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AIDS director named

Kevin Ivers (AP)/WASHINGTON -- Scott Evertz, a leader among gay Republicans in Wisconsin, will be named director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, senior White House officials said today.

Members of gay groups said it was the first time an openly gay man or a lesbian had been chosen for appointment by any Republican administration. But the White House officials, even as they disclosed a step that seemed intended to appeal to gay voters, refused to discuss Mr. Evertz's sexuality or its significance in either politics or policy, saying that Mr. Bush did not take such concerns into account when making appointments.

Mr. Evertz, a 38-year-old AIDS policy organizer who is the head of the Wisconsin Log Cabin Republicans and has political ties to Tommy G. Thompson, the former Wisconsin governor who is now secretary of health and human services, will take over the office as its role expands to coordinate all domestic and international H.I.V./AIDS policy, a senior official said.

"The president wants to increase the focus on the international aspects of the disease and we believe we have chosen the right director for the office," the official said.

Mr. Evertz, a Roman Catholic who has been a fund-raiser for the Wisconsin Right to Life anti-abortion group and for a Catholic AIDS ministry, said in an interview today that he was pleased to be the first openly gay appointee in a Republican administration.

"What I appreciate is that the president has said he is appointing people who are qualified and share his philosophy," Mr. Evertz said. "I haven't been treated like a token."

Mr. Evertz, who was one of a dozen gay Republicans who drew attention by meeting with Mr. Bush in Austin, Tex., during the campaign last year, will head an office that the new administration once signaled it might close. That suggestion was quickly reversed when it caused an outcry among gays and public health advocates.

Instead, the White House seems with this appointment and other steps to emphasize the importance of the fight against AIDS. For example, it is keeping in place the Clinton administration's policy to help poor countries obtain drugs to treat the disease.

"This appointment is a very good sign on all levels," said Richard Tafel, executive director of the national Log Cabin Republicans, the party's leading gay and lesbian advocacy group. "AIDS is a very powerful issue in the gay community, and to have an openly gay official chosen on his merit means we shouldn't have to be afraid and closeted for who we are."

Gay Republicans said they saw the appointment of Mr. Evertz, which is expected to be announced as early as Monday, as a vindication of their approach of working within their party rather than fighting it.

When Mr. Bush won the White House, some gay advocates expressed alarm that he would undermine steps taken by Bill Clinton, who was the first president to appoint openly gay and lesbian officials, naming more than 150 in his eight years in office. Mr. Clinton also issued executive orders explicitly prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in federal hiring practices and in granting government security clearances.

The Bush administration has quietly left those orders in force even as it has moved assertively to review many other policies of the Clinton administration.

In his new position, Mr. Evertz will sit on the president's domestic policy board to coordinate AIDS policy and will join a new task force headed by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Mr. Thompson to coordinate the fight against AIDS here and abroad.

A native of Washington, Mr. Evertz moved to Wisconsin to study at Marquette University and stayed on, volunteering in 1986 for Mr. Thompson's campaign for governor. He joined the Wisconsin chapter of Log Cabin Republicans, and in 1994 he ran unsuccessfully for the State Legislature, inciting comment as an openly gay candidate.

Throughout his professional career he has been a fund-raiser for nonprofit organizations, working for the anti-abortion group, and the Order of St. Camillus, a Catholic health care order of priests and brothers with an AIDS ministry. He currently works for a Lutheran foundation for the aging.

As a volunteer, he worked with Governor Thompson on legislation to allow hospital visiting rights for gay and lesbian partners and raised money for clinics in Wisconsin for people living with AIDS and for a mission hospital in Kenya.

Last year he was one of a dozen gay Republicans selected to meet with Mr. Bush after the Texas governor was assured the nomination, and he worked with Mr. Thompson on the party platform's AIDS plank.

"When I first met Mr. Bush he wanted to hear all of our stories," Mr. Evertz recalled today, "so I told him that the 18-year-old daughter of my partner had just voted for him in the primary, and he seemed pleased and took a note of it."

Officials said that along with the announcement of Mr. Evertz's appointment they will describe the new joint task force on AIDS that will include not only Secretary Powell, but also the president's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and his domestic policy adviser, Margaret La Montagne.

Mr. Evertz will also sit on the president's domestic policy council alongside other senior advisers.

Mr. Evertz said he saw two strikingly different challenges for domestic and international policy.

New drugs that have made it possible for people to live with H.I.V. and AIDS have also brought about a complacency that has hurt minorities, he said.

"Communities of color continue to be disproportionately affected with H.I.V. and AIDS, and that requires developing strategies to prevent the disease and to reach out to those affected with it," he said.

Overseas, he said, the AIDS epidemic requires more than a passive policy of simply handing over the new drugs to help people live with H.I.V.

"The challenges are enormous, particularly as we look to the continent of Africa," he said. "We need to offer the best and brightest from this country as we pass off what we've learned when it comes to assisting folks in adhering to these regimens."

(c) 2001 Associated Press

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