November 30, 2016 at 1:07 pm EDT | by Charles Francis
In assessing Trump, don’t forget Bush era
Republican AIDS policy, gay news, Washington Blade

President George W. Bush (White House photo by Eric Draper)

In his recent Blade op-ed (“Forgotten Americans,” Nov. 25) James Driscoll makes some reasonable sounding suggestions for LGBT Republican AIDS policy advocacy in the Trump years were it not the year 2016. After the sad history of Republican AIDS activism during the first term of George W. Bush, some 17 years ago, anyone who is serious about history should know better than to dust off old-school Log Cabin messaging, especially Driscoll who served for years on George W. Bush’s Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA). Indeed, why are George W. Bush and Karl Rove and their gay supporters nowhere mentioned in Driscoll’s piece on Trump?

Driscoll is not so much a “forgotten” American as a “forgetting” American. He conveniently forgets the train wreck of the Bush presidency and LGBT-related AIDS policy. So much of LGBT history is “deleted” or remains sealed in government vaults, it is easy to forget how the first White House openly gay AIDS czar Scott Evertz was pressured to resign his post, while Rove surrogates like Claude Allen and Patricia Ware were elevated along with a host of other anti-gay ideologues fighting for “abstinence” prevention education over condoms. Bush/Rove/Ware “AIDS advocate” Jerry Thacker even described homosexuality as a “deathstyle” and AIDS a “gay plague,” while Rove and others were trying to appoint him to the Bush PACHA. That did not go so well.

Driscoll’s AIDS strategy for these so-called “forgotten” LGBT Republican Trumpsters was tried and spectacularly failed on his team’s watch during the Bush years. No one remembers Jay Lefkowitz, the Orthodox Jewish conservative attorney who was Bush/Rove’s director of domestic policy (2000-2003), described as the “in-house ethicist” and primary liaison to Christian conservatives like James Dobson and Jerry Falwell. This West Wing ethicist may presage the unfolding role of Vice President Pence and his team.

The Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C. has made multiple Freedom of Information Act requests to the George W. Bush Presidential Library to open up the now-processed Lefkowitz AIDS papers, which include “AIDS PR Strategy” memos from Patricia Ware and HIV/AIDS policy memos from Claude Allen. THAT Claude Allen, former aid to Jesse Helms; deputy secretary, Department of Health and Human Services; opponent of science-based LGBT policy proposals, later to be arrested for shoplifting after being named Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy. The Lefkowitz Papers at the Bush Library include some 40 boxes of materials, including high-flown “ethicist” memos and speeches on AIDS, even as the Bush administration would pivot from gay “access and affordability” issues to African AIDS, working with Pastor Rick Warren in Uganda.

The judgment of history on this period for LGBT Americans is an unforgiving one, especially since George W. Bush was another one of these “pro-LGBT” candidates in transition to the presidency. Driscoll’s advocacy for Trump/Pence’s “forgotten” LGBT supporters — without addressing the Bush disaster culminating in the Federal Marriage Amendment — mocks history.

Charles Francis is president of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C. He organized the meeting of then-Gov. George W. Bush with the “Austin 12” in 2000, the first time a Republican presidential candidate had ever formally and publicly met with a group of openly gay individuals to discuss his presidential candidacy. In 2001, Francis was appointed by President Bush to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. 

3 Comments
  • Thanks for another great “unerasure,” Charles.

  • President George W. Bush first started his efforts to battle HIV with the PMCT (Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission) program – followed by the signature achievement of his administration PEPFAR. I was sworn in to PACHA on the day President Bush announced PEPFAR. I served as a member of PACHA for 4.5 years. Pat Ware only lasted a short time after my appointment. I believe she was gone in 2003. With help from the Bush White House, including two excellent PACHA EDs, we cleaned house and ridded the council of homophobes and most abstinence only people.

    Under the Bush administration we were able to reauthorize Ryan White to ensure that the money followed the disease – imagine how bad off HIV in the South would be had it not been for that reauthorization. I would point out the CLIA waiver for rapid HIV testing, which I believe occurred in 2002.

    I started my term on PACHA later than Jim, but we still had Clinton appointees on the council. Actually, I took Brent Minor’s job as Chair of the Treatment and Care subcommittee when Brent’s term expired. Later, I became chair of the Domestic Sub-committee. NEVER did I witness or experience homophobia from President George W. Bush.

    HIV care in the U.S. has always had tremendous bipartisan support. I do not see that changing with the new administration.

    • My op-ed in the Blade does not address Bush 43 HIV failings or achievements.It focuses on the future. Yes, some will dwell on past mistakes at the cost of ignoring present challenges. But why attack LGBT people who want to move ahead constructively?

      Although I did not mention George W. Bush’s AIDS record, I am happy to defend it. PEPFAR and the Global Fund were major international and humanitarian achievements, for which all, especially those with HIV, owe President Bush gratitude. With long ADAP waiting lists and other festering problems the Ryan White Care Act needed updating to insure that funding followed actual cases. That was done successfully by the Bush Administration with the help of leadership from Log Cabin members David Reznik and Carl Schmid on PACHA.

      Rapid HIV testing had been stalled for years in FDA by CLIA special interests. Clinton could have removed the block, but left it for Bush to do the job. Claude Allen was instrumental in pursuading President Bush to over-rule FDA and implement widespread rapid testing. Toward that end, I worked with Allen and Dr. TomCoburn, then chair of PACHA. Coburn was a determined AIDS advocate, Allen was an able and gracious man who made a small but tragic mistake. Dr. Joe O’Neil headed ONAP then; enjoying President Bush’s support and access, Joe used them to advance, rapid testing, PEPFAR, and many other HIV issues.

      Although I favor documenting what went wrong in the past and who was at fault, we must not let past wrongs distract us from urgent present threats and needs. The spread of intolerant Sharia dogma throughout the world today is the greatest single threat to LGBT rights, as well as to women’s rights. The LGBT establishment’s reluctance to recognize this threat is shameful, as is the near silence of the Democratic Party.

      Pro-Trump LGBT’s are so far almost alone in calling for action. An important motivation for our support of Trump is that among major American politicians Trump has led in the defense of LBGT rights against totalitarian ideology in religious drag. To our peril we ignore bigots in other countries who stone and crucify LGBT brothers and sisters just for the “sins” of being who they are. Don’t kid yourselves, they are coming for us here in America.

      Finally, the end of Obamacare poses immediate challenges for those with HIV. All our efforts are needed to meet these challenges along with existential threats posed by “religious” totalitarians.

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