Sensitivity training

January 27, 2003

REACTION TIME at the Bush White House is clearly speeding up. A gay-basher headed for appointment to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS was gone within hours of the choice becoming public.

It took days before Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld apologized for dismissing Vietnam War draftees as of "no value" to the war effort. More than a week went by before the White House started pushing Trent Lott out of the Senate majority leader's job for waxing nostalgic about the segregationist campaign of one-time Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond.

That's the good news.

The bad news is that Jerry Thacker, a religious activist who has described AIDS as the "gay plague," came so close to serving on a commission designed to advise the president on how to most effectively combat the pandemic disease.

Apparently the top health department aides who recruited Mr. Thacker thought there was a place on the commission for a man who believes homosexuality is a sin for which AIDS is a punishment. They seemed to find value in his recommended approach to avoid it: abstinence before marriage.

Note that Mr. Thacker's personal battle with the virus causing AIDS isn't portrayed as stigmatizing or as a punishment for sin: He contracted HIV from his wife, who was infected during a blood transfusion.

A diversity of views is valuable on a 35-member advisory commission. But stopping the wildfire of AIDS that is afflicting men, women and children around the world is far too grave a problem to waste time on ideas that are bigoted and in most instances useless.

Mr. Rumsfeld's comments on draftees, delivered with his typical bluntness, were nonetheless grounded in sound concerns about the high cost of training involved in using conscripts to man a fighting force.

Mr. Thacker, like Senator Lott, expressed thoughts that while perhaps once in vogue in certain narrow circles have no legitimate place at the table where today's public policy is made. This isn't a matter of political correctness. It's enlightenment.

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