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A compendium of queer people in the 19th and 20th centuries // Drawn and researched by Michele Rosenthal

Reed  Erickson

Reed Erickson 1917to –1992

American engineer, businessman, and—most notably—philanthropist. He grew up in Philadelphia, where he ran with a group of lesbians at his school. He then went on to earn a degree in engineering, only to lose his engineering job because he refused to fire a woman with suspected communist ties. He returned to his previous work in the family’s lead business, and in 1962, inherited a major portion of the company. With natural business acumen, he soon amassed a large amount of wealth, and it was with this money that he made his biggest impact. He set up the Erickson Educational Foundation (EEF) with the mission statement of supporting fringe research. This translated to the funding of New Age interests—acupuncture, altered states of consciousness, and the like—as well as advocacy for transsexuals. A year before, in 1963, he had become a patient of the influential sexologist Harry Benjamin. He transitioned and married his first wife that same year. With the EEF, he was able to create the Harry Benjamin Foundation, support the pioneering Johns Hopkins Gender Identity Clinic, and promote the organization ONE Inc. In fact, nearly all of the research pertaining to the transgender community during the 60s and 70s was supported in some way by Erickson’s own money. He was married twice more during his life, and had two children and a pet leopard, who lived with him in his Mexico home called the Love Joy Palace. Unfortunately, his interest in altered states also led to drug addiction, and he eventually died in Mexico, a fugitive from US drug indictments.

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