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Uproar Over Bush Pick For AIDS Panel

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AP / CBS
A furor is growing over the White House selection of a Pennsylvania publisher and marketing consultant with controversial views on homosexuality to serve on the Presidential Advisory Commission on HIV and AIDS.

The Washington Post reports that Jerry Thacker, who has characterized AIDS as the "gay plague" and called homosexuality "a sinful death-style," is one of several new commission members scheduled to be sworn in next week by Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson.

The 35-member presidential panel, 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.

Thacker is a former Bob Jones University staffer who contracted the AIDS virus after his wife was infected by a blood transfusion. The Post reports 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 says that after word of his appointment was leaked in recent days, some controversial material disappeared from Thacker's Web site. The Post says earlier versions referring to the "gay plague," for example, were changed to simply "plague."

Thacker's selection was confirmed by administration officials speaking on condition of anonymity. An assistant to Thacker said he would have no comment until he is sworn in. Health and Human Services officials also declined to comment publicly.

Gay activists condemned the appointment. "This individual is an extremist ideologue who persecutes and demeans an entire class of people impacted by this disease," said Human Rights Campaign spokesman David Smith. "That type of person has no business advising the president of the United States on how the government should address the epidemic."

Smith called Thacker's views "more egregiously right-wing" than those of other panel members, and said that the deletions from Thacker's Web site were "an attempt to make him more palatable."

Carl Schmid, a Republican gay activist who worked for Mr. Bush in the 2000 campaign, told the Post he was disappointed that the administration disregarded warnings about Thacker and worried that his selection would overshadow the panel's work.

"We need to have a scientific-based approach to the problems of HIV-AIDS and not this radical agenda he's pushing," Schmid said. He also criticized Thacker's anti-gay tone and his abstinence-until marriage agenda.

"Abstinence-until-marriage does not help anyone in the gay community, because we can't get married," Schmid said. "If you are a gay youth, who is addressing your concerns?"

According to Thacker's biography on the Web site of the Scepter Institute, a nonprofit group that sells religious-based AIDS material, he is a graduate of Bob Jones University. President Bush caused an uproar during the 2000 campaign when he appeared at the South Carolina university, which until recently banned interracial dating.

Thacker gave two speeches at the school in September 2001, which focused, according to the Bob Jones 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 commission'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.