2.11 In memoriam: Vern Bullough
Vern Bullough, our greatest Sexologist, dies at 77
Percy, William A., The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, 1
The GLBT community has lost its most effective advocate from outside the gay world. Sexologist, activist, nurse, and historian, Vern
Bullough died from cancer on June 21st at 77.
Born a Mormon in Salt Lake City in 1928, Vern renounced that religion while a teenager. He received an introduction to
homosexuality and its study through his wife Bonnie. Her mother, living in Las Vegas, had come out in the 1940's as a lesbian and
entered into a lifelong relationship with Berry Berryman. This couple introduced Vern and Bonnie to a side of life heretofore
closed off to them.
By the time they reached college, they were already publishing works about
homosexuality. Vern eventually wrote, co-authored, edited, or co-edited almost sixty books, some with
Bonnie, who was primarily a nurse, though she later gained a doctorate in sociology. To bring himself up to par about medicine,
Vern picked up a degree in nursing from California State University in 1980, and the two wrote prolifically together on nursing as well
But this was many years after he'd gotten his BA from the University of Utah, in 1951, followed by a doctorate in the history of medieval
medicine and science from Chicago just three years later.
Vern moved to Los Angeles in 1959 to begin teaching at California State
University at Northridge, where he remained until 1980. He became a board member of the ACLU's Southern California
chapter -- on the condition that the trend-setting chapter, the oldest in the nation,
would acknowledge homosexuality as a civil liberties issue.
As Vern himself recognized, his most important book was Sexual Variance in Society and History
a most diligently researched and enduring work. Vern classified societies as sex-positive, neutral, or
sex-negative, and basically showed that most homophobia stemmed from Leviticus, the Sodom story, and the
Pauline epistles, and that Jewish, Christian, and Moslem societies were far more likely to
condemn and persecute sexual minorities than were other societies.
Vern's work included major studies of prostitution, contraception, and all the "trans"
He edited a sex series for Prometheus Press that facilitated translations of Karl Ulrichs and
Magnus Hirschfeld into English. But beyond all this, Vern fought for better recognition of homosexuals in history books and maintained
that pederasty, or intergenerational sex, was historically common.
He always supported the work of Bruce Rind, even when Rind and the American Psychological Association were unanimously condemned by
both houses of Congress for publishing Rind's skillful synthesis of all previous studies of the effects of
intergenerational sex. Like Harry Hay, Vern never denounced NAMBLA.
Unlike his flamboyant role models Alfred Kinsey and Hirschfeld, Vern was modest and retiring. His writing and speaking styles were as
unsparkling as his wardrobe.
But behind the bland exterior was a genius: brilliant, indefatigable, generous, loyal, and inspiring. Accused of pedophilia
because he served on the editorial board of Paidika, he was undeterred in supporting research into all variations of sexual
behavior. A driven researcher like Hirschfeld and Kinsey -- and subjected to similar
threats -- Vern remained surefooted and unflappable. Like them, but with degrees in history and nursing, he
neglected no avenue of understanding, from the sciences and the humanities, to the fine arts, genetics, medicine, sociology, and
psychology. Unlike them, he never collected much raw data himself, but he understood statistics and knew how to analyze and interpret
Vern's learnedness and high professional standing, combined with his nonjudgmental outlook, over the years established a vital link
between the gay and straight communities. Facts are facts, and science is science, and no amount of wishing them away, no amount of
pressure or calumny, ever deflected Vern from his mission--to learn the truth and communicate it to others.