Obama appoints openly gay man to head AIDS office

President Obama announced last week that an openly gay Georgetown University researcher will head the country’s domestic HIV/AIDS effort.

Jeffrey S. Crowley, formerly a senior research scholar at Georgetown’s Health Policy Institute, will become the new director of the Office of National AIDS Policy.

ONAP, a component of the Executive Office of the President’s Domestic Policy Council, oversees the country’s HIV/AIDS prevention, education and treatment initiatives and works with agencies around the world to coordinate HIV/AIDS programs.

Crowley was also a senior scholar at Georgetown’s O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, a position he had held since July.

Crowley focused his research on Medicaid and Medicare issues in relation to individuals with chronic illnesses, such as HIV/AIDS.

Crowley received his master’s degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University and his bachelor of arts from Kalamazoo College.

After graduation, he joined the Peace Corps and served as a high-school science teacher in Swaziland.

Prior to joining the Georgetown research team in 2000, Crowley oversaw the education and development efforts of the National Association of People with AIDS as the organization’s deputy executive director for programs. During his time at NAPWA, he was involved in the creation of the Ryan White National Youth Conference and the National HIV Testing Day Campaign.

He also has served as a chemist at the National Institute of Mental Health.

Crowley, 43, said his first order of duty with ONAP will be to create a plan to combat HIV/AIDS nationwide — something the country has never had before.

“The first thing I’ve been tasked with is to lead the president’s efforts to develop a national AIDS strategy; this is something he’s very committed to,” Crowley said. “He’s asked me to develop this working with various agencies of the federal government and state and local governments and organizations to make sure we do more to care for people living with HIV/AIDS.”

Crowley could not comment on what effect the current economic crisis could have on the national HIV/AIDS strategy, but in the proposed fiscal 2010 budget Obama outlined last week, the president indicated a commitment to expanding funding for domestic HIV/AIDS programs. More details on the funding should be available next month.

In a statement released last week, Obama hailed Crowley as a much-needed addition to the national HIV/AIDS fight.

“Jeffrey Crowley brings the experience and expertise that will help our nation address the ongoing HIV/AIDS crisis and help my administration develop policies that will serve Americans with disabilities,” Obama said. “In both of these key areas, we continue to face serious challenges and we must take bold steps to meet them. I look forward to Jeffrey’s leadership on these critical issues.”

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, issued a statement Feb. 28 applauding Obama’s selection.

“The announcement of Jeffrey Crowley signals that HIV/AIDS issues will be an integral part of healthcare reform in the Obama administration,” Solmonese said. “Throughout his campaign, President Obama called for the development of a bold national AIDS strategy. With Crowley’s leadership, we look forward to working with the Office of National AIDS Policy in setting an aggressive agenda to combat HIV/AIDS in our country.”

Kevin Burns, executive director of Philadelphia’s ActionAIDS, said although he has heard some concerns from individuals in the African-American HIV/AIDS community that Crowley may not be attuned to their needs because he’s white, he said he’s confident in Obama’s choice.

“I think we need to give him the benefit of the doubt and trust that President Obama wouldn’t select someone who’s not qualified,” Burns said. “Race doesn’t affect one’s ability to understand issues in other communities. I do understand these concerns, and I think it’s important to bring to the table representatives from all the different communities who are affected by HIV/AIDS, and the African-American community is certainly very disproportionately affected, but I trust President Obama to select people who are highly qualified and who can bring a lot to that table.”

Jane Shull, executive director of Philadelphia FIGHT, said Obama’s selection was appropriate. “From everything I know about him and the level of excitement in the AIDS-advocacy community, I think this is a wonderful choice for us. He is an advocate as well as an expert in public health, which is important if he’s going to be developing the national AIDS strategy.”

Also last week, Obama named Dr. Mary Wakefield, director of the Center for Rural Health at the University of North Dakota, as the administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration. HRSA provides healthcare services to un- and underinsured Americans.

On March 3, Obama nominated Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as the secretary of health and human services.

Crowley noted that the diversity in the new administration should allow for the viewpoints and needs of a vast array of Americans to be heard.

“[Obama] cares about diversity, not in a token way, but in really drawing from the best of America,” Crowley said. “He’s trying to build a team that is as diverse as possible and that represents as many perspectives as possible.”

The Victory Fund’s Presidential Appointments Project recommended Crowley for the position.

Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].