In response to the July 29 passing of Dr. Benjamin E. Teller, who was appointed as the Center’s first Medical Director, and subsequently served as a member of the Center’s Board of Directors from 1976–1980, Center CEO Lorri L. Jean issued the following statement:
“It hurts my heart that the wonderful Dr. Benjamin E. Teller died on July 29, after a battle with cancer. Ben and his partner, Benjamin Britt, have been longtime Center Sustaining Donors, and also made a generous gift to the Capital Campaign for the Anita May Rosenstein Campus. Plus, Ben was a member of the Center’s Senior Services program. In March, the Center’s blog highlighted Ben’s participation in a Senior Services workshop entitled Spirit of Survival: The Ancient Art of Mask-Making. Ben’s mask was based upon the Hindu goddess Kali, who was called upon to fight a demon. Ben described the mask he made to more than 40 guests at the Center unveiling:
‘Kali was called upon to vanquish the demon, and she did. She managed to cut off his head and drink his blood before it hit the ground. To me, that seemed like a metaphor for cancer. The cancer cells are also duplicating themselves throughout my body, and I am fighting it and hope that I will win.’
“Sadly, Ben lost that battle on Wednesday. But I will always remember Ben for the battles he won. Ben first got involved with the Center in the early 1970s. As a physician with a beard and a ponytail, he was referred to by some as a ‘hippie doctor.’ In 1972, at the age of 31, he agreed to share his license and liability insurance with the Center, to enable the creation of the Center’s very first clinic; a gay men’s VD clinic. It was the [America’s] first VD clinic specifically for gay clientele. Ben became the Center’s first Medical Director and was given free rein to build the clinic as he saw fit. It opened in the fall of 1972, and all of the doctors worked for free. As he would describe his vision to the author of Before AIDS: Gay Health Politics in the 1970s:
‘It would be a free clinic…run on donations…where gay people [men] could come and feel totally comfortable talking about their sexuality and…sexually transmitted diseases. They didn’t have to have any shame or reservation about what was going on. …It would be a place where professionals and paraprofessionals as well as patients could be totally open and honest about themselves and therefore promote good gay health…That was the vision.’
“The clinic opened to the campaign theme of Love Needs Care, proclaimed on posters hung in local gay bars. Ben also posted signs in the clinic itself that pleaded: ‘This clinic funds on love and money. Please give some of both.’
“Several years later, Ben joined the Center’s Board of Directors and served as its President during the controversial period when almost all of the Center’s lesbian employees, supported by many lesbians in the community, protested the Center for its failure to properly include lesbians on the management team. For 48 years, Ben did what he could to help the Center do better and do well.
“Today’s Center stands on a foundation that Ben helped build. Our mission continues to embrace his vision of a world where LGBT people can be open and honest about themselves and enjoy better health as a result.
“Our entire Center family mourns his loss, celebrates his life, and sends our deep condolences to his partner Ben, family, and friends.”