Review: 'Yes I Am - The Ric Weiland Story' a Heroic Portrait of Queer Activist and Philanthropist

by Roger Walker-Dack

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday October 11, 2021

'Yes I Am - The Ric Weiland Story'
'Yes I Am - The Ric Weiland Story'  

We all need heroes and role models, especially in the LGBTQ community. Most of the ones we have are very colorful and loud. However, there are some, like Ric Weiland, who are far from that. Yet, this very private man, who sadly took his own life in 2006, is probably the most important queer activist and philanthropist of his generation.  

Weiland is still known to very few of us, but hopefully the new documentary "Yes I Am: The Ric Weiland Story," by Aaron Bear will change all that. The film will receive its premiere at the AmDocs Film Festival.

Weiland was a high-school classmate and friend of Paul Allen at Lakeside School, a preparatory school in Seattle, Washington. They, together with Bill Gates and Gates' childhood best friend Kent Evans, were involved with the Computer Center Corporation, using their PDP-10. 

Weiland was the quiet member of the group, a brilliant programmer who was also openly gay. When Allen and Gates formed Microsoft in 1975, Weiland was hired as lead programmer and developer. He was only one of five employees. 

After a couple of semesters at Harvard Business School, in 1976 - 77, Weiland rejoined Microsoft and became the project leader for Microsoft Works. Allen and Gates both enthusiastically credit Weiland as being a key contributor to the company's success.

However, in 1988, at the age of 35, armed with a huge chunk of Microsoft stock that made him wealthy beyond his dreams, Weiland retired. This was when he started his second career: Philanthropy.

Weiland was always convinced that his real purpose in life was to have an impact on issues that he was passionate about and could use an investment. LGBTQ causes were top of his agenda, and as he started in the midst of the AIDS pandemic, his support made a major difference.

Weiland approached his new career with the same deep research and investigation he had applied to his programming. It was the real reason that he managed to ensure that his significant donations would have the maximum effect.

Kris Hermanns, the CEO of The Pride Foundation, said "Weiland realized that if he wanted to fuel the change that he saw was possible and felt was needed, he needed to invest across organizations that were working on different issues but covered the full experience of the LGBT community."

Weiland also owned a chunk of General Electric stock, and that gave him a way to address the company's shareholders meeting. His impassioned plea for the corporation to drop its discriminatory hiring practices shocked many in the audience. It did, however, lead to the changes he demanded, and empowered him to repeat his actions with other major corporations at the time.

Mike Schaeffer, his widower, and a couple of past boyfriends testified to the sheer joy Weiland got from knowing what his monies could achieve, and yet he could never really escape the episodes of deep depression that dogged him his entire life. They would be the reason he would take his own life in 2006, at the age of 53.

Weiland gave away $21.5 million before his death, and bequeathed an additional $170 million. Watching the complete list of all his donations listed in the final credits of the film is nothing less than mind blowing.   

As well as being a major supporter of 11 different LGBTQ nonprofits, his largess extended to cancer hospitals, other environmental organizations, and educational institutions.

The last word goes to Schaefer, who says he hopes that others will be inspired by what Weiland accomplished. He emphasizes how rewarding it is to engage in philanthropy as an active participant, rather than simply bequeathing donations. He urges people to get involved with their families and coworkers and give whatever they can.  

We should do so, if for no better reason to honor this remarkable man — a true hero.


"Yes I Am: The Ric Weiland Story' screens at Seattle Queer Film Festival

Roger Walker-Dack, a passionate cinephile, is a freelance writer, critic and broadcaster and the author/editor of three blogs. He divides his time between Miami Beach and Provincetown.