November 8, 2011 at 4:41 pm EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Ellen DeGeneres named U.S. Global AIDS Envoy

Ellen DeGeneres, newly named U.S. Special Envoy for Global AIDS Awareness. (Photo by Alan Light)

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced on Tuesday that the Obama administration has appointed lesbian comedian and television personality Ellen DeGeneres as the U.S. Special Envoy for Global AIDS Awareness.

In a speech outlining U.S. policy on global AIDS issues at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., Clinton said DeGeneres’ connection with a large television audience would make her especially well suited to promote U.S. AIDS policies at home and abroad.

“Ellen is going to bring not only her sharp wit and her big heart, but her impressive TV audience and more than 8 million followers on Twitter, to raise awareness and support for this effort,” Clinton said. “I know we can look forward to many contributions from Ellen and her loyal fans across the globe.”

The State Department released a letter that Clinton sent earlier to DeGeneres discussing why the Obama administration believes her accepting the appointment would benefit the cause of fighting AIDS.

“By lending us your energy, compassion, and star power to serve as our Special Envoy for Global AIDS Awareness, your words will encourage Americans in joining you to make their voices heard in our campaign to achieve an AIDS-free generation,” Clinton said in the letter.

In a statement released Tuesday, DeGeneres said she’s honored to accept the post.

“The fight against AIDS is something that has always been close to my heart,” she said. “And I’m happy that I can use my platform to educate people and spread hope. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go look up what ‘envoy’ means.”

In her speech, Clinton discussed U.S. plans going forward to fight AIDS on the international front through the U.S. programs started during the Bush administration and continued by Obama called the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR.

When President George W. Bush proposed the program in 2003 he called for Congress to approve $30 billion for international AIDS assistance for mostly third-world countries in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean over a five-year period.

Clinton noted that when the program started, only 50,000 people in Sub-Saharan Africa were receiving life-saving anti-retroviral medication and other AIDS related drugs. Now, more than 5 million people receive such drugs as well as an addition one million people in other parts of the world through PEPFAR and the United Nations initiated Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, Clinton said.

She said the goal of the Obama administration is to bring about an “AIDS-free generation” across the globe.

“Now, by an AIDS-free generation, I mean one where, first, virtually no children are born with the virus; second, as these children become teenagers and adults, they are at far lower risk of becoming infected than they would be today thanks to a wide range of prevention tool,” she said. “And third, if they do acquire HIV, they have access to treatment that helps prevent them from developing AIDS and passing the virus on to others.”

Among other things, Clinton said PEPAR would fund programs in Africa and other locations that promote “voluntary medical male circumcision,” which she said studies show has lowered the risk of female-to-male transmission of HIV by 60 percent.

Clinton did not mention in her speech specific budget figures the Obama administration has proposed for funding PEPFAR in fiscal year 2012 and beyond or the amount of funds the U.S. plans to contribute to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Some U.S. and international AIDS organizations have criticized the Obama administration for not expanding the funding for the two entities as much as the president promised he would at the time he took office in January 2009.

Clinton noted he her NIH speech that while budget constraints are always a concern during the current economic environment, the U.S. has contributed far more than any other country to international AIDS relief programs, both through PEPFAR and the Global Fund.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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