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Lee Ousts Gays from Health Panel

by Seth Hemmelgarn

Bay Area Reporter

Thursday April 5, 2012

Mayor Ed Lee has ousted the only two openly gay people from the San Francisco Health Commission.

His decision leaves the seven-member panel, which oversees a Department of Public Health budget of about $1.6 billion - including millions related to HIV and AIDS - without anyone from the gay or HIV/AIDS communities for the first time in nearly 20 years.

Steven Tierney, 60, who had been serving as the commission's president, and Jim Illig, 63, a former president, received news earlier this month that Lee had decided not to reappoint them. Their terms expired in January but they had continued to serve as the mayor made his decision.

Tierney, who once served as the city's HIV prevention director, said, "My hope would be that somebody from our community" gets a commission appointment.

"In a city with the HIV situation we have, and other lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender health issues, it would be important to have at least one from our community," said Tierney, who's HIV-negative.

Illig, who works at Project Open Hand, a local nonprofit that provides meals to people with HIV and AIDS and seniors, said having experience in the HIV/AIDS field "is just as important as having a doctor and a nurse on the commission." Illig is also HIV-negative.

Nicole Wheaton, the mayor's appointments secretary, couldn't be reached for comment.

However, Christine Falvey, the mayor's press secretary, did not rule out that an LGBT person would be appointed to the one vacancy. The mayor earlier named Belle Taylor-McGhee to fill one of the vacancies.

"The mayor has several very well-qualified candidates for the open seat" on the commission "including LGBT candidates. He will fill the vacancy as soon as he has met with candidates."

It's not clear why exactly Tierney and Illig were booted from the commission.

Tierney noted the terms are four years.

"I had one, and it'd be nice to get another one but when you get a new mayor it's his or her right to appoint his or her own people. ... I don't think it was anything personal," he said.

Tierney supported former Supervisor Bevan Dufty in the 2011 mayor's race. Lee became interim mayor last year and was elected to a full term in November.

Asked why he hadn't been reappointed, Illig, who was first appointed in 2004, laughed and said, "You tell me. ... I have no idea." However, he added, "I know it's politics," since the new mayor gets to put his own people in place. Illig supported Lee for mayor.

Tierney and Illig's departure had left five people remaining on the commission. Taylor-McGhee, whose background includes work in women's reproductive health, was recently sworn in, bringing the total to six.

Taylor-McGhee, who's HIV-negative and straight, said, "I certainly have worked on a number of public health issues, including HIV/AIDS, so I think as a public health advocate I'm concerned about all public health issues," and ensuring that regardless of race, sexual orientation, or other factors people have "access to affordable, quality health care."

She said that asking her about her ability to address HIV and AIDS issues is like asking someone who's HIV-positive if they could relate to other health issues.

One of Illig's concerns about the changes at the commission involves the potential impacts of national health care reform. Some people will have to switch from private to public clinics and may not get all the services they need, he said.

He said Health Director Barbara Garcia "totally understands those issues," but "it's important to have somebody there who understands the HIV system as Steven and I did."

Garcia declined to comment for this story.

Devesh Khatu, 43, is a gay San Francisco man who's living with HIV and serves on the board of directors for the Asian and Pacific-Islander Wellness Center, a nonprofit that provides services to people with HIV and AIDS.

Khatu said he's "somewhat aware" of the commission's work, and "I definitely have concerns" about the lack of LGBT or HIV/AIDS community representation on the city panel.

He said that given the "significant" numbers of people in San Francisco who are LGBT and living with HIV or AIDS, "I think there needs to be somebody that represents this community on the Health Commission, so that all of our issues are adequately addressed."

The gay members of the Board of Supervisors also expressed concern over the lack of LGBT representation on the commission.

"There has to be LGBT representation on the Health Commission. Having someone who comes from the community and understands the issues around AIDS and HIV is really important," said Supervisor David Campos.

Campos said has addressed the issue with Lee and would do so again.

"The mayor has been very responsive to the needs and the interests of the LGBT community," Campos said. "I'm sure he will be receptive to that conversation."

Supervisor Scott Wiener said he was "disappointed" that Tierney and Illig weren't reappointed.

"It's critical that the mayor appoint an LGBT person" to the remaining open seat, "and I've expressed that to the mayor," Wiener said. He said Lee's considering "exceptionally qualified" LGBT candidates for the commission, and "I'm confident the mayor will select a very strong LGBT commissioner."

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