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Surgeon General nominee raises concerns

By | 2007-06-07T09:00:00-04:00 June 7th, 2007|News|

by Bob Roehr

WASHINGTON, D.C. – James W. Holsinger, Jr. 68, was nominated to be Surgeon General of the United States by President George W. Bush, on May 24. Some aspects of his background, including leading the judicial court within the Methodist Church that “defrocked” a lesbian minister, are raising possible concerns about that nomination.
The position has been vacant since Richard Carmona’s commission expired last summer. Announcing it on Thursday afternoon, immediately before the unofficial start of summer, may have been a ploy to minimize news coverage. If so, it worked.
Holsinger has credentials that on paper would make him eminently suitable for the position. They include a medical degree from Duke University, a master’s in hospital financial management from the University of South Carolina, a 25-year career with the Veterans Administration, rising to a senior management position and subsequent work at the University of Kentucky and the state health care system.
However, red flags in Holsinger’s resume, at least to those in the LGBT community, include a master’s degree in biblical studies from the conservative Asbury Theological Seminary, and as one of the lay leaders of the of the nine-member Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church.
He was part of the majority that removed the openly lesbian Rev. Irene “Beth” Stroud from her church in Philadelphia in April 2004. The Council ruled, “Since the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church.”
The ruling claimed that it would have been okay if she had remained celibate, but sex outside of marriage is not allowed, and of course, gays are not allowed to marry. Therefore the long-term relationship with her partner was immoral and disqualified Stroud from serving in the Church according to the ruling.
Time magazine reported in 1991 that Holsinger quit a Methodist panel on homosexuality “because he felt certain the report would follow liberal lines.”
A lively exchange on the nominee has sprung up on the “Bible Belt Blogger” run by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette religion editor Frank Lockwood.
As blog poster Caleb Powers summarized, “Although a couple of Holsinger’s supporters have blogged here that he is not an opponent of equal rights for gays and lesbians, no one has said that he’s in favor of equality, either.”
“That’s the problem. We simply can’t have a surgeon general who believes that any group of citizens is second rate. And when you don’t even want these folks to kneel down and pray in the same church as you, well, that’s pretty telling.”
“The health disparities experienced by the LGBT community should not be forgotten when one is speaking about how differential access, prejudice and ignorance often lead to poorer health outcomes for other groups in the U.S.,” the cochairs of the National Coalition for LGBT Health, David Haltiwanger and Henia Handler, said in a statement released on May 29.
They are respectively the executive director of the Chase Brexton Health Services in Baltimore and policy director of Fenway Community Health in Boston.
The Coalition had met with then Surgeon General Carmona in 2005, and earlier this year with his acting successor Kenneth Moritsugu “to continue our efforts to see that national health surveys collect data in a way that is inclusive of our community. We hope to continue this work with the next Surgeon General.”
The Coalition leaders said, “Some press coverage has raised concerns about positions on homosexuality, which Dr. Holsinger has taken in the past. The nation’s public health interests are best met when we have a Surgeon General who bases policies on science and not on politics, and one who can provide leadership on health issues for all Americans, including LGBT Americans.”
Joel Ginsberg, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, said, “We can only hope that as the country’s top health official Dr. Holsinger would rely on scientific data and not church doctrine. The Senate should take a hard look to make sure he isn’t another in a long line of ideologically-driven Bush Administration nominees.”
The Senate committee that will review the nomination is chaired by Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.). Its members include presidential hopefuls Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama, and Sen. Christopher Dodd. Their willingness to press Holsinger on LGBT issues during hearings may well affect their political standing within the community.

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Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.