Conservative withdraws from Bush AIDS panel


Published: Friday, January 24, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 23, 2003 at 9:48 p.m.
WASHINGTON - A Christian activist chosen by the Bush administration for an AIDS advisory panel withdrew his name under pressure Thursday after criticism of his characterization of the disease as the "gay plague."
The administration had asked Jerry Thacker to serve on the Presidential Advisory Commission on HIV and AIDS.
He was to be sworn in along with other new commission members next week by Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.
In a letter to Thompson, Thacker, a Pennsylvania marketing consultant, said his statements had been misconstrued but he nonetheless was no longer willing to accept the appointment.
"I feel I must withdraw my name from consideration to serve at this time due to my and my family's personal concern about my ability to be effective with the council given the current controversy," he wrote.
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer issued a stern rebuke of Thacker's remarks.
"The views that he holds are far, far removed from what the president believes."
Thompson said he had never met Thacker and was not familiar with his views until very recently.
"When you have this many appointments to make, some controversial ones are going to get through," he said.
"This one was controversial and the gentleman withdrew his name."
"The president has a total opposite view. ... The president's view is that people with AIDS need to be treated with care, compassion."
Thompson said he had never met Thacker and was not familiar with his views until very recently.
"When you have this many appointments to make, some controversial ones are going to get through," he said. "This one was controversial and the gentleman withdrew his name."
Thacker contracted the AIDS virus in 1986 after his wife was infected during a blood transfusion received during childbirth. Their daughter born of that pregnancy also is HIV-positive.
That experience led the Bob Jones University graduate to found the Scepter Institute to promote his workshops, books and videos on the topic of AIDS.
But the content of his speeches and writings led to severe criticism from gay rights groups and others when the news of his selection as a White House adviser surfaced. The 35-member AIDS commission advises the White House on AIDS prevention and treatment policy.
"His brand of reactionary gay-bashing has no place in public policy and government," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., a Democratic presidential hopeful. Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle said "his offensive public statements about homosexuality indicate a disturbing bias that is completely at odds with the role the advisory commission should play."
At one point, Thacker's biography on the Scepter Web site referred to AIDS as the "gay plague." It now calls AIDS a "plague." In his letter, Thacker said he now uses the term only to describe the disease's spread in the United States from mainly affecting gays to all segments of the population.
The Web site also describes Thacker's thoughts when he learned of his infection. "AIDS was something that bad people had to worry about. Not Christians. Not the church," it says. "HIV was something shameful - God's judgment on immoral behavior."
Like the Bush administration, he promotes abstinence from sex as the way to prevent HIV infection. "For the unmarried, the only truly 'safe sex' is not to have sex," Thacker has written. He also has described homosexuality as a sin that can be cured by Christianity.
In September 2001, Thacker returned to his alma mater to give two "Chapel Messages."
"Be compassionate to those caught up in this sinful deathstyle. Let them know you care, but at the same time let them know homosexuality is a sin. Most people find the homosexual behavior vile and disgusting. Only when homosexuals know it is sin can they repent," said a summary now deleted from the university Web site.
Thacker said he asked for the summaries to be removed because they were written by someone else and "have been used to create impressions that are just not accurate," though he did not specify what was inaccurate.
"I do not consider myself anti-gay," he wrote to Thompson. "I am, however, anti HIV/AIDS. The three infected people in our family ... would not wish this disease on any other human being."
David Smith of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy group, applauded the news that Thacker would not join the panel but said Bush administration AIDS policies still fall far short.
"The underlying problem continues to remain with this administration's approach to HIV and AIDS," Smith said. "Their obsessive focus on abstinence as the solitary mechanism to prevent the transmission of HIV is not based in sound science."
Meanwhile, Thompson on Thursday announced the new members of the council, minus Thacker. The group includes state and local government AIDS officials, a member of the board of governors of the Human Rights Campaign and an adviser to the World Bank on AIDS prevention and treatment in China.

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