The outreach to potential LGBT appointees began shortly after President Trump issued an executive order on Sept. 29 extending the life of PACHA and 31 other presidential advisory committees for at least one more year.
President Bill Clinton created PACHA in 1995 to provide advice and recommendations by experts on how the federal government should best respond to the AIDS epidemic. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama continued PACHA’s tenure during their administrations.
Two sources familiar with PACHA, who spoke on condition of not being identified, said an official with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services acting on behalf of the White House reached out to LGBT people and others involved in AIDS work, including some gay Republican activists, to invite them to submit their names as nominees for a PACHA appointment.
The HHS official began contacting potential appointees just under four months after six PACHA members released a joint letter to Newsweek on June 17 announcing they were resigning from PACHA in protest over the Trump administration policies on HIV/AIDS.
The six members, who were appointed during the Obama administration, said they were especially troubled over Trump’s efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act better known as Obamacare. The six, including Scott Schoettes, HIV project director for the LGBT litigation group Lambda Legal, said Obamacare was instrumental to the healthcare needs of large numbers of people with HIV/AIDS.
Records of PACHA’s operations obtained from the website of the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees PACHA, show PACHA had 23 members in April 2016. The advisory panel’s current web page shows it has ten remaining members, seven fewer than the 17 left in place at the time of the six resignations in June.
Carl Schmid, deputy executive director the AIDS Institute, a national AIDS advocacy organization, said he had no comment on reports of potential PACHA nominees.
“But we are pleased the Trump administration is moving forward with PACHA,” Schmid said.
“It’s my understanding that HHS has been reaching out to folks regarding potential PACHA nominations,” said Gregory T. Angelo, president of the Log Cabin Republicans.
“President Trump has made clear the continued commitment of his administration to combating HIV,” Angelo said in taking exception to the assertions by the six PACA members who resigned in June. “HIV is a disease with a disproportionate impact on the LGBT community, so it should come as no surprise that the administration may be reaching out to LGBT individuals expert in the field of HIV treatment and care on this matter,” Angelo said.
Ronald Johnson, vice president of policy and advocacy for the national AIDS group AIDS United, said his organization was “not aware of any outreach by the Trump administration regarding PACHA appointments.” But Johnson added, “AIDS United appreciates the continuation of PACHA’s charter and awaits its operation with a full membership.”
Miguel Gomez, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of HIV-Infectious Disease Policy, which works with PACHA, said PACHA held its last meeting in Washington on Aug. 30. He said its members routinely confer on conference calls.
Gomez said he could not confirm whether an HHS official has reached out to LGBT AIDS experts for a possible PACHA appointment.
“The White House announced that it is continuing the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS and has been having discussions about its future,” Gomez told the Blade. “We will soon be publishing a notice in the Federal Register to solicit nominations for membership,” he said.