Australia doesn’t really have an equivalent of the US Surgeon-General (technically, the closest equivalent is the Chief Medical Officer). He or she is the unofficial public face of health in the US, and is generally seen as a respected and authoritative advocate of public health education and healthy living. Naturally, the Christian Right would regard getting one of their own into this position as a major coup in its quest to Talibanise America.
As the disastrous experiment with abstinence-only sex education has demonstrated (an experiment destined to continue thanks to a decision by lily-livered Democrats to increase funding for such programmes), the fundagelicals don’t do health science well. But what do they care?–they’re more interested in saving souls than lives, and they’re not about to let reality get in the way of their Bronze Age agenda.
Regarding the office of Surgeon-General, the faith-heads have had previous success: in 1994 they forced the resignation of Jocelyn Elders after she dared to suggest the promotion of so benign an activity as masturbation as an alternative to riskier sexual practices–despite the fact that masturbation carries no harmful side effects–expect possibly chafing. (Indeed, frequent ejaculation has been found to reduce the risk of prostate cancer in men, but I guess Jesus wants you to get prostate cancer.)
But the big pay-off for the Religious Right would be to manoeuvre a kool-aid-sipping fundagelical into the position of Surgeon-General itself. And now they have a sniff of victory, thanks to the Bush administration’s nomination to the post of James Holsinger, a Paul Cameron-class homophobe:
James Holsinger, President George W. Bush’s nominee for Surgeon General, has a dark view of homosexuals. In a 1991 paper, Holsinger describes homosexual sex in sickeningly lurid language. “Fist fornication,” “sphincter injuries,” “lacerations,” “perforations” and “deaths seen in connection with anal eroticism,” are some of the terms Holsinger concocted to describe acts with which he suggests at least medical familiarity (a case of participant observation, perhaps?). At the same paper, Holsinger puzzlingly issues no warnings about the dangers of heterosexual sex in his paper. To him, only “anal eroticism” is a health peril.
As the Alternet article points out, what is most worrying about this nomination is not so much Holsinger’s bigotry as his support for “ex-gay therapy.” In other words, the individual who the Bush administration believes is best qualified to give the American public advice on healthy living is someone who believes homosexuality is both a “lifestyle choice” and a “disease” that can be “cured.” Moreover, the nomination is a tacit endorsement of a therapy discredited by the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association and other mainstream medical organizations. The American Psychiatric Association maintains that there is “no scientific evidence that reparative or conversion therapy is effective in changing a person’s sexual orientation;” there is evidence, however, that ex-gay therapy can have harmful effects, including “depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by a patient.”
Hopefully, US senators will give this snake-oil salesman the short shrift he deserves.