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Bush appoints gay man to head AIDS office

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush has appointed an openly gay Republican to lead his Office of National AIDS Policy, the White House announced Monday.

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer suggested that Scott Evertz's sexual orientation was not an issue for Bush.

"The president picks the best people for their jobs, regardless of what their backgrounds may or may not be, and that is why he has chosen Scott," Fleischer said. "The president respects him, knows that he is a leader in the community that is fighting AIDS, and he will be welcome at this White House."

Evertz, 38, is a fund-raising executive with a faith-based senior citizens program in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Evertz will become the first gay person to lead the office, which President Clinton formed in 1994.

Fleischer said the office would have "an increased focus on international components" because of the spread of AIDS around the world.

He said Evertz's office would coordinate policy with the departments of State, Health and Human Services, and the White House Domestic Policy Council. A full-time representative from the departments is expected to work in the AIDS policy office.

Fleischer demurred when asked whether Bush wanted to fight the stigma of homosexuality.

"I think what's important is to allow the office to develop and to come up with as many ideas as they can to fight what has been just a growing international problem that's wreaking terrible, terrible problems in many communities across our country and around the world," he said.

Earlier, an official told CNN that the Bush budget provides an increase in AIDS/HIV funding through the HHS department. It also boosts funding for AIDS/HIV at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by $23 million.

Evertz is the Wisconsin president of the Log Cabin Republicans, the most influential gay and lesbian Republican organization in the country. Bush met with Evertz and other Log Cabin Republicans in Austin last April, a move that drew attention because the GOP's 1996 presidential nominee, Bob Dole, refused to meet with them and also returned campaign donations.

The Austin meeting, however, occurred after the primary fight with Sen. John McCain of Arizona was over. Bush declined to meet with the Log Cabin Republicans during the primaries.

A White House official said Evertz will lead an expanded effort to confront AIDS at home and abroad.

On NBC's "Meet the Press," Vice President Dick Cheney said Sunday the White House agrees with the Clinton administration's conclusion that the global spread of AIDS has become a national security issue.

"It is an area of great concern," Cheney said.

President reorganizing White House AIDS office
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Office of National AIDS Policy
Log Cabin Republicans

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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