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Controversial Appointment To Presidential AIDS Advisory Council - 2003-01-23

Since taking office, the Bush administration’s policies on HIV/AIDS have been sharply criticized by activists, human rights groups and humanitarian organizations. They say the administration is not spending enough to fight the pandemic, even though the White House says the United States is spending and doing more than any other country. Now, there’s a new controversy.

A man who once described HIV/AIDS as the “gay plague” has been appointed to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. Jerry Thacker, who along with his wife is HIV-positive following a blood transfusion in 1986, has called homosexuality a “sin.” He has described homosexuality as a “death-style” and not a lifestyle.

The Thacker appointment is drawing sharp criticism from gay rights groups, including the nation’s largest, the Human Rights Campaign. The group’s deputy communication’s director, Wayne Besen, says, “We are absolutely stunned that they would appoint an anti-gay activist who is outspoken and is clearly someone who is not qualified to be on this panel that’s supposed to be looking at this disease from a scientific standpoint. I think that the president needs to make a stand, withdraw this nomination, and decide here and now if the council is going to be an AIDS force or a farce.” Mr. Besen calls Mr. Thacker “a bigot.” He spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about the controversy.

According to the Washington Post newspaper, Mr. Thacker’s promotional material “stresses the need for compassion…and to hate the sin but love the sinner.” Mr. Thacker’s assistant has told The Post he will not talk to reporters until after being sworn in. VOA is awaiting a response from the US Department of Health and Human Services and the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.