In what activists see as another sign of his indifference to the AIDS epidemic, Donald Trump fired the remaining 16 members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS in December, “without explanation via a letter from FedEx,” the Washington Blade reported.
The firings came when many of the members had time remaining on their terms. Later, Politico reported that the advisory council executive director, Kaye Hayes, stated that former members could re-apply to serve on a new council that would be convened sometime this year.
Six members had previously resigned last June, protesting the Trump administration’s lack of action regarding the disease. Scott Schoettes, one of those who resigned then, tweeted about the firings, saying, “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.”
Gabriel Maldonado, one of the members fired, told the Blade he didn’t know the reason for the dismissals, but said it could be due to “ideological and philosophical differences” with the administration. He cited reports that the employees of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were told not to use certain words in official budget-related documents, such as “diversity” and “transgender.”
“I was co-chair of the disparities committee, 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,” he said. “And a lot of those key vulnerable populations are not being prioritized in this administration.”
Jim Driscoll, a Trump supporter who served on the council under President George W. Bush, defended the firings by saying they were “standard practice” for a new administration. “Now they need to find bona fide community people with appropriate expertise and the ability to adapt to the changed political circumstances,” he told the Blade. “It is fully understandable why a president would not want people who oppose his policies and might be happy to see him impeached serving as his HIV advisors. That would serve the needs of neither the president nor of people living with HIV or AIDS.”
While President Barack Obama had terminated all Bush appointees to the council, this situation is different, said Maldonado, who was appointed by Obama and was to serve into next year. “It is common for appointees to be terminated and for folks to kind of want their own people in,” he told the paper. “I think where the discrepancy comes in is why a year later, number one? Two, many of us, our terms were over earlier this year and we were sworn back in, and three were [approved to stay] on nearly four months after an executive order was signed continuing the council.” Coming six months after the resignations, the firings are “a little too coincidental,” he added.
Those who resigned were incensed that Trump had yet to appoint a director of the Office of National AIDS Policy and that he sought deep cuts in funding for both domestic and international HIV and AIDS programs. (While the budget for fiscal year 2018 remained unresolved, Congress continued funding those programs at previous levels.) Also, Trump’s proclamations on National HIV Testing Day and World AIDS Day did not mention LGBT people.