The Administration recently released the list of members for the US delegation to the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on HIV/AIDS, and it raised some eyebrows – both for the fact that it is so large (with 26 Administration members and 11 from the private sector) and on account of some of those who were selected. For an Administration that has left us all questioning its commitment to evidence-based public health policies, several of these nominees have quite questionable backgrounds on HIV. It appears that ideology is again the most important credential to this Administration.
For instance, Pastor Herbert Lusk of Greater Exodus Baptist Church in Philadelphia. Rev. Lusk was appointed to the President’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) with practically zero experience working on AIDS in a professional capacity. What he brings to that table though is his public condemnation of homosexuality, and his promise to his critics that he’s “making funeral arrangements for them.” Not the kind of mentality we want to send into any sort of international diplomacy…
Or take Anita Smith, who along with her husband Shepherd Smith, has been favored particularly favored by this Administration. So favored in fact that her organization, the Children’s AIDS Fund, received a large grant from the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator after a PEPFAR panel of experts had issue a “not suitable for funding” decision on its application to do “abstinence-only” work in Uganda. OGAC overrode the panel’s decision without comment, and has yet to answer an inquiry from Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) about why they would fund an unapproved program. Mrs. Smith is also an appointee to PACHA.
Another is Melissa Pardue, formerly of the Heritage Foundation. Ms. Pardue is a specialist of sorts on abstinence-only education, having written about it extensively for Heritage. Her writing, which she now gets to share in policy conversations as a staffer inside the White House, creates false dichotomies that emphasize abstinence-only programs over programs that make little to no mention of abstinence, ignoring the possibility of truly comprehensive sexuality education. In the process, this member of a delegation to the high-level meeting on AIDS argues against educating teens about condoms—the only successful method of preventing HIV transmission during intercourse.
But not all questionable appointees have made sinister comments or been given a free pass to avoid government decisions. Maggie Betts certainly hasn’t done that. What remains to be seen is what she has done to be given a seat on the delegation, aside from joining First Daughter Barbara Bush (also a delegate) in the NYC socialite scene.
We will be keeping track of what these delegates and others bring to the table next week, with live coverage all week long from the UNGASS meeting and its surrounding events.