In a little-noticed development, then President-elect Donald Trump on Jan. 5 named former Whitman-Walker Clinic associate director Katy French Talento as his White House health policy adviser.
Talento’s LinkedIn page and other biographical information on her shows that she served from December 1998 to November 2000 as a Whitman-Walker Program Evaluator and later as its Associate Director for Contracts and Grants.
The biographical information shows that Talento began work at Whitman-Walker, which is widely known as an LGBT community healthcare facility, shortly after she received a master’s in science degree in Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the Harvard University School of Public Health.
“She was excellent at what she did,” said Patricia Hawkins, a lesbian who served as Whitman-Walker’s Associate Executive Director at the time Talento worked there. “She was very talented.”
In the 17 years since leaving Whitman-Walker Talento has worked in public policy and health-related positions for five U.S. senators as well as two Senate Committees. During her tenure with the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions she advised Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) on public health and HIV/AIDS issues.
In 2010 she left the Senate to enter the realm of politics when she worked as director of speech writing for the Republican National Committee during the 2010 election cycle. She returned to Capitol Hill in 2011 to work as deputy staff director to the Republican office of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
Two years later, she became Vice President for Corporate Affairs for Mosquito Zone International, a company that provides protection against malaria for workers of energy companies in Africa and Asia.
Talento returned once again to the Senate in 2013 to become legislative director for Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) before being named by Trump this month to the White House health policy adviser position, which makes her a member of the White House Domestic Policy Council.
“It’s a very important job,” said Carl Schmid, associate director of the AIDS Institute, a national AIDS advocacy organization. Schmid said Talento also served on Trump’s presidential transition team.
“She has always been a very strong supporter of HIV issues, both globally and domestically,” Schmid said.
Talento is also known as a political and fiscal conservative who is pro-life and who has taken controversial positions on oral contraceptives for women. In a 2015 article in The Federalist blog she cites studies showing that prolonged use of birth control pills among women can lead to infertility and other serious health problems.
But Schmid said Talento appeared to break ranks with some conservative groups by speaking out in favor of needle exchange programs as a means of preventing the spread of HIV among injection drug abusers.
“I don’t think she made a secret of that and she made it well known that she worked at Whitman-Walker and was supportive of those programs,” Schmid said.
Hawkins said Talento worked well with the mostly progressive Democratic leaning staff at Whitman-Walker.
“She was coming from a different place,” said Hawkins. “She was very religious, a devout Christian, and conservative and a Republican. But she was not homophobic at all.”
Talento’s appointment by Trump comes at a time when LGBT rights leaders have expressed alarm that many of his other high-level appointments, including cabinet nominees, have records of strong opposition to LGBT rights and have supported anti-LGBT laws in state legislatures.