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Activist and philanthropist Bruce Bastian dies at 76

Activist and philanthropist Bruce Bastian dies at 76

Bruce Bastian and WordPerfect logo
Clayton Chase/Getty Images; WordPerfect

The cofounder of WordPerfect who left the Mormon Church “truly understood the difficulty associated with HIV and AIDS at a time when few others were willing to help."

Bruce Bastian, a technology entrepreneur who left the Mormon Church when he came out as gay and became an activist for LGBTQ+ rights, has died at age 76.

Bastian died on June 16, “surrounded by his four sons, his husband, Clint Ford, and friends and other family members,” says a Human Rights Campaign press release. Bastian had been an HRC board member since 2003.

Bastian was well-known in business as the cofounder of WordPerfect, maker of the word processing software of the same name. He began developing the product while a graduate student at Brigham Young University in 1979, working with one of his professors, Alan Ashton, The Salt Lake Tribune notes. The software was widely used in the 1980s and ’90s, and by 1990, the Utah-based company employed 7,000 people. Another software company, Novell, bought WordPerfect in 1994, and Bastian joined Novell’s board of directors but left a year later.

Bastian then dedicated his life to philanthropy and the pursuit of LGBTQ+ equality. He once said he was brought up as a “good Mormon boy” and, like many young Mormon men, had done a stint as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the formal name of the church). He married a woman, Melanie Laycock, in 1976, and they had four children. They divorced in 1993, and Bastian decided he had to do “what I could to change the way people like me were viewed and treated,” as he once told The Advocate. He was named one of The Advocate's Champions of Pride in 2021 and one of our People of the Year in 2008.

He set up the B.W. Bastian Foundation in 1997. He helped found the Utah Pride Center and Equality Utah, and he supported many other organizations as well, including the Utah AIDS Foundation and several arts groups. In 2004, he cochaired the HRC board’s effort to fight the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have put a ban on same-sex marriage in the U.S. Constitution. He donated $1 million to the fight against Proposition 8 in California in 2008. Prop. 8, supported by many out-of-staters and many Mormons, was passed by voters and temporarily revoked marriage equality in the Golden State, but it was eventually struck down in court.

Bruce Bastian (right) and Sir Elton John attend a Human Rights Campaign event in Washington, DC, in 2012.Michael Kovac/Getty Images for The Elton John AIDS Foundation

“We are devastated to hear of the passing of Bruce Bastian, whose legacy will have an undeniably profound impact on the LGBTQ+ community for decades to come,” HRC President Kelley Robinson said in the press release. “Bruce was in this fight, working at every level of politics and advocacy, for over three decades. He traveled all across this country on HRC’s behalf and worked tirelessly to help build an inclusive organization where more people could be a part of this work. It’s hard to overstate the immense footprint he leaves behind for LGBTQ+ advocates in Washington, D.C., Utah and beyond. Bruce stood up for every one of us and uplifted the beautiful diversity of our community. It’s the kind of legacy we should all be proud to propel forward.”

“No individual has had a greater impact on the lives of LGBTQ Utahns than Bruce Bastian,” said a statement from Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams. “Every success our community has achieved over the past three decades can be traced directly back to his love and support. Bruce invested his passion into advancing equality every day, every month and every year of his remarkable life. He has been a rock and pillar for all of us. Our community owes more to Bruce than we can possibly express.”

“Bruce was always kind and endlessly generous,” added Stan Penfold, former executive director of the Utah Aids Foundation. “I believe he truly understood the difficulty associated with HIV and AIDS at a time when few others were willing to help, or even mention the disease. He gave his financial support when it was not a popular or particularly safe thing to do. And he inspired others to do the same. I honestly believe Bruce saved lives, and I will be eternally grateful for his support, his devotion and his friendship. He was a larger-than-life personality, and he will leave a hole in our hearts.”

“Bruce led his life with his immeasurably kind heart,” said a statement from Judy Shepard, a fellow HRC board member and founding president of the Matthew Shepard Foundation board of directors. “Building community, and just simply being there for others, was critically important to Bruce and his driving motivation for his advocacy and generosity. Bruce leaned into the hard work and centered the mission for equality and inclusion above all else. But he also knew how paramount it is to appreciate and celebrate all of the victories, big or small because the fight was always for his community to lead full, meaningful, rich lives.”

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