In a decision denounced as "dangerous" and "appalling," President Donald Trump has enraged members of the public health and LGBTQ communities by reportedly firing the remaining 16 members of his HIV/AIDS council in letters delivered to them by FedEx on Thursday.
Six members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) had resigned in protest earlier this year, as Common Dreams reported, on the grounds that the Trump administration "has no strategy to address the ongoing 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."
Scott Schoettes, a Lambda Legal senior attorney who resigned from PACHA in June, tweeted about Thursday's firings, claiming Trump has "no respect for their service" and warning about what future HIV/AIDS policy may look like under this president:
Remaining #HIV/AIDS council members booted by @realDonaldTrump. No respect for their service. Dangerous that #Trump and Co. (Pence esp.) are eliminating few remaining people willing to push back against harmful policies, like abstinence-only sex ed. #WeObject #PACHA6 #Resist— Scott A. Schoettes (@PozAdvocate) December 28, 2017
Gabriel Maldonado, head of the LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS group Truevolution and a remaining member of PACHA, confirmed the firings to the Washington Blade, but added that the "explanation is still unclear" and "I can only speculate" as to why they were dismissed.
"Like any administration, they want their own people there," Maldonado said, acknowledging "ideological and philosophical differences" and that many of the remaining members, including her, were appointed by former President Barack Obama.
"I was co-chair of the disparities committee," Maldonado added, "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...and a lot of those key vulnerable populations are not being prioritized in this administration."
Sources close to the decision told Newsweek "they suspect the charter for PACHA will be re-written with renewed focus on abstinence and religious, non-evidence based public health approaches." Newsweek noted that while the Obama administration also dismissed all panel members who were appointed by his predecessor, George W. Bush, the current administration has been particularly complacent on the issue, and "Trump has yet to appoint an HIV/AIDS chief, the first time since Bill Clinton created the position in 1993 that a president has failed to do so."
Critics swiftly denounced the firings on social media, including one who noted that with this decision, the Trump "administration appears to be blatantly admitting it will do nothing about HIV/AIDS epidemic."
People living with #HIV/AIDS are some of the most vulnerable in our communities. #Trump and Co. have now dismantled #PACHA, the council serving those marginalized people. Absolutely cruel. #Resist #ActUP— Alison Cooper (@itsalicoop) December 29, 2017
HIV/AIDS is slamming the nation, especially the South. We cannot afford lack of leadership in #HIV policy, treatment, prevention, and research lest we return to the heartbreak of the 1980s and 1990s. #PACHA https://t.co/2XccrPRem9— Dr. Joe (@DrJRJoe) December 29, 2017
He is a Monster. https://t.co/bm6WIFpoge— Debra Messing (@DebraMessing) December 29, 2017
Some accused the president of trying to appease his more religious supporters, while others noted Vice President Mike Pence's influence over the administration and his track record on HIV/AIDS.
Let’s make no mistake: Trump is firing these people to appease a religious right who believe that HIV/AIDS is appropriate punishment for homosexuals. They are trying to kill us. https://t.co/hCLyxII4nP— Phillip Picardi (@pfpicardi) December 29, 2017
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More reasons for concern about where the Trump/Pence administration's health care priorities do - and don't - lie. (As if we needed anymore). https://t.co/lQhjgUM2J9— GLAD (@GLADLaw) December 29, 2017
Now that Trump has fired the entirety of the HIV/AIDS advisory council, it is worth remembering that Mike Pence enabled Indiana’s recent HIV outbreak through inaction. https://t.co/WZ41yvQWAQ— Will Tomer (@WillTomer) December 29, 2017
In a series of tweets, journalist and activist George Johnson outlined how the move is just the latest in a series of decisions by the adminstration to dismantle federal efforts to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
In March they announced no cuts to HIV funding, then proposed 50 million in cuts domestically and 300 million to PEPFAR (globally). A dangerous and unprecedented move against the HIV community.— George M Johnson (@IamGMJohnson) December 29, 2017
HIV is still deadly, both here and abroad.— George M Johnson (@IamGMJohnson) December 29, 2017
HIV still affects Black and Brown communities at higher rates.
HIV is still growing in the South due to lack of resources and education.
HIV hurts Black women and Black LGBTQ people at epidemic levels.
If anything, find a renewed spirit to continue to do the work to end this administration, work on a grassroots approach where community helps community for the shortcomings of an anti-black establishment.— George M Johnson (@IamGMJohnson) December 29, 2017
Johnson was not alone in making a reference to former President Ronald Reagan—who is often criticized for "his shameful abdication of leadership in the fight against AIDS"—or noting how this move is just one of many by the Trump administration that could have dire consequences for Americans battling HIV/AIDS.
Trump budget proposed dramatically slashing HIV/AIDS funding:— Chris Lu (@ChrisLu44) December 29, 2017
-$150 million cut from HIV prevention programs
-$26 million cut from housing for people with AIDS
-$800 million from global programs
And now this https://t.co/gBCqhVV9VN
This comes after Trump proposed a $800 million dollar budget cut to HIV/AIDS treatment and research. This man is a monster.— ACT UP New York (@actupny) December 29, 2017