Conservatives Pan Bush's Appointment of Gay Official

ByGayle Tzemach

W A S H I N G T O N, April 10, 2001 -- One day after President Bush named the first openly gay person to serve in his administration, activists on his right are going public with their disapproval and vowing to address the issue at a meeting on the matter scheduled for later this week.

Dr. James Dobson, an influential voice in evangelical circles, released a statement today expressing his "disappointment" with the nomination of Scott Evertz to the helm of the Office of National AIDS Policy.

"While the Bush administration may see the Evertz selection as a conciliatory effort towards homosexual activists, it is creating confusion and frustration for millions of pro-family, social conservatives," Dobson said. "I hope the White House will reconsider the potentially harmful message it is sending Americans regarding the issue of homosexuality."

The Traditional Values Coalition's Rev. Lou Sheldon today called the nomination a betrayal of social conservatives and their values.

"We think it is absolutely disloyal for them to stab us in the back while we are serving our president," said Sheldon, noting how hard the religious conservatives have worked to support the Bush tax plan now being considered by Congress. " I believe [Bush's] staff has served him extremely poorly."

In another sign of discontent, a message to its members on the Family Research Council's Web site says, "Promoting an openly gay person to lead the office suggests that the White House is not prepared to deal with the root cause of the behaviors which are causing the problem. If personal responsibility is off the table, it is unlikely that the White House's approach to solving the AIDS crisis will be effective."

Evertz, who now works as vice president of the Lutheran Manor Foundation in Milwaukee, is a longtime volunteer in the AIDS community in Wisconsin, most recently at Common Ground, a faith-based organization in Milwaukee that offers housing programs for people with HIV/AIDS.

He also has played a key role in raising money for a faith-based mission hospital in Kenya and worked with the former governor of Wisconsin and current secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, on state legislation that guaranteed hospital visitation rights for gay and lesbian partners.

Last year, Evertz was included in then-Texas Gov. Bush's meeting with a select group of gay Republicans in Austin. In July, he was instrumental in working with Thompson on the GOP platform language on national AIDS policy.

Dobson Fears 'Bully Pulpit' for Homosexuality

Dobson's statement sounds the latest, and arguably the most powerful, note of dischord from the religious conservative community.

"We will be monitoring this regularly to make sure that this is not a bully pulpit for the advocacy of homosexuality," said the Traditional Values Coalition's Rev. Lou Sheldon immediately following the Monday announcement of the Evertz nomination. "We are going to be right there."

The Family Research Council's Richard Lessner called the nomination "troubling and regrettable" and argues it is "inconsistent with values that the president maintains he stands for."

Several in the social conservative community say they do plan to "address" this issue, although exactly how they will do that remains to be seen.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer has refused to comment on the nominee's sexual orientation or the message it sends to the either the gay or the religious conservative communities.

"The president picks the best people for their jobs, regardless of what their backgrounds may or may not be, and that is why he has chosen Scott," Fleischer said. "The president respects him, knows that he is leader in the community that is fighting AIDS, and he will be welcome at this White House."

During the campaign, Bush was asked repeatedly if he would hire any homosexuals in the White House. He replied that he wouldn't ask anyone about their sexual orientation during the hiring process. Asked if he would hire someone who is openly gay, Bush said, "How would I know?"

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