In a move criticized by many observers as harmful to the LGBTQ and other vulnerable communities, Donald Trump fired the last HIV/AIDS Presidential Advisory Council (PACHA) members. The president gave no explanation as to why the remaining few members had been booted from their position. The development arrived on Friday, just months after six top figures of the presidential council stepped down from their ranks in June.
A previous member of the PACHA, Scott Schoettes criticized the president, saying that he lacked consideration and respect for the work done by the PACHA. Schoettes tweeted,
Remaining #HIV/AIDS council members booted by @realDonaldTrump. [Trump has] no respect for their service. Dangerous that #Trump and Co. (Pence [especially]) are eliminating few remaining people willing to push back against harmful policies, like abstinence-only sex ed. #WeObject #PACHA6 #Resist.
Prior to the sudden dismissal, the PACHA board still had 16 members. On Friday, however, Trump sent a FedEx letter informing the remaining figures of their out-of-nowhere termination. Kay Hayes, PACHA's executive director, told The Huffington Post, "Current members of Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) received a letter informing them that the Administration was terminating their appointments." Hayes also said that the terminated members were "thanked for their leadership, dedication and commitment to the effort."
While it is true that various presidential administrations shake up their staff's makeup, such an unexpected ending to one of the country's most critical councils on HIV and AIDS research is disturbing.
Former PACHA member, Gabriel Maldonado, told The Washington Blade, an LGBTQ publication, that the change was for apparently "unclear" reasons but also mentioned that "ideological and philosophical differences" could be possible reasons for the firing. "I can only speculate," Maldonado told The Washington Blade, "Like any administration, they want their own people there. Many of us were [Barack Obama] appointees. I was an Obama appointee and my term was continuing until 2018."
Maldonado also said, "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. And a lot of those key vulnerable populations are not being prioritized in this administration."
This isn't the first time that PACHA has experienced a massive hiccup with the present White House. In June, six members of the PACHA signed a scathing and unapologetic letter, published in the Newsweek, and announced that they were no longer serving the administration.
The six-member address said, "The [Donald 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." Stating the presidency's apparent failure to consult and engage, the letter said, "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."
With six members out, the remaining council booted, and zero word on the future of PACHA, it is unclear how the president's administration will carry out desperately-needed HIV and AIDS research and prevention in the country. The PACHA initiative began in 1995 under Bill Clinton's presidency as a council that would help communities vulnerable to HIV. Not only does PACHA help with prevention, it also carries out awareness campaigns and holds community-specific events like National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, National Transgender HIV Testing Day, and more. Without a formal council to address these needs, it's hard to tell what the current administration plans to do to help in studying and preventing HIV/AIDs.