Metro Weekly

Mike Pence’s new chief of staff blamed “repugnant” gays for the spread of HIV/AIDS

LGBTQ groups are decrying comments made by Marc Short in a 1992 column

Marc Short – Photo: Mitchell Resnick, for the White House.

LGBTQ activists are blasting Vice President Mike Pence’s new chief of staff for disparaging people living with HIV/AIDS and blaming “repugnant” same-sex relationships for exacerbating the spread of the disease.

As reported by The Daily Beast, Marc Short, the incoming chief of staff to Pence, wrote the offending statements as part of a 1992 column for The Spectator, a conservative student-run publication at Washington & Lee University.

In the column, which was uncovered by the Democratic opposition research group American Bridge, Short claimed that gay activists were carrying out a propaganda campaign, aided and abetted by journalists “whose intent is to scare all heterosexuals into believing they are prime targets for contraction of the disease.”

According to Short, the campaign’s purpose is to justify demands that congressional appropriators allot more federal funding for AIDS research and to “destigmatize the perverted lifestyles homosexuals pursue.”

He even suggested that the gay community was pleased to see NBA Star Magic Johnson’s HIV diagnosis because Johnson’s status as a straight man and the publicity that his announcement that he was HIV-positive garnered helped undercut claims that HIV/AIDS is largely a disease that affects those who engage in homosexual conduct and are the primary vector responsible for its transmission.

“No one can doubt… the celebration by AIDS activists of Magic’s infection,” Short wrote, saying it “shocked the world into believing this nonsense that everyone is prone to infection.”

The impetus for Short’s column appeared to be an interview that Edwin Wright, a W&L alumnus, had recently given to the school’s main student newspaper, the Ring-tum Phi, about his own HIV diagnosis.

In that interview, Wright had noted that he’d watched four people die from the disease and talked about coming to terms with his own mortality.

Short wrote that he felt “sympathy” for Wright, who was gay, as well as other people with AIDS. But, he warned, “that does not mean that we glorify homosexuals’ repugnant practices of frequent anal intercourse, nor should we consider them brave for coming out of the closet.”

He added: “Homosexuals who pursue unhealthy lifestyles and engage in high risk sexual behavior, specifically anal intercourse, may very well end up like Mr. Wright.”

Short has since apologized for his past rhetoric.

“I regret using language as an undergraduate college student that was not reflective of the respect I try to show others today,” Short told The Daily Beast in a statement. “We have all learned a lot about AIDS over the past 30 years and my heart goes out to all the victims of this terrible disease.”

Short previously served as President Trump’s chief congressional liaison as the White House Director of Legislative Affairs, president of Freedom Partners, the Koch Brothers-backed chamber of commerce, and chief of staff for the House Republican Conference.

Mike Pence, Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr

In response to the article in The Daily Beast, the Human Rights Campaign denounced Short’s past remarks.

“It’s deeply disturbing but unsurprising that Mike Pence’s incoming chief-of-staff, Marc Short, once denigrated people living with HIV and AIDS and called same-sex relationships ‘repugnant,'” said Charlotte Clymer, HRC’s press secretary for rapid response, adding, “Mike Pence has spent his career attacking LGBTQ people and building a record of undermining HIV awareness and prevention initiatives. He is responsible for many of this administration’s worst attacks on the LGBTQ community. After all this and being in the inner circle of Mike Pence for the past decade, the hiring of Marc Short is not surprising.”

Clymer also noted, as have other activists, that Short’s remarks, and the decision to hire him in spite of them, shine a spotlight on Pence’s own record on HIV and LGBTQ rights.

For instance, during Pence’s tenure as governor, Indiana saw a resurgence of HIV cases that researchers said was due to his refusal to adopt clean needle exchange programs.

Even when Pence reversed course and allowed needle exchanges, they were undercut by a separate law he signed that made possession of a syringe for the purposes of illicit drug use a felony instead of a misdemeanor, according to research from the Yale School of Public Health.

Additionally, notes Steven Thrasher at The NationPence approved funding cuts that gutted public health resources and left rural communities — particularly in southeastern Indiana, where the epidemic was worst — without HIV testing centers, which could have taken their own steps to curb the spread of the epidemic before it got out of control.

Besides his record on HIV, Pence is also best known for signing into law Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which would have afforded protections to business owners and others who do not want to be cowed into accepting or “endorsing” things that violate their personal religious beliefs, such as same-sex marriage and homosexuality.

Following a backlash, he eventually signed a “fix” to the law that stated the law should not be used to justify anti-LGBTQ discrimination, but did not have any force of law behind it, as Indiana continues to lack any statewide LGBTQ protections. 

GLAAD, an LGBTQ advocacy group, also weighed in Short’s promotion.

“It’s awful that @VP would hire someone who has such disdain for gay people and those living with HIV and AIDS, but it’s sadly not surprising given Pence’s own record on these issues,” the organization tweeted.

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

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