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Biography

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

A biologist, researcher, and founder of the Mariposa Education and Research Foundation, Voeller died from AIDS-related complications on February 13, 1994 at his home in Topanga, Calif. Voeller was perhaps best known for coining the acronym AIDS for "acquired immune deficiency syndrome," a term he used in objection to the disease's earlier label, GRID, or "gay-related immune disorder." From 1961 to 1972, he held various positions on the faculty of Rockefeller University. A prominent gay rights activist, Voeller helped found the National Gay Task Force (NGTF) in 1973 and with Jean O'Leary, served as first co-directors. He also served as President of the Gay Activists Alliance in New York City. In 1980, Voeller established the Mariposa Foundation based in Topanga, to conduct human sexuality research, placing special emphasis on reducing the risks of sexually transmitted diseases. At the time of his death, Voeller's research with the Mariposa Foundation centered on the reliability of various brands of condoms in preventing the spread of diseases. A result of this research was a study funded in part by the American Foundation for AIDS Research and the National Institutes of Health, that ranked 31 brands of condoms under various conditions. Voeller was also conducting viral leakage studies for the recently approved "female" condom.

Mariposa also worked to protect research material on the social and political aspects of sexuality. Aware that papers, books, and ephemera on the lesbian and gay rights movement were in particular danger of being lost or destroyed, a network of volunteers searched for and gathered such material together. As this collection grew, Voeller and his friend David B. Goodstein began to consider how to ensure its preservation and professional care, make it more widely accessible for scholarship, and increase its visibility. They believed that the time had come for a major research library to take up the project of documenting sexuality. The gift of the Mariposa archives to Cornell University Library in 1988 launched such a program -- the Human Sexuality Collection.