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In assessing Trump, don’t forget Bush era

Disastrous AIDS policies from ‘pro-LGBT’ Republican



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. 

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  1. Rick Rosendall

    November 30, 2016 at 4:36 pm

    Thanks for another great “unerasure,” Charles.

  2. David Reznik

    November 30, 2016 at 4:45 pm

    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.

    • Jim Driscoll

      November 30, 2016 at 8:17 pm

      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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Opinion | LGBTQ Virginians advocate D.C. statehood

The right of all Americans to be part of our democratic society



My hometown will always be Washington, D.C. It’s the place where I was born and spent all of the first seven days of my life. As a lifelong Virginian however, where I live and attended schools, I straddle two communities important to me. 

As a business owner of 30 years in Washington, D.C., I pay many of my taxes and payroll taxes to the Nation’s Capital while I also pay income tax to Virginia where I’m a citizen.

Most important of all, as a gay Virginia voter, I can think of few lifelong political goals more important to me than achieving statehood for Washington, D.C. One of the compelling reasons I still make my home in Virginia and cross the Potomac River every day of my life, is because of my right as a Virginian to vote for two U.S. senators and for a member of the House of Representatives with the power to vote in Congress.

(It is still shocking to know that, with Washington, D.C. statehood still beyond grasp, the Honorable Eleanor Holmes Norton who represents D.C. in the U.S. House of Representatives, has never yet had the authority to vote on the floor of the House.)

At an early age, I was dumbfounded to know that D.C. then did not even have a local government. We lacked an elected mayor and city council, with almost all decisions for the District of Columbia made by the federal government. Yet today, even with a mayor and local government in place, it is breathtaking to know that my friends, neighbors and co-workers still have zero voice in the Capitol and no one to vote for them – and for us – in Congress.

Consider that one of the world’s most diverse and educated cities has so often been bullied by extreme conservative leaders on Capitol Hill who – whenever possible – turn back the clock for D.C. citizens on voting rights, abortion rights, gun measures and our civil rights including LGBTQ equality. Not a single voter in D.C. has much, if any, say over any of those decisions.

The absence of statehood and the lack of real voting rights means that the unforgivable strains of racism and homophobia often held sway not just for Washington D.C., but in denying the United States a true progressive majority on Capitol Hill too. 

Virginians get it. In the past decade, we’ve worked very hard in every county and city in the commonwealth to turn our regressive political past into a bright blue political majority. We have elected LGBTQ candidates to state and local offices in unprecedented numbers. Our vote is our power.

More significantly, through the work of Equality Virginia and its many allies, we are repealing scores of anti-LGBTQ measures and reforming our statutes and constitution to secure equal rights as LGBTQ voters, adoptive parents, married couples, students, and citizens. Doesn’t Washington, D.C. deserve that future?

Virginia needs more states – like D.C. – to join forces and represent all Americans. To achieve this, and to defeat or neuter the anti-democratic Senate filibuster rule, we need our friends, allies and neighbors, the citizens of Washington, D.C. to share in our democratic ambitions.

Long ago, Washington, D.C. resident, abolitionist and civil rights leader, Frederick Douglass declared that “the District is the one spot where there is no government for the people, of the people, and by the people. Washington, D.C. residents pay taxes, just like residents of Nevada, California or any other state. Washington, D.C. residents have fought and died in every American war just like residents of Ohio, Kentucky or any other state. The District deserves statehood and Congress should act to grant it.” 

Speaking for LGBTQ Virginians, we agree. Conferring statehood is not a gift nor a blessing from the rest of us, but instead, it is the absolute right of all Americans to be part of our democratic society. As LGBTQ Americans, if we are to pass the Equality Act and other fundamental civil rights measures, we need the State of Washington, D.C. and its voters by our side.

Bob Witeck is a longtime LGBTQ civil rights advocate, entrepreneur, and Virginian, with long roots and longstanding ties to D.C.

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Opinion | Representation matters: The gayest Olympics yet

From one out athlete to more than 160 in just 33 years



OK, I really want a Tom Daley cardigan. The now gold-medal Olympian told Britain’s The Guardian that he took up crocheting during the pandemic. He even has an Instagram page dedicated to his knit creations, MadeWithLoveByTomDaley. It’s all very adorable; it’s all very Tom Daley. 

All that aside, you’d have to be practically heartless to not feel something when Tom Daley and his diving partner Matty Lee won the gold on Monday in the men’s synchronized 10-meter diving competition, placing just 1.23 points ahead of the Chinese. And then seeing him with tears in his eyes on the podium as “God Save the Queen” played. Later that week, he knitted a little bag featuring the Union Jack to hold and protect his medal. So very wholesome

Daley is certainly one of the highest profile LGBTQ athletes in these games. Besides the diver, the 2020 Summer Olympics, now in 2021 because of the pandemic, are hosting more than 160 out athletes. A record to be sure, but calling it a record does it somewhat of an injustice. The United States sent the first out athlete to the 1988 Summer Olympics, Robert Dover an equestrian rider competing in dressage. Dover remained the only out (sharing the title once in 1996 with Australian diver Craig Rogerson) for 10 years. Then, during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the number of out athletes jumped to 15. London’s 2012 Olympics saw the number increase to 23. The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro saw the number jump to 68 out athletes. And now we’re at over 160. 

So you get the trend building here. From one out athlete to more than 160. So very far, so very fast. And competing in everything from handball to sailing to golf to skateboarding. Also, noteworthy, New Zealand sent the first trans athlete, weightlifter Laurel Hubbard. These are but numbers and names, but to be sure, this sort of representation, this sort of visibility, is hugely important. Not just for athletes coming up behind them, but let’s think too of those out there, not yet even out, maybe watching in their parents’ living room. Seeing Tom Daley thank his husband, mention their son, this sort of queer normality being broadcast as if it is both groundbreaking and at the same time nothing at all — the importance of this cannot be overstated. 

On top of that, growing up gay, how many times were we all told, whether outright or simply implied, that sports were more or less off limits to us. Meant to display the peaks of gender and ability, sports were not meant for those who couldn’t fit neatly into that narrative. But it appears that that narrative is slowly becoming undone. Just look beyond the Olympics, to the wider world of sports. Earlier this summer, pro-football’s Carl Nassib came out.   

And maybe I’m just of a generation that marvels at the destruction of each and every boundary as they come down. We had so very little as far as representation back then. Now to see it all, and in so many different sports, you can’t help but to wonder what the future will hold for us; and it really delights the imagination, doesn’t it? 

It is the gayest Olympics yet. And if the trend laid out above continues, it will only get gayer as the years go on. And if it’s a barometer for anything, I think we will see a lot of things getting a bit gayer from now on.

Brock Thompson is a D.C.-based writer. He contributes regularly to the Blade.

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Opinion | Blame Mayor Bowser for violence epidemic?

In a word, ‘no,’ as the problem is nationwide



The simple answer to the question “Does the Mayor get the blame for the violence epidemic?” is NO! This is not something that can be laid at any one person’s feet. The epidemic of gun violence is gripping the entire nation. 

The frustration and outrage I and everyone else feels are palpable. It’s frightening when you hear gunshots in your neighborhood. It makes bigger headlines when the shots fired are in neighborhoods not used to that like the recent shooting on 14th and Riggs, N.W. When the shots rang out patrons of upscale restaurants like Le Diplomate ran or ducked under their tables for cover. When shots were fired outside Nationals stadium the national media lit up to report it. The truth is we must have the same outrage every time shots are fired and people hurt or killed in any neighborhood of our city.  

Trying to lay the blame for this at the feet of the mayor, as some people on social media and in opinion and news columns in the Washington Post are doing is wrong. Some would have you believe the mayor is just sitting by and allowing the violence to happen. There are pleas “Mayor Bowser do something!” as if she could wave a magic wand and the shootings will stop. 

In a recent Washington Post column, “Bowser pressed to act after shootings,” a number of Council members are quoted including Chairman Phil Mendelson, Ward 2 member Brooke Pinto, Ward 4 member Janeese Lewis George, At-large member Anita Bonds and Ward 5 member Kenyan McDuffie. They all call for something to be done but not one of them says what they would do. It’s clear they are as frustrated and outraged as the rest of us but have no easy answers. What is clear is casting blame on the mayor and police commissioner won’t help to stop the violence and shootings. 

Again, this epidemic of violence isn’t just an issue for D.C. but a national epidemic. Recently our mayor sat beside the president at a White House meeting called to discuss what can be done about this with mayors and law enforcement officials from around the nation. No one from the president down had an answer that can make it stop right away. Many in D.C. would be surprised at the ranking of the 50 cities with the most violent crime per 100,000 residents showing D.C. with 977 violent crimes per 100,000 residents at number 27 behind cities like Rockford, Ill., Anchorage, Ala., and Milwaukee, Wisc. Crime in nearly all those cities and murder rates have gone up, in many cases dramatically, since the pandemic. 

The solution to ending gun violence is to get the guns out of the hands of those who are using them for crime but that is easy to say and much harder to do. We know ending poverty will make a difference. Giving every child a chance at a better education and ensuring real opportunities for every young person will make a difference. We must also hold people responsible for the serious crimes they commit and often courts are a system of revolving door justice where we find the same people arrested for a serious crime back on the street committing another one and the same gun used for multiple crimes.

There are anti-crime programs that might work but they need buy-in from the entire community including activists and the clergy who must work in concert with our political leadership. D.C. is funding a host of programs including ‘violence disrupters,’ job training, and  mental health and substance abuse programs. They all need more money and more support. 

In D.C., we have only 16 elected officials with real power; the Council, the mayor, the attorney general and our congressional representative. We have community leaders elected to local ANCs. When members of the council attack the mayor, some simply to make political hay for their own future election, it won’t solve any problems. 

This must be viewed as a crisis and our 16 elected leaders should sit down, agree to a series of anti-crime programs and efforts they will adequately fund, and stop attacking each other. Once they agree on the programs to fund they should bring together ANC members from across the city to a meeting at the convention center and work out a plan for what each can do to move us forward to safer neighborhoods. 

We must work together as one if we are to succeed in making life safer and better for all. 

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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