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Trump fires all members of HIV/AIDS council without explanation

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Trump Pence, gay news, Washington Blade

President Trump has fired all members of the President’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

With no explanation, the White House has terminated members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS amid widespread discontent with President Trump’s approach to the epidemic.

After six members of PACHA resigned in June, the White House on Wednesday terminated the remaining 16 members without explanation via a letter from FedEx.

Scott Schoettes, a Chicago-based HIV/AIDS activist and senior attorney for Lambda Legal, was one of the six who resigned in June over Trump’s inaction on HIV/AIDS and said on Twitter the remaining members were fired.

“No respect for their service,” Schoettes said. “Dangerous that #Trump and Co. (Pence esp.) are eliminating few remaining people willing to push back against harmful policies, like abstinence-only sex ed.”

Sources with knowledge of PACHA said many council members were fired even though additional time remained on their terms as advisers. The terminated members, sources said, were given the option to reapply after Tuesday.

Gabriel Maldonado, CEO of the Riverside, Calif.,-based LGBT and HIV/AIDS group Truevolution, was a remaining member of PACHA and confirmed they were fired, but said the “explanation is still unclear.”

“I can only speculate,” Maldonado said. “Like any administration, they want their own people there. Many of us were Obama appointees. I was an Obama appointee and my term was continuing until 2018.”

Maldonado said “ideological and philosophical differences” with the administration are a potential reason for the terminations.

As an example, Maldonado cited a recent Washington Post report the Centers for Disease Control is banned from using words like “diversity” and “transgender” in budget documents. The CDC director has denied those words are banned.

“I was co-chair of the disparities committee, so much of my advocacy and policy references surrounded vulnerable populations, addressing issues of diverse communities, specifically looking at the impacts of the LGBT community, namely, the disproportionate impact of HIV and AIDS to people of color, gay men, transgender women,” Maldonado said. “And a lot of those key vulnerable populations are not being prioritized in this administration.”

Maldonado added he intends to publish an open letter to the community about his termination on Friday.

Also among the terminated members was Patrick Sullivan, a professor of epidemiology at the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health.

“My reaction is that our focus should be on the policies that PACHA addresses,” Sullivan said. “These issues are critical to people’s health, and are critical to making new HIV infections rare. At PACHA’s last meeting in August, the Council urged the Administration to affirm the National HIV/AIDS Strategy through 2020. Doing this would be a great way for the administration to set the tone and lay out national roadmap of priorities for a new PACHA.”

Created in 1995, PACHA has provided advice starting in the Clinton administration and into the George W. Bush and Obama administrations on policy and research to promote effective treatment and prevention for HIV — maintaining the goal of finding a cure.

In September, Trump signed an executive order that renewed PACHA along with 31 other presidential bodies for an additional year.

Trump’s termination of council members isn’t the first time an administration cleaned house on PACHA. The Obama administration eliminated all of George W. Bush’s appointees before making new appointments.

Kaye Hayes, executive director of PACHA, affirmed the council members were terminated on Wednesday, but said there’s more to the story.

“They were also thanked for their leadership, dedication and commitment to the effort,” Hayes said. “Changing the makeup of federal advisory committee members is a common occurrence during Administration changes. The Obama administration dismissed the George W. Bush administration appointees to PACHA in order to bring in new voices. All PACHA members are eligible to apply to serve on the new council that will be convened in 2018.”

Jim Driscoll, a gay Nevada-based HIV/AIDS activist who supported Trump in 2016, said replacement of PACHA members “is standard practice” for a new administration.

“Now they need to find bonafide community people with appropriate expertise and the ability to adapt to the changed political circumstances,” Driscoll said. “It is fully understandable why a president would not want people who oppose his policies and might be happy to see him impeached serving as his HIV advisors. That would serve the needs of neither the president nor of people living with HIV-AIDS.”

But Maldonado said the termination of PACHA members during the Trump administration is only partially consistent with the Obama years.

“It is common for appointees to be terminated and for folks to kind of want their own people in,” Maldonado said. “I think where the discrepancy comes in is why a year later, No. 1? Two, many of us, our terms were over earlier this year and we were sworn back in, and three were stayed on nearly four months after an executive order was signed continuing the council.”

In June, six members of PACHA resigned their posts in protest over what they called inaction from Trump on the global HIV/AIDS epidemic. An estimated 1.2 million people have HIV/AIDS in the United States and 37 million have the disease worldwide.

Chief among the reasons was the absence of leadership at the White House on HIV/AIDS. To date, the White House has yet to appoint a director of the Office of National AIDS Policy, which was one of the reasons the six members of PACHA resigned in June.

Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposal also sought massive cuts to HIV/AIDS programs, including $150 million on HIV/AIDS programs at the Centers for Disease Control and more than $1 billion in cuts from global programs like the PEPFAR Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria. The Republican-controlled Congress has thus far continued to fund these programs at previous levels.

Maldonado noted the PACHA terminations are taking place at the year’s end after the June resignations, which he said is “a little too coincidental.”

“The timing is a little bit unorthodox compared to what the Obama administration’s approach was,” Maldonado said.

Maldonado said he represented a younger demographic on PACHA as the only member under the age of 30, which he said is where the majority of new HIV infections are occurring, and as a young, black gay man.

“I just am coming to the acknowledgment that the traditional tactics of politicking and policy and strategy and negotiation, the kind of standard tools that we’re trying to use, that the status quo is no longer acceptable,” Maldonado said. “The tactics that we had are kind of obsolete, and now we need to craft new strategy to address the troubling and unsettling revelations, particularly around the silence and inaction that have taken place around HIV and AIDS.”

Since the resignations in June, Trump has made public statements on HIV/AIDS consisting of proclamations on National HIV Testing Day and World AIDS Day. Neither statement included an explicit mention of LGBT people, who have faced the brunt of the disease.

The White House deferred comment to the Department of Health & Human Services, which provided the statement from the PACHA executive director.

New appointments may be coming soon. The Blade reported in October gay Republicans familiar with HIV/AIDS issues and LGBT issues have been among those contacted by a Trump administration official for possible appointments to PACHA.

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Virginia

Va. House subcommittees advance two anti-transgender bills

Senate Democrats have pledged to block any anti-LGBTQ measures

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Virginia Capitol Building (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Two anti-transgender bills advanced in the Virginia House of Delegates on Monday.

A House Education Subcommittee by a 5-3 margin voted to advance state Del. Dave LaRock (R-Loudoun County)’s House Bill 2432, which Equality Virginia notes “would require public school personnel to contact a student’s parent if they believe that the student’s self-identified gender does not align with their ‘biological sex.'” The House Higher Education Subcommittee by a 6-4 margin advanced state Del. Karen Greenhalgh (R-Virginia Beach)’s House Bill 1387, which would ban transgender athletes from school sports teams that correspond with their gender identity.

Both bills will now go before the full House Education Committee.

The House Early Childhood/Innovation Subcommittee last week voted unanimously to kill state Del. Jason Ballard (R-Giles County)’s House Bill 1434, which would have required trans students to obtain a court order to update their name in school records. The Senate Public Education Subcommittee on Jan. 26 also tabled three measures that would have banned trans athletes from school teams corresponding with their gender identity.

Republicans currently control the House of Delegates by a 51-47 margin. Democrats, who have a 22-18 majority in the state Senate, have said they will oppose any anti-LGBTQ measure that reaches their chamber.

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Obituary

Bachelor’s Mill bar owner, D.C. philanthropist David Lewis dies at 65

Friends say he supported charitable endeavors here and in Caribbean

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David J. ‘Michael’ Lewis

David J. “Michael” Lewis, who owned and operated D.C.’s popular gay bar Bachelor’s Mill from 2006 to 2018 after taking early retirement from his longtime day job at the Library of Congress and while also playing an active role in working on projects to help disadvantaged youth in the U.S. and overseas, died on Dec. 6 at the age of 65.

Tom Baratta, one of his longtime friends from Florida, said the cause of death was a heart attack, which occurred while Lewis was visiting Havana, Cuba and preparing to distribute food and clothing for people in need.

Baratta said in recent years Lewis traveled between D.C. and his residence in Fort Lauderdale as well as to Cuba and the Dominican Republic, where Lewis provided support for charitable organizations that helped people in need.

“David was very helpful in support of events and programs in Ward 8,” said longtime D.C. LGBTQ rights and community activist Phil Pannell, who said he worked with Lewis on charitable programs in the 1980s.

Among other things, Pannell said Lewis helped provide toys for children and families and support for youth development programs, including serving as an instructor for youth in a high school equivalency or GED program through a nonprofit group affiliated with local churches called the Southeast Vicarious Clusters.

Others who knew Lewis, including longtime D.C. friend Thomas Gore, said Lewis was born and raised in D.C. and graduated from D.C.’s Anacostia High School. Around the time of his high school graduation, he began work at the Library of Congress. At that time, he also enrolled as a student at the University of the District of Columbia, Gore said. Around 1979 or 1980, Gore believes, Lewis graduated from UDC with a degree in gerontology.

Gore, Baratta and others who knew Lewis said they believe he continued working at the Library of Congress through the 1980s and possibly into the 1990s in a supervisory role before he took an early retirement to further pursue his philanthropic endeavors as well as his interest in opening a neighborhood bar.

In 2006, through a company called Backdoor, Inc., he purchased the Bachelor’s Mill, which had been operating as a gay bar with a mostly Black gay clientele since 1978 under the ownership of its founder, Beatrice ‘BB’ Gatch, who passed away in 2021 at the age of 81.

Pannell said Lewis later opened the Back Door Pub and Mike’s Place, two other bars he operated in the same building as the Bachelor’s Mill. Lewis preferred to go by the name Mike or Michael in running his businesses, people who knew him said.

Lewis was supportive of LGBTQ community causes and provided space at the Bachelor’s Mill and the other two bars for meetings and events by local LGBTQ organizations and activists, according to Pannell.

“I knew him for 20 years,” said Baratta, who lives in Boca Raton, Fla., which is near Fort Lauderdale where Lewis had a residence. Baratta said in the years he knew him, Lewis traveled “back and forth” from Fort Lauderdale to D.C. while also visiting Cuba and the Dominican Republic, where he worked on charitable projects. “He helped a lot of people who needed help,” Baratta said.

Gore said Lewis helped him start a youth employment program in 1985 that focused on youth in need in the city’s Wards 7 and 8.

“He taught job readiness classes,” Gore said. “David could think quick on his feet. He had an impact on a lot of lives in D.C.”

A memorial celebration of the life of David J. Michael Lewis is scheduled to take place Saturday, Feb. 4, at 1 p.m. at the Café 8, located at 424 8th St., S.E. in D.C. near where Lewis operated Bachelor’s Mill.

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Politics

Trans Republican councilwoman says she is uniquely positioned to ‘protect our community’

LGBTQ Americans ‘need to be in the corridors of power’

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Trenton (N.J.) City Councilwoman Jennifer Williams. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Williams)

Note: Other portions of Jennifer Williams’ interview with the Washington Blade were featured in a previous article alongside interviews with four other LGBTQ officeholders

Jennifer Williams, who recently became the first LGBTQ person on the Trenton (N.J.) City Councilmember and the first openly transgender person elected in New Jersey, connected with the Washington Blade last week to discuss topics including how she reconciles her gender identity with her membership in the Republican Party.

While Williams is grateful for her broad base of support, including from progressive Democrats, it perhaps did not come as a surprise considering her record as a longtime LGBTQ advocate and public servant who chaired the municipal Republican Party in Trenton and served on the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment for 14 years.

Plus, Williams said in emailed responses to questions from the Blade that her views on LGBTQ matters are closer to those held by Democrats than by Republicans.

“If I have to put my views on LGBTQ policy issues in one mainstream bucket, I would clearly be more aligned with national and New Jersey Democrats on our rights, equalities and freedoms than the Republican National Committee’s platform and what some GOP leaders espouse,” Williams said.

“That important difference between the two major parties is why it is integral that I stay and fight against anti-LGBTQ bigotry and discrimination,” she added.

Williams sees her position as an elected official who is both trans and a Republican as an opportunity to effectuate positive change from within her own party.

“Other LGBTQ folks may not understand why I try to advocate on the right and in the Republican Party,” she said. “But all I know is that until I am no longer the first LGBTQ or transgender person [whom] many Republican leaders meet, we will always have to worry about legislative actions or executive orders against us.”

Williams said she is in a unique position, and one that is imbued with a big responsibility:

“If I can be effective in helping some bad Republicans rethink their opinions of who we are,” she said. “Maybe we can get some of them to ‘tap the brakes’ on anti-LGBTQ legislation coming down the pike.”

“I have a ‘particular set of skills,’” Williams added, “And I feel called to use them to help protect our community.”

The Republican Party was founded in the mid-19th century by abolitionists who sought to fight for individual freedoms, liberties, self-determination and happiness, Williams noted, even if some GOP leaders do not demonstrate those values where it concerns LGBTQ people.  

LGBTQ Americans “really do need to be in the corridors of power and at the table where decisions are made,” Williams said. “Coming from the same home state as Marsha P. Johnson, who did so much for us so long ago, I know how important my being a [member of the] City Council can be.”

Of course, Williams said, she is not alone. LGBTQ officeholders across the country are putting into practice the idea that representation is crucially important in the fight for equal rights no matter who they are or where they have been elected, she said.

“If we aren’t a part of our government, we cannot be a voice of freedom and of reason if and when issues regarding our LGBTQ [identities] come up,” Williams said.

Despite the proliferation of state and local anti-LGBTQ bills, particularly proposals targeting the trans community, Williams sees reason to be hopeful.

“What is exciting is that we have gone from [Virginia state Del.] Danica Roem being the first transgender person to be elected to a state legislature just over five years ago to where now, she is running for [Virginia] Senate and there are at least eight other transgender legislators,” Williams said.

The visibility of LGBTQ officeholders tends to encourage other members of the community to run for public office, she said.

“That is wonderful, and I think is what we need to duplicate and triplicate wherever we can,” Williams said, adding that the LGBTQ Victory Fund “is working very hard at this.”

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