Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Bush on AIDS: The Appointment of the White House's Newest AIDS Officials Could Signal a Renewed Emphasis on Fighting the Disease at Home

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Bush on AIDS: The Appointment of the White House's Newest AIDS Officials Could Signal a Renewed Emphasis on Fighting the Disease at Home

Article excerpt

While President Bush has won very little praise from gay advocates in his nearly three years in office, he has been commended for his appointments to the federal Office of National AIDS Policy. Scott Evertz and Joseph O'Neill were the first two MDS czars Bush appointed and the first two gay men to hold the position.

Nevertheless, the president and his MDS policy team have been criticized for giving too much of their attention to international AIDS concerns and too little of it to problems here at home. As if to prove that point, O'Neill left the AIDS policy office this past summer to go to the State Department, where he focuses exclusively on international AIDS assistance.

Now, with his latest appointments to the the national AIDS office--Carol Thompson as acting director and Chris Bates as acting deputy director--Bush is again winning praise from gay activists. And those activists say they are hopeful that this shake-up will finally signal an increased commitment to work on domestic AIDS issues.

The White House did not respond to several requests for interviews with Thompson, formerly an executive assistant to Office of Management and Budget director Josh Bolten, and Bates, who is openly gay and previously served as deputy director of the Department of Health and Human Services' own Office of HIV/AIDS Policy. But activists who have worked with he Office of National AIDS Policy in the past say the appointments of Thompson and Bates are a good sign.

"Dr. O'Neill's interest is in the international fight against MDS, and that's a good thing," says Ernest Hopkins, director of federal affairs for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. "But Chris, who has the trust of the African-American gay community, will bring a broad understanding of domestic AIDS issues and a sensitivity to the White House. I have felt domestic issues were being neglected."

Among the priorities of Thompson and Bates will be the reauthorization of the Ryan White CARE Act, which expires in 2005; the law provides HIV/AIDS aid for those lacking the needed health coverage. Other looming battles include the increasing prominence of federal abstinence-only education campaigns and the policy implications of a new HIV test that produces results within 20 minutes. …

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