil rights and racial equality, and LGBTQ+ rights,” according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
Green, the chairman and CEO of The Trade Desk, a technology marketing company, informally left the Mormon church, as the LDS church is commonly called, a decade ago. But in a letter Monday to church President Russell Nelson, he officially resigned and requested the removal of his records, The Tribune reported.
Neither Green nor the church have responded to requests for comment about the letter.
Green said in his letter that most of the church’s members are “good people trying to do right” but that he believes “the church is actively and currently doing harm in the world.”
“The church leadership is not honest about its history, its finances, and its advocacy,” he wrote, according to The Tribune.
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Green wrote that he will donate $600,000 to the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Utah as the first major donation from his family foundation’s giving arm, Dataphilanthropy. According to The Tribune, he added that almost half of the money will go to a new scholarship program for LGBTQ students in Utah, including those who “may need or want to leave” his alma mater, Brigham Young University, which is sponsored by the church.
“We made this investment sizable and publicly to send a message that Equality Utah isn’t going anywhere,” Green wrote, adding that he hopes the donation is the first of many.
A spokesperson for Brigham Young University has not responded to a request for comment.
Executive Director Troy Williams said Equality Utah is “incredibly grateful for Jeff’s generosity and support.”
“In Utah, we have made enormous strides forward toward LGBTQ equality,” he said in an email. “The two most important elements of our success has been the support of allies and the willingness of state and religious leaders to engage with us. We don’t always agree, but great things happen when we seek common ground. Jeff’s financial support will ensure that we will remain a prominent force in Utah politics for years to come.”
The group has celebrated a number of notable achievements in recent years despite the state’s conservatism. About 62 percent of Utah residents and about 86 percent of the state’s lawmakers are members of the LDS church, which opposes same-sex marriage and, more recently, the Equality Act, a federal bill that would protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in housing, employment and jury service, among other areas of life.
Despite those conflicts, Equality Utah has managed to work alongside church leaders and the Republican-controlled Legislature to pass historic legislation.
In 2015, the state passed a bill that prohibits employment and housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity while providing protection for religious institutions that say such prohibitions would violate their beliefs. In 2017, the governor repealed a law prohibiting discussions of homosexuality in public schools.
Then, in 2019, the state joined 21 others by passing an LGBTQ-inclusive hate crime law. Last year, it banned licensed therapistsfrom practicing conversion therapy, a discredited practice that seeks to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity, on children.
But advocates say there is still work to do. For example, in October, Brigham Young University, which Green mentioned in his letter, was named one of the worst colleges and universities for LGBTQ students by Campus Pride, a nonprofit organization that advocates for LGBTQ inclusivity and safety at U.S. colleges and universities.
The university forbids same-sex dating and doesn’t officially recognize or support BYU Pride, the student-run LGBTQ group.
The university was named in a class-action lawsuit against the Education Department in March alleging that a Title IX exemption allows religiously affiliated schools that receive federal funds to discriminate against LGBTQ students and that the exemption is unconstitutional. At the time, a spokesperson for the university said BYU was “aware of the lawsuit” and was reviewing it.
“Our goal is that all our students be treated with respect, dignity and love,” the statement read. “We are concerned when any of our students do not feel this way and greatly value the contributions our students make to BYU.” The university has not replied to a request for additional comment.
In addition to potentially making more donations to Equality Utah, Green — whose net worth is estimated at $5 billion — wrote in a giving pledge that his goal is to give away more than 90 percent of his wealth “through data-driven philanthropy before or at my death.”
“But I will also give of my time, my most precious commodity, to allocate those funds deliberately, and to be personally engaged,” he wrote.