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Controversial ex-Surgeon General to speak at Lambda Archives brunch

M. Joycelyn Elders, MD, was the Surgeon General of the United States under the Clinton administration from 1993 to 1994; the first African American to be appointed to that position.

She will be the keynote speaker on Friday March 18 at the Lambda Archives Heroines, Pioneers and Trailblazers event being held at the San Diego Women’s Club. This brunch celebrates women who made a difference in the early days of HIV/AIDS in San Diego and Tijuana.

Elders’ term as Surgeon General was fraught with controversy. The outspoken biochemist and pediatrician was known for her strong positions on healthcare reform and sex education in schools.

In fact, she resigned her position as Surgeon General, serving only 15 months, because of remarks she made about masturbation being a preventative measure to stop sexual prowess among kids. Also her views on abortion and the distribution of condoms in schools were heated topics.

Tom Reise, LGBT activist, philanthropist and member of the leadership council of The University of Minnesota, says that the event will honor a lot of wonderful, caring and compassionate women, and Elders, a personal friend, especially falls into the gala theme of Heroines, Pioneers and Trailblazers.

“She was comfortable in stepping up and saying okay let’s figure out how do we do better,” Reise said. “So she did an amazing job in Arkansas, and when Clinton got elected he asked her to come to Washington and do for the country what she had done for Arkansas.”

Reise says that Dr. Elders has reached many people in her lifetime. They don’t always agree with what she has to say, but her forthright opinions have surmounted many generations and once stubborn cultures.

“The fact that she is coming here to San Diego is remarkable, and her demographics are amazing. She’s known by old people, young people, middle-aged people; she crosses a lot of lines," said Reise.

Growing up in rural Arkansas and then graduating from college at a time when it was almost impossible for African Americans to succeed, Dr. Elders overcame adversity and managed to be an active voice on sexual health; something Americans aren’t too comfortable with today, and even less so twenty years ago.

Her focus become one of preventative measures instead of treatment. Although she believes that treatment is important, her main idea was to educate adults and children on how to prevent pregnancy and AIDS before they happen.

Some of her suggestions were too controversial for conservatives at the time.

Reise laughs as he remembers one of his favorite quotes from Dr. Elders: “Three things about masturbation, nobody gets an STD, nobody gets pregnant and you’re with somebody you love.”

Today, Dr. Elder’s suggestions may seem like common sense, but there are modern sexual health issues at hand and Dr. Elders will hopefully speak on those as well.

From using PrEP, to making public spaces accessible to transgender people, there is a lot to discuss about modern sexuality and its openness in today's world.

Dr. Elders is truly one of the Heroines, Pioneers and Trailblazers being celebrated at the Lambda Archives brunch, and perhaps Mr. Reise says it best when he recites another sentiment from the former Surgeon General, a variaton of a Greek proverb.

She is, “Planting trees under whose shade we know that we’ll never sit, but is there for somebody else.”

The Lambda Archives Heroines, Pioneers and Trailblazers will be held on Saturday March 19th, 2016 starting at noon at the San Diego Women’s Club, located at 2557 3rd Ave, San Diego, CA, 92103.

You can purchase tickets HERE.