Metro Weekly

Trump fires entire Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS

Former advisers hint that Trump-Pence administration intends to pursue abstinence-only approach to public health

Donald Trump, Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr

President Donald Trump has fired the remaining members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, according to reports from Newsweek.

The advisers were reportedly dismissed via a letter delivered by FedEx on Wednesday, despite many not having served out the remainder of their terms.

The dismissal comes six months after six council members resigned via an open letter, published in Newsweek, in which they claimed the administration was pursuing policies that would harm people living with HIV, including attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Following that mass resignation, Trump was subjected to much criticism for his seeming inaction on the HIV front.

For one thing, he was knocked for his failure to appoint an HIV/AIDS chief, the first time that such a position has been vacant since its creation in 1993.

Other criticisms have included Trump’s call for cuts to HIV funding at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and his failure to mention the specific risk the disease poses to members of the LGBTQ community on both National HIV Testing Day and on World AIDS Day.

Scott Schoettes, one of the “PACHA 6” who resigned in the summer, tweeted that the remaining members of the council had been fired for calling the Trump White House’s approach to the HIV/AIDS epidemic “dangerous.”

“Remaining #HIV/AIDS council members booted by @realDonaldTrump. No respect for their service,” Schoettes tweeted. “Dangerous that #Trump and Co. (Pence esp.) are eliminating few remaining people willing to push back against harmful policies, like abstinence-only sex ed.”

Schoettes went on to say that Trump was “executing a purge” by many of his actions, including those unrelated to HIV. Among other grievances, he called out the administration’s attempts to pack the courts with right-wing judicial nominees, even those deemed unqualified, and attempts to gag employees at the Department of Health and Human Services from using terms like “transgender,” “vulnerable,” “evidence-based,” or “science-based” in budget documents. 

Schoettes’ tweets hint at the idea that the Trump administration may be attempting to purge PACHA, in particular, of any Obama appointees who might be resistant to carrying out an abstinence-only or religious approach when it comes to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment efforts — something that Vice President Mike Pence advocated during his time as governor of Indiana. They also echo concerns voiced by sources close to the decision to fire the remaining PACHA advisers.

Impulse Group DC, a social and entertainment-based HIV awareness and advocacy group with particular focus on outreach to queer communities of color, sent out a press release heavily criticizing Trump’s previous proposals to cut federal HIV programs, including the president’s call to eliminate the Minority AIDS Initiative.

“Donald Trump’s presidency is a public health crisis, and this recent action confirms this,” Devin Barrington-Ward, Impulse DC’s president, said in response to the PACHA firings. “In the fact of CDC projections that 1 in 2 black gay men and 1 in 13 D.C. residents will become HIV-positive within their lifetimes, it is unconscionable that we would have a President that would not only propose massive cuts to HIV programs but would also remove the entire PACHA membership.

“Many of the council members for PACHA, like Bishop O.C. Allen and Gabriel Maldonado, both black gay men, came directly from communities who are disproportionately impacted by the HIV epidemic, and helped write and revise the first-ever National HIV/AIDS Strategy under the Obama administration,” Barrington-Ward continued. “To lose this body’s expertise and counsel at the White House on HIV issues threatens to unravel years of progress and our collective efforts to end HIV within our lifetimes.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com