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Bush Pick Quits AIDS Panel

A White House nominee for a presidential AIDS advisory panel is withdrawing his name under pressure for characterizing the disease as the "gay plague," along with other anti-homosexual statements.

The administration had selected Jerry Thacker to serve on the Presidential Advisory Commission on HIV and AIDS. He was to be sworn in along with other new commission members next week by Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.

On Thursday, however, Thacker was sending a letter signaling that he would not accept the appointment, administration officials said.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, while neither confirming nor denying the withdrawal, issued a stern rebuke of Thacker's statements.

"The views that he holds are far, far removed from what the president believes," Fleischer said. "The president has a total opposite view. ... The president's view is that people with AIDS need to be treated with care, compassion."

The administration's choice of the Pennsylvania publisher and marketing consultant had come under severe criticism from gay rights groups and others.

Thacker is a former Bob Jones University staffer who contracted the AIDS virus after his wife was infected by a blood transfusion. The Washington Post reported Thursday that on his Web site and elsewhere, Thacker has called homosexuality a "death-style" rather than a lifestyle and said that "Christ can rescue the homosexual."

The newspaper also said that after word of his appointment was leaked in recent days, some controversial material disappeared from Thacker's Web site. The Post said earlier versions referring to the "gay plague," for example, were changed to simply "plague."

Gay activists applauded the news that Thacker would not join the panel but said Bush administration AIDS policies still fall far short.

"While this is a positive development, the underlying problem continues to remain with this administration's approach to HIV and AIDS," said David Smith of the Human Rights Campaign, a leading gay rights advocacy group.

"They're obsessive focus on abstinence as the solitary mechanism to prevent the transmission of HIV is not based in sound science. They continue to come from an ideological perspective as opposed to a scientific perspective."

Like the Bush administration, Thacker promotes abstinence from sex as the way to prevent HIV infection. "For the unmarried, the only truly 'safe sex' is not to have sex," Thacker has written.

He describes himself as an activist in the Christian community.

Thacker gave two speeches at Bob Jones Universtiy in September 2001, which focused, according to the school's Web site, on the "sin of homosexuality" and his family's struggle with AIDS.

"When he and his wife discovered in 1986 that they had contracted HIV, the most horrible thought was that it was a disease connected with the sin of homosexuality," according to the Web site's summary. "They didn't want anyone to think they were homosexual because they knew what the Bible said about homosexuality."

The 35-member presidential commission, which was created during the Reagan administration, makes recommendations to the White House on AIDS policy. It has been harshly critical in the past of the government's response to AIDS.

The panel's co-chairs professed to know little about Thacker. Co-chair Tom Coburn said he didn't know much about Thacker except that he is infected with the AIDS virus. He said Thacker's views on homosexuality were irrelevant to the panel's work.

Co-chair Louis W. Sullivan, HHS secretary under the first President Bush, said he only recently became aware of "the Thacker controversy" and wanted to talk to him before he was sworn in.