Lear, Walter, Dr.

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NAME: Walter Lear

His Radical Faerie name is Tuffolbird.


Born in 1923, Lear received his Bachelor of Science degree from Harvard College in 1943 and his M.D. from the Long Island College of Medicine in 1946. In 1948, he received his M.S. in Hospital Administration from the Columbia University School of Public Health. In 1975, while serving as Pennsylvania's Southeast Regional Commissioner for Health Services, Lear came out publicly as a gay man. That year, he became involved in campaigns to promote a proposed Philadelphia law banning discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation. He remained active in that fight until City Council's passage of the Gay Rights Bill in 1982. He has co-founded, co-chaired, served on the Board of Directors or played another key leadership role in dozens of national and local lesbian and gay, medical, peace/anti-war and socialist-left organizations. Lear also has actively supported progressive political issues from official positions within government agencies and commissions.

Walter J. Lear, MD, was recognized today with the Helen Rodriguez-Trias Award for Social Justice at the 134th American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting and Exposition.

Lear is director of the U.S. Health Left History Center at the Institute of Social Medicine and Community Health in Philadelphia. He also is an honorary curator for the U.S. Health Activism History Collection at the University of Pennsylvania Rare Book and Manuscript Library and honorary chair of the Institute of Social Medicine and Community Health Board of Trustees.

Lear has been a health activist for more than 55 years and a founder and leader of politically progressive health organizations such as the Medical Committee for Human Rights.

“He has inspired generations of health activists working for peace and justice,” wrote JoAnne Fischer in a letter nominating Lear for the award. She said Lear’s influence led her to become a feminist health activist and executive director of the Maternity Care Coalition, a group Lear helped found.

Lear has been active in APHA for more than 40 years and was a founding member of both the APHA’s Medical Care Section and the Caucus of Gay and Lesbian Health Workers. The focus of his historical research is health activism in the United States since the 1870s. One of Lear’s current priorities is to document the history of 100 years of efforts to obtain national health insurance in the United States.

Among the causes Lear has spoken out for include minority health issues, social justice and health issues facing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, organizing numerous meetings and authoring countless reports and articles.

In 1956 he arranged a reception at the APHA Annual Meeting to honor Deborah Coggins, a young, white health officer from Madison County, Fla., who was fired by county commissioners for having a lunch meeting at a local restaurant with two black nurses from the State Board of Health. He headed the Committee on Income, Housing and Social Environment of the Philadelphia Mayor’s Commission on Health in the Eighties and wrote the committee report “The Effects of Social Environment on Health.”

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Date of Birth: 5/4/1923

Date of Death (delete if non-applicable): 5/29/2010

Age at Death (delete if non-applicable): 87


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His friends include: (type your name here, or names of others) Rusel Silkey, Bob Stewart, Barbara Gittings, Harry Kelly.

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