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THE NATION

AIDS Panel Choice Criticized

The Bush team picks a religious conservative who once called the disease 'the gay plague.'

January 23, 2003|Vicki Kemper and Eric Malnic | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — Jerry Thacker, a religious conservative who has described homosexuality as a "deathstyle," will be sworn in next week as a member of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS, a Bush administration official confirmed Wednesday night.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, noted that Thacker and his family have the virus. Thacker was chosen to serve on the commission because of his record of reaching out to the conservative community on HIV and AIDS issues, the official said.

"AIDS is a disease which truly knows no bounds," the official said. "It can strike anyone, and no community is immune from it. He has a history of delivering this message."

In a previous version of one of his Web sites, Thacker described AIDS as "the gay plague." The current version of the site no longer contains that language, referring only to "the plague known as AIDS."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday January 24, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 13 inches; 483 words Type of Material: Correction
AIDS panel -- A report on an appointment to a government AIDS panel that appeared in Section A in some editions Thursday said that the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS was established during the Reagan administration. It was set up in 1995 during the Clinton administration.

Rebecca Isaacs, interim executive director of the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center, called Thacker's appointment "a big mistake."

"Bigotry has no place in public health," she said. "This appointment sends the wrong message."

Thacker's appointment to the 35-member council was first reported by the Washington Blade, a newspaper serving gay and lesbian readers in the capital. The council, which was established during the Clinton administration, provides information and recommendations to the secretary of Health and Human Services on HIV and AIDS prevention and research.

The Bush administration official said Thacker was one of "six or eight" new appointees who would be sworn in at the council's meeting here next week.

The official, who said he did not believe that prospective members' opinions on homosexuality are investigated before they are asked to join the council, defended the administration's record on HIV and AIDS.

"If you look at what we have committed to research, to global AIDS, to the domestic budget, you will see that this administration has surpassed the [Clinton] administration," the official said.

"Look at the deeds, not just the words."

But it is Thacker's words -- at least those attributed to him -- that concern many gays and AIDS advocacy groups.

The Web site for Thacker's Pennsylvania-based educational enterprise, the Scepter Institute, describes how he and his family contracted the disease. Thacker's wife, Sue, was infected with HIV through a blood transfusion she received in 1984 while giving birth to the couple's third child, according to the site.

Thacker was subsequently infected by his wife, and their daughter contracted the virus from breast milk.

Thacker is a graduate and former faculty member of Bob Jones University, a fundamentalist Christian college known for its traditional views on sexuality and segregation.

Lee Klosinski, director of programs for the AIDS Project Los Angeles, said Thacker's appointment "represents the triumph of ideology over objectivity and impartiality. It is unfortunately consistent with the Bush administration's approach to HIV and sexual health."

The administration official said he could not confirm allegations that Thacker is "anti-gay."

"I don't know the context in which these remarks were made," the official said. "He believes everyone must be loved and reached out to. This guy's family is devastated."

The Scepter Institute Web site -- in a page that has since been revised -- described one of Thacker's presentations as "a message on the nature of homosexuality and how Christ can rescue the homosexual." The lecture also offered "tips for ministry to those practicing this 'deathstyle,' " the site said.

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Times staff writer Charles Ornstein contributed to this report.

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