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Media Firestorm: Biased Bush AIDS Nominee Quits & Runs

Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report

Jerry Thacker stepped down as Bush's appointee to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS after homophobic comments were associated with him Jerry Thacker, the Pennsylvania marketing consultant who has reportedly called AIDS a "gay plague" and homosexuality a "deathstyle," withdrew Thursday from his expected appointment to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS, after the White House, Democratic lawmakers and AIDS and gay-rights advocates criticized his appointment, the Washington Post reports (Connolly, Washington Post, 1/24).

In a letter sent to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson that made his withdrawal official, Thacker wrote that he is not "anti-gay. I am, however, anti-HIV/AIDS. The three infected people in our family -- my wife, daughter and myself -- would not wish this disease on any other human being" (Kemper, Los Angeles Times, 1/24).

Thacker's letter said he is stepping away from the position because of concerns about his ability to work "given the current controversy," the New York Times reports (Bumiller, New York Times, 1/24). Thacker said that he contracted HIV after his wife underwent a blood transfusion. Statements posted on the Web site of the Scepter Institute, an "educational enterprise" run by Thacker, describe how he and his wife contracted the virus.

Web pages that have recently been revised said Thacker's presentations included a message about "how Christ can rescue the homosexual" and "tips for ministry to those practicing this 'deathstyle.'" An archived version of the Scepter Institute Web page is available through Slate.com (Slate.com, 1/23).

In addition, speeches Thacker gave on Sept. 25, 2001, at his alma matter, South Carolina's Bob Jones University, addressed the "sin of homosexuality," according to summaries on the university's Web site. Thacker's promotional materials focus on the "need for compassion" for HIV-positive people and encourage churches to think "Christianly" about the disease and to "hate the sin, but love the sinner" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/23).

Reaction

Thacker's nomination "quickly ignited a firestorm of negative reaction" from advocates and "leading Democrats," according to the Los Angeles Times. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said, "Thacker's characterization of AIDS as the 'gay plague' and his offensive public statements about homosexuality indicate a disturbing bias that is completely at odds with the role the advisory commission should play" (Los Angeles Times, 1/24).

According to the Post, White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer said President Bush does "not endorse" Thacker's "gay plague" statement. "The president has a totally opposite view. That remark is far removed from what the president believes," Fleischer said (Washington Post, 1/24).

Sen. Joe Liberman, a Democratic presidential candidate for 2004, said Thacker's appointment would have been 'divisive' Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) said in a statement issued yesterday, "[Thacker's] appointment would have had a divisive effect that would have threatened the critical work of this commission. His stated view that AIDS is a 'gay plague' is both offensive and wrong" (Lieberman release, 1/23).

Human Rights Campaign Political Director Winnie Stachelberg said, "Thacker was right to step aside and we hope that future administration appointments will reflect a commitment to epidemiology, not fringe ideology" (HRC release, 1/23).

An AIDS Action statement praised Thacker's decision to remove himself from PACHA, but said his nomination "raises questions about how committed [Bush] is to the fight against HIV" (AIDS Action release, 1/23).

"The Thacker incident was clearly more than a bureaucratic screw-up," an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle states. Administration officials had to have known of Thacker's background, and his "absurd" nomination "reflects a dangerously simplistic focus" by Bush on abstinence-only policy as the primary method to fight AIDS, according to the editorial (San Francisco Chronicle, 1/24).

Thacker, however, said in his letter that statements had been taken "out of context," according to the New York Times. "The term 'gay plague' was in vogue in the mid-80s as this disease first took its toll on that population. Obviously, this disease is now found in people of all races, colors, creeds and sexual orientations, so I do not use that term except in describing the historical context," Thacker wrote (New York Times, 1/24).

According to the Washington Post, Thompson said he was "unaware" of Thacker's nomination and "had never met him" (Washington Post, 1/24).

Other Appointments

According to an HHS press release, Thompson named seven new PACHA members Thursday, including the following:

  • Rosa Biaggi is the AIDS division director for the Connecticut Deparment of Public Health.

  • Jacqueline Clements, who is HIV-positive, serves on the North Carolina Governor's AIDS Advisory Council and works as an HIV testing counselor.

  • David Greer, who is HIV-positive, is a marketing and communications consultant in Philadelphia and serves on the Human Rights Campaign Board of Governors and their HIV/AIDS and public policy committees.

  • Janice Hu works with the World Bank, UNICEF, CDC and World Health Organization to promote HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention in China, and she is the founder and chair of the China Foundation.

  • Brent Minor, who is HIV-positive, co-chairs the Washington, D.C., Ryan White Planning Council and serves on the Alexandria, Va., City Council's Task Force on AIDS.
  • Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson named seven new members to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS

  • Dr. David Reznik is the chief of dental services at Grady Health Services Oral Health Infectious Disease Program in Atlanta and serves on the Ryan White Planning Council of Metropolitan Atlanta.

  • Don Sneed is the founder and director of Renaissance III, a not-for-profit organization that provides HIV/AIDS-related services in southern Texas. Sneed, who is a former drug user living with HIV/AIDS, advocates on behalf of the African-American community regarding AIDS-related issues (HHS release, 1/23).
    This summary is from the Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report http://www.kaisernetwork.org/dailyreports/hiv provided by kaisernetwork.org), a free health policy news summary and webcasting service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org by National Journal Group Inc. 2003 by National Journal Group Inc. and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved
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    Related Sites

    Kaiser Network

    Jerry Thacker's Scepter Institute

    Health and Human Services Department

    Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS

    Sen. Liberman