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Policy & Politics

Surgeon General Nominee Holsinger Dismisses Paper on Homosexuality During Senate Testimony

July 13, 2007

President Bush's nominee for surgeon general, James Holsinger, on Thursday during his testimony to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee "sought to distance himself" from a "controversial" paper he wrote on the health of men who have sex with men, saying that the paper is not a scientific document and that many of the issues raised in it are out of date, the Washington Post reports (Lee, Washington Post, 7/13). Bush nominated Holsinger on May 24 to succeed former Surgeon General Richard Carmona, who ended his term last year with no replacement.

The HIV Medicine Association and other groups -- including the American Public Health Association and some gay and lesbian organizations -- announced their opposition to Holsinger ahead of his Senate confirmation hearing. HIVMA, APHA, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and other groups in their opposition to Holsinger cite in part a document he wrote in 1991 called the "Pathophysiology of Male Homosexuality." The document was written to a United Methodist Church panel studying homosexuality. In the document, which focuses on anatomy and the reproductive system, Holsinger wrote that the "varied sexual practices of homosexual men have resulted in a diverse and expanded concept of sexually transmitted disease and associated trauma." Holsinger also called anal sex unnatural and gave an anatomical explanation (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/12).

Holsinger, Kennedy Comments
Holsinger during the HELP Committee hearing said that his views have changed and that the issues he raised in the paper are not relevant to current public health discussions (Washington Post, 7/13). "I can only say that I have a deep appreciation for the essential human dignity of all people, regardless of background or sexual orientation," Holsinger said, adding, "Should I be confirmed as surgeon general, I pledge to you to continue that commitment" (Harris, New York Times, 7/13). He also said that condom use is important for preventing pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted infections and suggested that condoms are appropriate for teenagers, the Los Angeles Times reports.

HELP Committee Chair Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) during the hearing said he recently received a letter from a group of leading HIV/AIDS physicians that concluded Holsinger's paper was "not based on science but rather is ideology with a veneer of science." William Owen -- one of the letter's authors and a physician in San Francisco -- was cited as a source by Holsinger in his paper. "The paper implicitly attempts to show that there is a scientific consensus for the proposition that homosexuality is abnormal, when in fact the scientific consensus in 1991 was much more strongly in favor of the concept that homosexuality is not abnormal and is not a disorder," the letter said, adding, "That consensus has only strengthened over time."

Kennedy said many committee members are "concerned about aspects of Dr. Holsinger's record that indicate that Dr. Holsinger has let his ideological beliefs cloud his scientific judgment." He added, "These concerns are serious at any time but all the more so in light of Dr. Carmona's alarming testimony" (Alonso-Zaldivar, Los Angeles Times, 7/13). Kennedy at the start of the hearing said he plans to introduce legislation that would give the surgeon general's office more political independence (New York Times, 7/13). Holsinger during the hearing said that he would resign if pressured to put politics above science but only after trying to inform policymakers on the science and come to a consensus. "Candidly, if I were unable to do that and I was being overridden, if necessary, I would resign," he said (Washington Post, 7/13).

No Democrats during the hearing indicated that they would support Holsinger's nomination, and fewer than half of the HELP committee members attended the hearing (Los Angeles Times, 7/13). Republicans on the panel expressed their support for the nomination, according to the New York Times. The HELP Committee likely will vote on Holsinger's nomination in September (New York Times, 7/13).

C-SPAN video of the complete hearing is available online.

NPR's "All Things Considered" on Thursday reported on the hearing. The segment includes comments from Holsinger; Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.); and Ruth Holsinger, mother of James Holsinger (Silberner, "All Things Considered," NPR, 7/12). Audio and a partial transcript of the segment are available online.

In addition, WBUR's "Here & Now" on Thursday included a discussion with Drew Armstrong, a reporter covering the nomination for Congressional Quarterly. Audio of the segment is available online. Thursday's program also included a discussion with Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, about politics and the position of surgeon general ("Here & Now," WBUR, 7/12). Audio of the segment is available online.

Back to other news for July 2007

Reprinted with permission from You can view the entire Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery at The Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report is published for, a free service of the Kaiser Family Foundation, by The Advisory Board Company. © 2007 by The Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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This article was provided by Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. It is a part of the publication Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report. Visit the Kaiser Family Foundation's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
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