Article

Talking Points: Unfit and Unqualified

James Holsinger has a long history of prejudice toward gays and lesbians, once writing that homosexual behavior is 'intuitively' unnatural and a 'lifestyle choice.'

On May 24, President Bush nominated Dr. James W. Holsinger, Jr. to serve as the next Surgeon General, promising that he will provide “the best scientific information available on how Americans can make smart choices that improve their health and reduce their risk of illness and injury.” But unfortunately, it is unlikely that Holsinger will give the American public sound “scientific” advice. Holsinger has a long history of prejudice toward gays and lesbians, once writing that homosexual behavior is “intuitively” unnatural. Moreover, he believes that sexual orientation is an issue of “lifestyle,” a position that nearly every major medical association has denounced.

  • Holsinger has ignored the scientific evidence and believes homosexuality is ‘intuitively’ unnatural and a ‘lifestyle choice.’ Since 2000, Holsinger has been a member of the United Methodist Judicial Council, the church’s highest “court” that rules on “disputes involving church doctrine and policies in the nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination.” He has been that body’s president since 2004. During his tenure, Holsinger has “opposed a decision to allow a practicing lesbian to be an associate pastor, and he supported a pastor who would not permit an openly gay man to join the church.” Holsinger resigned from the committee in the early 1990s, when the church decided that gays are of “sacred worth” and should be welcomed. Holsinger was worried that the committee “would follow liberal lines” and warned “that acceptance of homosexuality would drive away millions of churchgoers.” [Arkansas Democrat Gazette, 5/26/07; Time magazine, 6/24/91] Holsinger and his wife also helped found the Hope Springs Community Church, which “ministers to people who no longer wish to be gay or lesbian.” Holsinger and his church take the scientifically-rejected position that sexual orientation is a “lifestyle” choice. But Holsinger’s treatment has been denounced by nearly every major medical association.
  • Holsinger is not qualified to make medical decisions for Americans. The Surgeon General is often called “Ameria’s doctor.” While the role is “primarily an educational one, it comes with public relations clout that can influence public policy.” For example, C. Everett Koop, who served as Surgeon General from 1982 to 1989, used the position to increase awareness of HIV/AIDS and the importance of condoms and sexual education. The need for such awareness and solid scientific direction from the Surgeon General is still essential but as National Gay and Lesbian Task force Director Matt Foreman notes, Holsinger’s “record shows that his own biases will not allow him to look objectively at scientific information.” The Surgeon General has responsibility for a broad range of public health issues. His authority may be undermined by his discredited view of homosexuality. Being gay is not about what you do, it is about who you are. As every modern Surgeon General has understood, whether you are gay or straight, if you engage in risky sexual behaviors you have a responsibility to take appropriate precautions. The real danger of Holsinger’s mindset is that he doesn’t seem to understand that such precautions are both necessary and efficacious.
  • Holisnger is just the latest in a long line of Bush nominees unfit for the job to which they are appointed. As Dr. Robert Garofalo, president of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Taskforce noted, “The Senate should take a hard look to make sure he isn’t another in a long line of ideologically driven Bush administration nominees.” Bush has consistenly apppointed conservative loyalists who push aside science to promote a partisan agenda. In 2006, Bush appointed Eric Keroack to be the new chief of family-planning programs at the Department of Health and Human Services. Previously, Keroack had “worked at a Christian pregnancy-counseling organization that regards the distribution of contraceptives as ‘demeaning to women.'” Similarly, former U.S. AID director Randall Tobias, who recently stepped down after admitting that he frequented a Washington escort service, oversaw a controversial policy advocated by the religious right that required any U.S.-based group receiving anti-AIDS funds to take an anti-prostitution “loyalty oath.”