New Appointee to Presidential AIDS Council Criticized for Calling AIDS ‘Gay Plague’
A Bush administration decision to appoint Jerry Thacker, a marketing consultant from Pennsylvania who has described AIDS as a "gay plague," to serve on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS has "drawn criticism" from AIDS and gay-rights advocates, the Washington Post reports. Thacker, who said he contracted HIV after his wife underwent a blood transfusion, is one of several new commission members slated to be sworn in next week by HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson (Connolly, Washington Post, 1/23). 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, the Los Angeles Times reports. 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,'" according to the Times (Kemper/Malnic, Los Angeles Times, 1/23). An archived version of the Scepter Institute Web page is available through Slate.com (Slate.com, 1/23).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, the Post reports (Washington Post, 1/23). 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," the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
One anonymous administration official said that Thacker has "an ability to reach out to an audience we couldn't reach," but advocates have expressed dismay about his appointment to the 35-member panel, according to the Post (Washington Post, 1/23). David Smith, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, said, "This individual is an extremist ideologue who persecutes and demeans an entire class of people impacted by this disease. That type of person has no business advising the president of the United States on how the government should address the epidemic" (San Francisco Chronicle, 1/23). Carl Schmid, a gay rights advocate and Republican who campaigned for Bush in 2000, said, "We need to have a scientific-based approach to the problems of HIV/AIDS and not this radical agenda he's pushing. Abstinence-until-marriage does not help anyone in the gay community, because we can't get married." PACHA Co-Chair Tom Coburn said that Thacker's opinion of homosexuality is "irrelevant" to his work with the council, the Post reports. Co-Chair Louis Sullivan said he "only recently became aware" of any controversy around Thacker, according to the Post. An assistant to Thacker said he would not comment until he is sworn in to the position (Washington Post, 1/23).