Bush’s AIDS Council: Texas Two-Step Only Qualification

William Smith is Vice President for Public Policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.

It comes as no surprise to readers of this site that the Bush Administration puts a very low value on public health. Did you know, for example, that Surgeon General Carmona’s term expired last week? Carmona who? Exactly.

An equally opaque announcement came last week with the appointment of seven new members to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA). Created under the Clinton Administration, there was a time when these spots were coveted and coveted because PACHA once reflected the national face of AIDS. Now, however, PACHA reflects Texas, and the hypermoralism that has come to characterize every social issue on President Bush’s agenda.

I mean no disrespect to the remaining members of PACHA who carry the banners of evidence, science and social justice (you know who you are). Too many of them, however, are only tangentially relevant, financially vested in skewing emphasis to treatment, or simply ideological rabble that would sooner see a return to chastity belts and closeted queers than see another condom distributed with taxpayer dollars.

Even before last week’s additions, PACHA members included Edward Green, a “researcher” from Harvard who, in cahoots with his Texas colleagues from the Medical Institute for Sexual Health (The Medical Institute), has led the fight in perpetuating the myth that it was all abstinence and fidelity that led to Uganda’s now faltering success in reducing HIV prevalence. Green stands alone among the major researchers on this issue; yet, for the Bush Administration, any old science will do so long as it justifies the ideological primacy of their positions.

PACHA also includes the Reverend Herbert Lusk of Philadelphia, who doesn’t pretend to be interested in evidence or health. The former Philadelphia Eagle football player turned preacher is a leader in Bush’s faith-based initiatives movement. Lusk is virulently anti-gay and works closely with far right groups like Focus on the Family.

Onto the new members. We have Barbara Wise, who is likely to join the anti-gay bandwagon. A colleague’s digging yesterday found that Wise is listed as a speaker at a fundamentalist religious conference with workshops on “overcoming homosexuality.” Wise is also linked to a federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage program in Colorado called Friends First. SIECUS’ review of the WAIT Training curriculum used by both Wise’ own organization, WiseChoices, and Friends First, has found it to be bad on condoms, gender stereotyping and GLBTQ issues. Surprise!

The connection to the Medical Institute and Texas also continues with the new appointments. Two of the new members serve on the National Advisory Board of the Medical Institute, Marilyn Maxwell and Freda McKissick Bush (who is also on the Board of Directors). These two new appointees join Green and current PACHA member Robert Redfield in cementing the Medical Institute’s dominance in promoting abstinence-only as an means of HIV prevention – all evidence to the contrary.

Only one new addition, Shenequa Flucas of the Triangle AIDS Network (also in Texas), brings the much needed and totally absent voice of community-based organizations — those on the ground doing HIV/AIDS outreach — to the PACHA table.

Don’t get me wrong. Under a different Administration, I myself would lobby hard for a spot on PACHA because I believe in it as an instrument through which civil society can help inform government policy. But under the Bush Administration, PACHA has become a club of “yes” men and women who fall at the feet of abstinence and marriage promotion as HIV prevention for everyone. Chins up though — as one of my HIV/AIDS advocacy colleagues wrote on a listserv about the new members…“this too we shall overcome…”

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