- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

A Christian activist chosen by the Bush administration for an AIDS advisory panel withdrew his name yesterday after the White House rebuked his characterization of the disease as the "gay plague."
Jerry Thacker, a Pennsylvania marketing consultant who contracted the AIDS virus in 1986 after his wife was infected via a blood transfusion received during childbirth, was to be sworn in next week as a member of the Presidential Advisory Commission on HIV and AIDS.
"I feel I must withdraw my name from consideration to serve at this time due to my family's personal concern about my ability to be effective with the council, given the current controversy," he wrote in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson.
"I do not consider myself anti-gay. I am, however, anti-HIV/AIDS. The three infected people in our family … would not wish this disease on any other human being," he wrote.
Word of his withdrawal came after White House spokesman Ari Fleischer sternly chastised Mr. Thacker for his use of the phrase "gay plague."
"The views that he holds are far, far removed from what the president believes," Mr. Fleischer said. "Those words are as wrong as they are inappropriate. And they are not shared by the president.
"The president's view is totally the opposite of that. The president's view is people with AIDS need to be treated with care, compassion, and that's why his budget has provided so much money to help in the fight against AIDS."
Mr. Fleischer said the White House was not responsible for selecting Mr. Thacker to join the presidential AIDS panel, which was established in 1995 to provide the president and the secretary with recommendations regarding AIDS programs and policies.
"The question of who would get appointed to it is not a presidential appointment, it's an appointment that comes at the Cabinet level," he said.
Mr. Thompson said he had never met Mr. Thacker and was not familiar with his views until very recently. The Washington Post yesterday ran an article about Mr. Thacker's usage of "gay plague" in his writings.
"When you have this many appointments to make, some controversial ones are going to get through," Mr. Thompson said. "This one was controversial, and the gentleman withdrew his name."
Mr. Thacker had hoped to add a different perspective to that panel. A consultant living in Fleetwood, Pa., he wrote a book titled "When AIDS Comes Home," which his Internet Web site characterizes as "the story of a Christian family suddenly struck by the AIDS virus."
After contracting the AIDS virus from his wife, Sue (their 18-year-old daughter Sarah also has the disease), the Bob Jones University graduate founded the Scepter Institute to promote his workshops, books and videos on the topic of AIDS.
His biography on the Scepter Web site (www.scepter.org/founder.asp) said: "Before 1986, Jerry Thacker was probably a lot like you. He had a beautiful family, a good church and a rewarding ministry. He knew vaguely about the 'gay plague' known as AIDS, but it seemed a distant threat. AIDS was something that bad people had to worry about. Not Christians. Not the church."
The entry has been rewritten to read, "the plague known as AIDS," a term many scientists use to describe the pandemic, which afflicts more than 42 million people worldwide.
In his letter to Mr. Thompson, Mr. Thacker said he now uses the term only to describe the disease's spread in the United States from mainly affecting homosexuals to all segments of the population.
On the Web site, Mr. Thacker said: "AIDS was something that bad people had to worry about. Not Christians. Not the church. HIV was something shameful God's judgment on immoral behavior."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, homosexuals and AIDS sufferers who do not report how they contracted the disease account for 62 percent of the 807,075 Americans living with HIV/AIDS. Intravenous-drug users account for 25 percent, while heterosexuals make up just 11 percent of the total. Blood transfusions and other medical maladies make up less than 2 percent.
Mr. Thacker's speeches and writings drew criticism from homosexual groups and others yesterday.
"His brand of reactionary gay-bashing has no place in public policy and government," said Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, a Democratic presidential hopeful.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle said, "His offensive public statements about homosexuality indicate a disturbing bias that is completely at odds with the role the advisory commission should play."
Others defended Mr. Thacker.
The Rev. Dave Greear, a youth pastor with Campus Light Ministries in Huntington, W.Va., said Mr. Thacker's withdrawal from the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS was "unfortunate."
Mr. Thacker has been "very, very gracious and very, very careful about what he says and how he says it," said Mr. Greear, who has invited Mr. Thacker to speak at four college events.
"He makes it clear that he disagrees, as a Christian, with the homosexual lifestyle. But having said that, he also makes it very, very clear that all of us as Christians should have compassion on anyone who contracts that disease for any reason," Mr. Greear said.
If he had spoken like a "gay basher," he added, "I wouldn't have invited him to come and speak for us."
Mr. Thompson yesterday announced the selection of seven new members to serve on the 35-member Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.
"These new members bring to the council a wealth of expertise and experience that will greatly enhance this administration's efforts to end the pandemic of HIV and AIDS," he said.
"They will augment an already-strong team that is helping HHS maximize our resources as we battle this terrible disease through extensive research, prevention initiatives and expanding access to quality care and treatment."
Cheryl Wetzstein contributed to this report.

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