Friday, June 27, 2008

(Dr. Richard Wilotski, a CDC administrator, is out of the closet.)

CDC 'Ins' Gay HIV Prevention Chief?

If it's one thing gays and HIV advocates can depend on from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it's alarming new HIV infection rates for pockets of gay male sub-communities, presented in the week leading up to gay pride marches across America. The CDC skillfully ties in gay pride events with the annual National HIV Testing Day effort, every June 27, with newly analyzed and compiled infection rates, generating frightening headlines. The take home messages of the CDC and press rarely vary: fags are still fucking, HIV ain't going away, get an antibody test.

I usually don't pay much attention to the alarming drum-beat from the feds, but this year something caught my ear. The name of the new CDC boss for HIV prevention, a Dr. Richard Wolitski, is new to me and at first I thought Dr. Kevin Fenton, an openly black and gay man who happens to be CDC chief for STD/TB/HIV prevention campaigns, had left the agency and been replaced. I soon found out Wolitski has the HIV subdivision under Fenton's large agency domain, for at least six months.

A short history lesson is needed here. Back in January 2006 when Fenton's gay orientation was not being highlighted by the CDC press office, while at the same he wasn't denying being gay, I blogged on these matters. The situation back then was convenient all around: CDC and Fenton say nothing about his gay identity, and the mainstream and gay press didn't broach the subject either.

More than two-years later, nothing has changed on this score. Here we have an openly gay man in charge of a major federal bureaucracy that daily impacts upon the lives of our community, he quoted in many press accounts touting new alarming HIV stats for gays, and the matter of his sexual orientation failed to register on the radar.

Even openly gay reporter David Tuller, in his June 27 article for the NY Times, wasn't interested in mentioning Wilotski's gayness.

I emailed Wilotski to ask him directly to comment on his sexual orientation, and share with you now our brief exchange:

Sent: Fri 6/27/2008 8:44 PM
To: Wolitski, Richard (CDC/CCID/NCHHSTP)
Subject: SF gays ask: Is CDC's Dr. Wolitski gay?

Dear Dr. Wolitski,

I'm writing up something for my blog about the CDC's latest scary HIV stats for gays and bisexual men and MSM.

I'd like to note your sexual orientation, as I did when Dr. Kevin Fenton accepted his position at the CDC.

My question for you is: Are you a gay man?

A prompt reply would be appreciated.

Best regards,
Michael Petrelis

-----Original Message-----
From: Wolitski, Richard (CDC/CCID/NCHHSTP)
Sent: Sat, 28 Jun 2008 3:33 pm
Subject: RE: SF gays ask: Is CDC's Dr. Wolitski gay?

Yes, I am a gay man.

Richard J. Wolitski, PhD
Acting Director
Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention
National Center for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention
Coordinating Center for Infectious Diseases
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton RD NE (MS D-21)
Atlanta, GA 30333

From: []
Sent: Sunday, June 29, 2008 2:31 AM
To: Wolitski, Richard (CDC/CCID/NCHHSTP)
Subject: Re: SF gays ask: Is CDC's Dr. Wolitski gay?

Thanks for the rapid reply and confirmation. What is the reason why no CDC materials and no press accounts identify you as a gay man? If I am wrong about those assertions, please kindly direct me to media URLs or CDC pages that say you're gay. I think it's very important for gays at-risk of contracting HIV to know that the prime federal spokesperson on the new alarming stats is a gay man, and that he doesn't want his gay brothers to contract infections.

In a message dated 6/30/2008 6:17:24 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time, writes:

There was no CDC press release other than the summary of the MMWR report that was sent out by the MMWR office. The subject of my sexual orientation never came up in any interviews. I have lived and worked as an openly gay man my entire career (both at CDC and prior to coming to CDC) and have published and spoken for many years on gay men's health, so it's certainly not an issue from my perspective.

Rich Wolitski
Acting Director
Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention
I believe if we had all of the gay men in positions of power at the CDC continually speaking as gay men, or in the case of Dr. Kevin Fenton, as a black gay man, the openness would have a positive influence on HIV prevention and over all gay male health.

We've had 25-plus years of CDC officials trying to affect changes in gay HIV rates, figures that have not decreased despite billions of dollars spent, and the latest alarming increase in infection stats making headlines.

Now would be a good time to try a new approach in leadership from the CDC and demand that it actively highlight its top gay decision-makers, while simultaneously getting the CDC gay administrators to tell reporters about their sexual orientation and asking news editors to provide fuller details on the federal officials directing HIV prevention efforts.

No comments: