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Awesome Men Throughout History: Dr. Bruce Voeller

With all this talk about The Normal Heart and how sad/informed it’s making everyone, it seems like a good time to talk about a man who made a huge impact on both AIDS research and gay rights: Dr. Bruce Voeller. No offense to Larry Kramer or anything, but we’ll get back to him another time. This week’s Awesome Man Throughout History is all about science.

As a scientist, Voeller’s credentials were impressive, to say the least. He got his doctorates in biochemistry, developmental biology, and genetics at the Rockefeller Institute, where he had a five-year fellowship. He was the youngest person in the history of the Institute to become an associate professor, and wrote four books (and multitudes of scholarly articles) during his time there.

bruce1He also came out when he was 29, which probably was a bit awkward for his wife and three children to hear. Or maybe not. What I do know is that he was taking a huge professional risk that demanded a lot of courage on his part. Coming out is still a danger to one’s career in 2014, so you can imagine what it must have been like in the 1960s. Following the inevitable divorce, Voeller took his fight for visitation rights to the United States Supreme Court, and won.

That decision turned out to be a game changer for gay and lesbian parents, and for Voeller personally; he kissed academia goodbye and devoted the rest of his life to the struggle for gay rights.

Voeller was a founding member of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which he built into a national organization that addressed a myriad of the gay community’s issues, namely discriminatory laws and the designation of homosexuality as a mental disorder.

He accomplished a lot for sure, but arguably Voeller’s most important achievement was his AIDS research and related activism. We all know from The Normal Heart that AIDS, which was originally called GRID, was killing gay men by the dozens in New York, but not much was being done about it, politically, scientifically, or otherwise.

Voeller’s research on the effectiveness of different kinds of condoms and spermicides was a huge boon to the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, especially when Consumer Reports published his findings.

Voeller also came up with the acronym AIDS, feeling that GRID, which stood for “Gay-Related Immune Deficiency,” was hurtful and inaccurate.

Sadly, Bruce Voeller died from AIDS in 1994, but his legacy lives on, and so does his research. Especially all that condom stuff. Seriously, thank Voeller every time you have sex and walk away clean as a sheet.

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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.

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