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Bush names
homophobe to federal AIDS council

Bush names
homophobe to federal AIDS council

Antigay Baptist minister with no AIDS experience named to panel that shapes U.S. AIDS policy.

President Bush has named five new appointees to the President's Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, one of whom is an antigay Baptist minister with no experience in the AIDS arena and two others who have deep ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

One of the appointees is a Philadelphia minister, the Reverend Herbert Lusk, head of the Greater Exodus Baptist Church and a former Philadelphia Eagles football player. Lusk, who publicly endorsed George W. Bush in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, has lobbied for a federal amendment restricting marriage to heterosexual couples as a member of the board of advisers for the antigay group Alliance for Marriage, opposes adoptions by gay men and lesbians, and pushes for abstinence-only sex education programs.

Lusk's church hosted "Justice Sunday III" in January, an event aimed at rallying support for the nomination of conservative Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court. Lusk's guests at the event, which was broadcast to hundreds of conservative Christian churches through a live television hookup, included James Dobson of the antigay group Focus on the Family as well as antigay minister Jerry Falwell.

Lusk has no professional experience in health care or with AIDS issues, say AIDS advocates, but was nevertheless appointed by Bush to help shape federal AIDS policies.

Bush also appointed Troy Benavidez, an executive with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, to the panel as well as Alan Holmer, former president and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. PhRMA is the powerful lobbying group for the nation's drug companies, which in the past has fought against the use of cheaper, generic drugs to fight HIV. Benavidez also is a member of the national board of directors for the Log Cabin Republicans and has served on the board of New Mexico AIDS Services.

The appointees will be sworn in on March 15, according to White House officials. They each will serve four-year terms.

AIDS advocates are alarmed that Bush has appointed new PACHA members with clear ties to the pharmaceutical industry and those who are antigay, particularly considering that gay men still account for a large proportion of the nation's new HIV cases.

"Looking at the nominees, they continue what we see as a trend in which we have declining confidence in PACHA's ability to represent the diversity of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in this country," Ronald Johnson, associate executive director of New York's Gay Men's Health Crisis, told The Advocate. While being "very disappointed and disturbed" by Lusk's appointment to the panel, Johnson says GMHC also is troubled by the nomination of board members with ties to drug companies. "We continue to be distressed, and our confidence is lessened, by what seems to be an overrepresentation of people with connections to the pharmaceutical industry," he says.

Rebecca Haag, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group AIDS Action, told The Advocate that while AIDS Action is hopeful about and supportive of Bush's other appointees to the council, the agency is alarmed by Lusk's nomination. "We are quite disappointed that the president would appoint Reverend Lusk to the advisory board," she says. "He has little HIV experience and has made antigay remarks in the past, a population that has been highly impacted by the epidemic since its inception 25 years ago."

Haag points out that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a five-city study last year in which 46% of African-American men who have sex with men were shown to be HIV-positive, compared with 17% of white men who have sex with men. "This disease is ravaging the entire African-American community, including women and youth, as well as African-American men who have sex with men," Haag says. "This is a community in crisis, and there is no good reason to appoint someone who would leave behind any community affected by HIV/AIDS."

David Greer, an HIV-positive former PACHA member, told Philadelphia Gay News that he was not surprised by Bush's appointment of Lusk. "It's, unfortunately, par for the course in what we've seen with Bush," he told PGN. "I think it's a slap in the face for everyone working so tirelessly against this disease, but it doesn't surprise me." (

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