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The White House is adorned in 2015 with a red ribbon for World AIDS Day. (Photo: Ted Eytan/flickr/cc)

Trump "Simply Doesn't Care": Six Members of HIV/AIDS Advisory Panel Resign

Final straw, they say, was president's pushing of healthcare legislation that would deal devastating blow to HIV community

Andrea Germanos

Six members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS have resigned in protest saying that Donald Trump "simply does not care," and that he is not only unaware of the continuing impact the epidemic has on communities but is supporting legislation that threatens to reverse recent gains.

In a blistering op-ed published at Newsweek, Scott A. Schoettes, counsel and HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal, outlines the motivations that led him and five of his colleagues—Lucy Bradley-Springer, Gina Brown, Ulysses W. Burley III, Michelle Ogle, and Grissel Granados—to resign on June 13.

The resignations come as Senate Republicans secretly hammer out their Affordable Care Act repeal legislation—a measure healthcare advocates fear will gut Medicaid, bringing drastic harm to people living with HIV.

The council was established under the Clinton administration and is tasked with providing recommendations to the administration regarding treatment, prevention, and curing HIV and AIDS, as well as offering guidance for implementing the National HIV/AIDS Strategy.

But any recommendations on the matters to the current administration would fall on deaf ears, the op-ed says.

"The Trump Administration has no strategy to address the on-going HIV/AIDS epidemic, seeks zero input from experts to formulate HIV policy, and—most concerning—pushes legislation that will harm people living with HIV and halt or reverse important gains made in the fight against this disease," Schoettes writes.

He also points to "the many signs that the Trump administration does not take the on-going epidemic or the needs of people living with HIV seriously." For example, as a presidential candidate, Trump, unlike Hillary Clinton or Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), did not meet with HIV advocates. Further, on his first day in office, he got rid of the Office of National AIDS Policy website, and has yet to appoint someone to head the White House Office of National AIDS Policy.

But "the final straw for us—more like a two-by-four than a straw—is President Trump's handling of healthcare reform."

"[D]efunding Medicaid expansion, imposing per-person caps on benefits, and/or block granting the program," which could come from the expected GOP plan, "would be particularly devastating for people living with HIV," he notes, and calls for healthcare policy—a life or death matter—to be based on facts and science.

"Because we do not believe the Trump administration is listening to—or cares—about the communities we serve as members of PACHA, we have decided it is time to step down," he writes.

According to Michelangelo Signorile, queer voices editor-at-large for the Huffington Post, the other 16 members of the council would do well to follow suit:

Protest takes many forms, and resigning from this administration's panels and councils ― as expert advisors to the EPA did after the Trump administration dismissed half of the members of an important science committee  ― sends a powerful message. All of the members of PACHA should follow the brave lead of the six who resigned last week, and speak out loudly about this administration's brutal policies.

The resignations came just days before an ad by sponsored by 19 organizations, including the Southern AIDS Coalition and AIDS United, and representing 100 national and community-based organizations, called on senators to "Say no to Medicaid caps and cuts" and "not take life-saving healthcare and treatment away from people with HIV and millions of others."

In an additional attempt to #KillThisBill, AIDS United is asking people to contact their senator to oppose the American Health Care Act.

The group states: "Should it pass, the Senate's American Health Care Act would drastically harm people living with HIV by weakening the quality of millions of Americans' benefits and leading to the loss of coverage and declining health outcomes. Under the AHCA, people living with HIV only stand to lose."

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