US medical chief praises the ‘courage and dignity’ of gay community – while stood shoulder to shoulder with Mike Pence

Dr Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases speaks at a press briefing with members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force

Dr Anthony Fauci likened coronavirus to HIV/AIDS as he spoke about the resilience of the gay community – while stood next to Mike Pence.

The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who is leading the US efforts against coronavirus, made the comments at a White House briefing on Tuesday while addressing evidence showing that COVID-19 has a disproportionate impact on Black Americans.

Dr Fauci, who has served in the same role since 1984 and oversaw the response to the AIDS crisis, drew a direct comparison to the impact of HIV/AIDS on the gay community.

Dr Anthony Fauci says ‘courage and dignity’ of the gay community challenged stigma.

He explained: “Sometimes, when you’re in the middle of a crisis, it does shine a very bright light on some of the weaknesses of our society. As some of you know, a greater portion of my career has been defined by HIV/AIDS.

“If you look back then, during that period of time when was extraordinary stigma, particularly against the gay community, it was only when the world realised how the gay community responded to this outbreak with incredible courage and dignity and strength and activism… I think that really changed some of the stigma against the gay community.

“I see a similarity here, because health disparities have always existed for the African-American community. Here again, with the crisis now, it’s shining a bright light on how acceptable that is, because yet again, when you have a situation like the coronavirus, [minorities] are suffering disproportionately.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks as President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence listen

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks as President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence listen (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Dr Fauci stressed of the impact of coronavirus on African-Americans: “It’s not that they’re getting infected more often; it’s that when they do get infected, their underlying medical conditions – the diabetes, the hypertension, the obesity, the asthma – those are the kind of things that wind them up in the ICU and ultimately give them a higher death rate.”

Mike Pence knows a thing or two about homophobic stigma during the AIDS crisis.

The poignant allusions to HIV/AIDS were made all the more so by the fact that vice president Mike Pence was stood next to Fauci the entire time.

As head of the right-wing Indiana Policy Review Foundation think tank during the 1990s, Pence directly fostered the exact kind of homophobic stigma that Fauci was addressing – arguing that gay people don’t deserve legal protections because “homosexuality at a very minimum is a choice by the individual, and at the maximum, is a learned behaviour”.

While running for office in 2000, Pence published an election manifesto calling for HIV/AIDS prevention funding to be drained from “organisations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviours that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus,” an apparent reference to LGBT+ inclusive groups.

Pence instead called for funding for “institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behaviour”, which has since led to accusations he was endorsing conversion therapy. Of course, he now denies this, despite not contesting the charge at any point before becoming vice president.

While serving as governor of Indiana between 2013 and 2016, Pence’s cuts to HIV testing and ban on needle exchanges led to the worst outbreak of HIV/AIDS in the state’s history, sparking an intervention from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Not much has changed for Pence, who is frequently put out to give speeches on World AIDS Day where he only mentions straight victims by name.