The enemy of my enemy is my...enemy? That's the conundrum for AIDS advocates on both wings of the political spectrum about the July appointment of Julie Gerberding, MD, to head the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Right-wingers like Concerned Women for America decried the anthrax wrangler as too liberal for an agency they view as a cutout for the homosexual lobby, while Focus on the Family's James Dobson said, "Her writings clearly show that she believes the safe-sex lie."
But Gerberding's first official acts were bows to the right. "Abstinence and monogamy are the first line of defense against HIV/AIDS," she said in her acceptance speech. Then in August, she sent a mail bomb of a letter to Stop AIDS Project, informing San Francisco's pioneering prevention group that she was "sending a CDC team to...assess whether these programs are not only scientifically sound, but also consistent with [federal guidelines]" -- code words for "do not promote homosexuality."
Neither side can accuse her of not knowing AIDS. She interned at San Francisco General, ground zero of the early epidemic, starting in 1981, and later joined the Mayor's Task Force on AIDS. In 1998, she landed at the CDC, where a promotion to acting deputy director of infectious diseases in time for last fall's anthrax panic thrust her into the limelight. Gerberding briefed the very green health secretary Tommy Thompson, who repaid her with the long-vacant top job. If San Fran politics gave her hair that streak of gray à la Susan Sontag, what will the GOP do to her 'do?