“Without warning or explanation, President Trump has just fired the 16 remaining members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) via letters delivered by FedEx on Wednesday, leaving the Council essentially defunct. The Advisory Council was rocked for a second time this year, following the resignation of six of its members in a coordinated action in June to protest Trump’s indifference, and even hostility, to the issues that they were so strongly focused on.
Scott Schoettes, a Chicago-based HIV/AIDS activist and a senior attorney for Lambda Legal, was one of those six resignees. He took to Twitter to comment on the news.
Remaining #HIV/AIDS council members booted by @realDonaldTrump. No respect for their service. Dangerous that #Trump and Co. (Pence esp.) are eliminating few remaining people willing to push back against harmful policies, like abstinence-only sex ed. #WeObject #PACHA6 #Resist
— Scott A. Schoettes (@PozAdvocate) December 28, 2017
According to The Washington Blade:
“Sources with knowledge of PACHA said many council members were fired even though additional time remained on their terms as advisers. The terminated members, sources said, were given the option to reapply after Tuesday.”
One of the remaining members who was fired, Gabriel Maldonado, CEO of Truevolution, a California-based LGBT HIV/AIDS activist group, suggested that lacking a formal explanation, he could only speculate that the motivation was political.
“Like any administration, they want their own people there. Many of us were Obama appointees. I was an Obama appointee and my term was continuing until 2018.”
Maldonado cited “ideological and philosophical differences” with the administration, including the recent decision by the Centers for Disease Control to ban the use of words like “diversity” and “transgender” in the drafting of its budget documents.
“I was co-chair of the disparities committee, so much of my advocacy and policy references surrounded vulnerable populations, addressing issuing of diverse communities, specifically looking at the impacts of the LGBT community, namely, the disproportionate impact of HIV and AIDS to people of color, gay men, transgender women,” Maldonado said. “And a lot of those key vulnerable populations are not being prioritized in this administration.”
Patrick Sullivan, a professor of epidemiology at the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health, was another one of the now-fired Council members. He gave this statement about the firings to The Washington Blade:
“My reaction is that our focus should be on the policies that PACHA addresses,” Sullivan said. “These issues are critical to people’s health, and are critical to making new HIV infections rare. At PACHA’s last meeting in August, the Council urged the Administration to affirm the National HIV/AIDS Strategy through 2020. Doing this would be a great way for the administration to set the tone and lay out national roadmap of priorities for a new PACHA.”
The Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS was created in 1995 during the Clinton administration after previous administrations, particularly the Reagan White House, were rightly criticized for ignoring the growing epidemic because of its association with the LGBT community and intravenous drug users. The purpose of the group was to provide advice “on policy and research to promote effective treatment and prevention for HIV — maintaining the goal of finding a cure.”
President Trump renewed PACHA for another year just a few months ago, along with a slew of other presidential agencies, so he may simply be cleaning house to install his own appointees to the body as Obama did when he took office. Such speculation makes no sense to Maldonado.
“It is common for appointees to be terminated and for folks to kind of want their own people in,” Maldonado said. “I think where the discrepancy comes in is why a year later, No. 1? Two, many of us, our terms were over earlier this year and we were sworn back in, and three were stayed on nearly four months after an executive order was signed continuing the council.”
Given that Trump’s budget proposal for 2018 sought massive cuts to HIV/AIDS programs, it remains to be seen whether the White House is serious about hearing from anyone outside the conservative cultural opposition about how to continue handling the HIV/AIDS crisis. Their track record to date does not suggest that optimism is warranted.