“Americans should be free to make their own choice of lifestyles and private habits without being subject to discrimination or prosecution.”
TRQ: Bruce Voeller, Born May 12, 1934
Biologist and gay activist Bruce Raymond Voeller, most widely known for his role in fighting AIDS, was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Reed College in Oregon, in 1956.
He earned a doctorate in developmental biology, biochemistry and genetics after winning a fellowship at Rockefeller University in New York. During his postgraduate studies he met Kytja, his wife, with whom he would have three children. He continued at Rockefeller until he was promoted to the university’s youngest associate professor in 1966. He published several articles and four books.
When he was 29 years old, Voeller acknowledged his homosexuality and came out of the closet. He divorced his wife in 1971, and afterwards had to take his fight for the right to visit his children to the United States Supreme Court. The court’s decision was a landmark decision for gay parents, and influenced Voeller to continue his fight for gay rights.
He went on to help found the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) but disagreements in approaches to activism led him to leave it in 1973. Following he founded the National Gay Task Force (NGTF), which became the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in 1986. The organization aimed at addressing discriminatory laws, the psychiatric classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder, and the negative portrayals of homosexuality in the media.
In 1978 Voeller left the NGTF and moved with his life partner Richard Lucik to California to form the Mariposa Education and Research Foundation, with the intention of studying and informing the public on homosexuality. Early on, Mariposa commissioned the “Gay Liberation” sculpture by George Segal in commemoration of the Stonewall Rebellion’s tenth anniversary. Controversial from the start, elderly Italian Catholics around New York’s Christopher Street objected to gay public art, while there was objection that Segal was heterosexual. Voeller later explained that many gay and lesbian sculptors had declined the project out of concern for their careers.
As AIDS began to reach its height as an epidemic, Voeller began studying the use of condoms and spermicides in presenting sexually transmitted disease. Voeller fought against naming the disease GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency), and suggested AIDS for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.
He wrote articles and co-edited AIDS and Sex: An Integrated Biomedical and Behavioral Approach (1991) with June M. Reinisch and Michael Gottlieb for the Kinsey Institute Series. Voeller also testified at Congressional hearings on AIDS, and helped organisations fight AIDS at federal, state and local levels.
In 1988 Voeller donated the Mariposa archives to Cornell University, as part of their Human Sexuality Collection. Voeller died of AIDS-related complications on February 13, 1994, at his home in Topanga, California. He was surrounded by Lucik, his sons Jon and Christopher, his daughter Suzanne Sundheim, and his sister Nancy Petron.
In June 2019, Voeller was one of the inaugural inductees to the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument in New York’s Stonewall Inn. The monument is the first U.S. national monument dedicated to LGBTQ rights and history.