The Human Rights Campaign called on the Bush administration
to recommit itself to a science-based plan to combat HIV/AIDS after a
controversial appointee to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS
(PACHA) withdrew his name on January 23rd. Anti-gay activist Jerry Thacker stepped
aside after a political firestorm ensued from comments found on his
website (www.scepter.org) that call homosexuality a "deathstyle."
"Thacker was right to step aside and we hope that future
administration appointments will reflect a commitment to epidemiology,
not fringe ideology," said HRC Political Director Winnie Stachelberg.
"It is important that the administration bolster PACHA's credibility by
avoiding divisive figures, such as Thacker, who distract the panel from
doing the important work of fighting against HIV and AIDS. We look
forward to working with the administration and PACHA on scientifically
sound policies that disseminate accurate information and save lives."
The offensive remarks were made on Thacker's website for the
Scepter Institute, an online AIDS ministry he operates. In an apparent
effort to stop the controversy, Thacker, a former Bob Jones University
faculty member, deleted the "deathstyle" reference from the website.
Thacker was one of seven new PACHA appointees to the 35-member
panel, including four who are openly gay — David Greer, Brent Minor,
David Reznik, Don Sneed. These new leaders offer an opportunity for the
panel to change direction and move forward with helpful new policies,
"We will look to these new members, several of whom are openly
gay, to offer fresh insight and steer PACHA in the right direction,
which is focusing on the best scientific solutions available," said
Stachelberg. "We are pleased the administration tapped their formidable
experience and is counting on their expertise."
However, many obstacles remain, including PACHA co-chair Tom
Coburn's assigned reading to the panel of Gabriel Rotello's book "Sexual
Ecology," as part of an effort to single out and stigmatize gay people.
PACHA will discuss the book and focus on alleged gay male promiscuity
during a meeting at the end of the month.
There is also grave concern that the administration's focus on
abstinence-only education is ineffective, omitting crucial, life-saving
facts and ignoring the needs of gay people – particularly gay youth.
"There is little evidence that abstinence-until-marriage
education works," said Stachelberg. "And it does not help anyone in the
gay community — particularly gay youth who desperately need accurate
information — because we can't legally marry." =20
Thacker became infected with HIV after his wife, Sue, contracted
the disease in 1984 through a blood transfusion. Following the
announcement of his appointment, Thacker's website contained an anti-gay
section labeled "Help for Homosexuals," which promoted the discredited
theory that gay people can change their sexual orientation through
prayer and therapy.
Specifically, the site contained:
"A message on the nature of homosexuality and how Christ can
rescue the homosexual. Includes statistics on homosexual behavior, tips
for ministry to those practicing the 'deathstyle' and information on the
homosexual movement and its political agenda."
To avoid an escalation of mounting concerns surrounding his views,
Thacker removed this section from his website. According to a story in
today's Washington Post, Thacker also removed a section from his website
that referred to AIDS as the "gay plague" and replaced it with "plague."
Nonetheless, some of Thacker's anti-scientific and anti-gay views
remain on his website. In another section of www.scepter.org, Thacker
asks, "Isn't HIV/AIDS a homosexual disease?" To this question he
answers: "When HIV was first diagnosed in the early 1980's it was found
primarily among the homosexual community. Even today the majority of
reported cases are found among homosexuals."
In fairness, Thacker does acknowledge on his website that HIV can
be transmitted through unprotected heterosexual sex and intravenous drug
use. However, his emphasis on HIV/AIDS as a gay disease sent a mixed
message that could have harmed the already difficult task of preventing
the spread of HIV among other at-risk groups, such as people of color,
gay youth and women, says HRC.
Thacker displayed anti-gay views in a "Chapel Message" when he
returned to Bob Jones University, his alma mater in September 2001.
According to The Washington Post, the speeches summarized on the
university website discussed the "sin of homosexuality."
"When he and his wife discovered in 1986 that they had contracted
HIV, the most horrible thought was that it was a disease connected with
the sin of homosexuality," according to The Post. "They didn't want
anyone to think they were homosexual because they knew what the Bible
said about homosexuality."
A summary of Thacker's Bob Jones speeches also said:
"Homosexuality is not inborn biologically, just as incest and bestiality
are not inborn. Studies have shown that thousands of homosexuals have
been set free from this sin."
Thacker's website also offers misleading information on condoms
that falsely leads sexually active persons to believe that these
prophylactics are highly ineffective in stopping HIV transmission. In
one section titled, "HIV/AIDS Test," readers are asked whether it is
"true" or "false" that "Condoms are the best way to prevent HIV?" The
answer he gives is "false" saying that, "Condoms are designed to contain
sperm cells, not virus cells. The pores (holes) in a latex condom are up
to 450 times larger than a single cell of the HIV virus."
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services' Scientific Review Panel:
"For people who are sexually active, condoms have been the
surest way to prevent the transmission of HIV and other sexually
transmitted diseases. When used correctly and consistently, condoms
provide an effective barrier, blocking the pathway of the HIV virus
during sexual activities. A meta-analysis of several studies conducted
by the National Institutes of Health found an 85 percent decrease in
risk of HIV transmission among consistent condom-users."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the
number of people living with AIDS in the United States increased 33
percent between 1996 and 1999. Between June 1999 and June 2000, the
number of people living with HIV or AIDS reported to the CDC increased
an additional 10 percent. There are an estimated 312,000 people living
with AIDS in the United States, and the CDC estimates as many as 900,000
Americans are infected with HIV. For African Americans, AIDS is the
leading cause of death in the 25-44 age group.
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