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Without explanation, the White House earlier this week fired all remaining members of President Donald Trump’s advisory council on HIV and AIDS, drawing widespread outrage from gay rights activists.
The across-the-board axing was announced in a letter delivered via FedEx to all 16 members and comes as the Trump administration already faces flak for how it deals with LGBTQ issues.
Patrick Sullivan, who was appointed to a four-year term on the council in May 2016, told the New York Daily News that he received the letter on Friday. He said it “politely recognized” his service but gave no reason for why he had been let go.
Sullivan, who’s a professor at Emory University specializing in HIV research, did not explicitly criticize the administration’s decision to fire him and his fellow council members, adding that there are plenty of scientists who can aptly fill his position as long as U.S. policy sticks to “well-established” and science-based research.
“I’ll be upset and I will speak up if ever felt that there were policies advanced or approaches to education taken that would impact people’s lives,” Sullivan said.
But other former council members did not show as much restraint.
“No respect for their service,” Scott Schoettes, a Chicago-based HIV scientist, tweeted in response to news that the members had been terminated. “Dangerous that #Trump and Co. (Pence esp.) are eliminating few remaining people willing to push back against harmful policies, like abstinence-only sex ed.”
Schoettes and five other members stepped down from the council in June, claiming in a scathing letter that Trump “simply does not care” about HIV and the LGBTQ community.
The council, which is made up of unpaid specialists, has advised the White House on HIV and AIDS policies since its founding in 1995.
In a second tweet on Friday, Schoettes speculated that the firings are part of an administrationwide “purge,” citing recent reports that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been banned from using words like “diversity,” “transgender” and “vulnerable.”
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Since Schoettes’ resignation, Trump has come under additional fire over his failure to mention LGBTQ people in his statements recognizing National HIV Testing Day and World AIDS Day.
Last week, Trump landed in even hotter water amid reports he had claimed that all Haitians “have AIDS” during a heated Oval Office meeting about immigration.
Sullivan, the Emory University professor, said he hopes the administration will appoint new council members who genuinely care about HIV issues.
Many were not as hopeful.
“Trump began the month by erasing LGBTQ people from his World AIDS Day statement, and ends it by firing all remaining members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS,” Sarah Ellis, CEO of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, tweeted. “Trump has made a continuous effort to erase LGBTQ people and people living with HIV from the fabric of our country.”