December 29, 2017 at 9:49 am PDT | by Chris Johnson
Trump fires all members of HIV/AIDS council without explanation
Trump Pence, gay news, Washington Blade

President Trump has fired all members of the President’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

With no explanation, the White House has terminated members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS amid widespread discontent with President Trump’s approach to the epidemic.

After six members of PACHA resigned in June, the White House on Wednesday terminated the remaining 16 members without explanation via a letter from FedEx.

Scott Schoettes, a Chicago-based HIV/AIDS activist and senior attorney for Lambda Legal, was one of the six who resigned in June over Trump’s inaction on HIV/AIDS and said on Twitter the remaining members were fired.

“No respect for their service,” Schoettes said. “Dangerous that #Trump and Co. (Pence esp.) are eliminating few remaining people willing to push back against harmful policies, like abstinence-only sex ed.”

One source with knowledge of PACHA said many council members were terminated even though additional time remained on their terms as advisers.

Gabriel Maldonado, CEO of the Riverside, Calif.,-based LGBT and HIV/AIDS group Truevolution, was a remaining member of PACHA and confirmed they were fired, but said the “explanation is still unclear.”

“I can only speculate,” Maldonado said. “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 said “ideological and philosophical differences” with the administration are a potential reason for the terminations.

As an example, Maldonado cited a recent Washington Post report the Centers for Disease Control is banned from using words like “diversity” and “transgender” in budge documents. The CDC director has denied those words are banned.

“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.”

Maldonado added he intends to publish an open letter to the community about his termination on Friday.

Created in 1995, PACHA has provided advice starting in the Clinton administration and into the George W. Bush and Obama administrations on policy and research to promote effective treatment and prevention for HIV — maintaining the goal of finding a cure.

In September, Trump signed an executive order that renewed PACHA along with 31 other presidential bodies for an additional year.

Trump’s termination of council members isn’t a first time an administration cleaned house on PACHA. The Obama administration eliminated all of George W. Bush’s appointees before making new appointments.

But Maldonado said the termination of PACHA members during the Trump administration is only partially consistent with the Obama years.

“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.”

In June, six members of the PACHA resigned the posts in protest over what they called inaction from Trump on the global HIV/AIDS epidemic. An estimated 1.2 million people have HIV/AIDS in the United States and 37 million have the disease worldwide.

Chief among the reasons was the absence of leadership at the White House on HIV/AIDS. To this date, the White House has yet to appoint a director of the Office of National AIDS Policy, which was one of the reasons the six members of PACHA resigned in June.

Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposal also sought massive cuts to HIV/AIDS programs, including $150 million on HIV/AIDS programs at the Centers of Disease Control and more than $1 billion in cuts from global programs like PEPFAR Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria. The Republican-controlled Congress has thus far continued to fund these programs at previous levels.

Maldonado noted the PACHA terminations are taking place at the year’s end after the June resignations, which he said is “a little too coincidental.”

“The timing is a little bit unorthodox compared to what the Obama administration’s approach was,” Maldonado said.

Maldonado said he represented a younger demographic on PACHA as the only member under the age of 30, which he said is where the majority of new HIV infections are occurring, and as a young, black gay man.

“I just am coming to the acknowledgment that the traditional tactics of politicking and policy and strategy and negotiation, the kind of standard tools that we’re trying to use, that the status quo is no longer acceptable,” Maldonado said. “The tactics that we had are kind of obsolete, and now we need to craft new strategy to address the troubling and unsettling revelations, particularly around the silence and inaction that have taken place around HIV and AIDS.”

Since the resignations in June, Trump has made public statements on HIV/AIDS consisting of proclamations on National HIV Testing Day and World AIDS Day. Neither statement includes a explicit mention of LGBT people, who are considered to have face the brunt of the disease.

The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment Thursday evening on the terminations.

New appointments may be coming soon. The Washington Blade reported in October gay Republicans familiar with HIV/AIDS issues and LGBT people have been among those contacted by a Trump administration official for possible appointments to PACHA.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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