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Best president on AIDS? W!

WHEN I became a gay activist in 1990, HIV/AIDS was one of the key priorities of the movement. Fighting AIDS was promoted as an important reason for gays and lesbians to help elect Bill Clinton in 1992.

WHEN I became a gay activist in 1990, HIV/AIDS was one of the key priorities of the movement. Fighting AIDS was promoted as an important reason for gays and lesbians to help elect Bill Clinton in 1992.

Yet now that the gay white men who are the main funders of the LGBT movement are no longer dying quite so often of AIDS, the gay community has moved on to issues like marriage, while millions, many men of color who have sex with men, are still suffering from HIV-related illness.

It is unquestionable that GOP President George W. Bush has done more to fight AIDS than any president in history, including Democrat Bill Clinton. The people pushing Bush to fight the epidemic at home and abroad are overwhelmingly conservative Christians - the same people we keep hearing gay leaders tar as narrow-minded and bigoted.

Well, those bigots deserve far more credit for relieving suffering from HIV in this decade than gay men and lesbians did in the previous two decades combined.

Under George W. Bush:

* The U.S. spends more than $3 billion a year, with more to come, on the president's initiative to treat, prevent and care for millions of suffering people worldwide. Bush's AIDS plan is the largest health initiative ever dedicated to a single disease.

By contrast, Clinton's last budget contained less than a $1 billion for both domestic prevention and global AIDS. And Clinton's Justice Department actually sued people and governments worldwide for trying to produce generic anti-retrovirals.

* The White House is trying to repeal the heinous restriction on foreign visitors and immigrants with HIV, a policy the supposedly pro-gay Clinton administration signed into law. Because of Bush, we may finally have international AIDS conferences in our country again, which never happened under Bill Clinton.

* The president has not hesitated to appoint openly gay experts on the disease to top posts, including physician Mark R. Dybul to an ambassador-level HIV spot and both National AIDS Policy Coordinator Scott Evertz and his successor, Joseph O'Neill.

By contrast, President Clinton had no openly gay AIDS czars.

Bush's AIDS appointments aren't about winning gay votes any more than his appointment of two African-American secretaries of state was calculated to win black votes. He wants the most qualified people doing important jobs, whatever their identities.

These facts and others relating to the outstanding Bush record on AIDS have done little to convince gays and lesbians that on at least one of their top issues, Republicans have performed better than Democrats. When challenged, most gay activists will point to Bush's championing of abstinence education, as if it were a bad idea.

It's undeniable that abstinence is a more effective way of preventing sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy than condoms. I know a gay man who was sexually active for more than a decade. He used a condom every time, yet contracted several STDs. Later, in seven years of abstaining from sex, he didn't suffer a single crab louse, herpes sore or genital wart.

I imagine an argument can be made for teaching proper condom use to older high-schoolers. But opponents of abstinence education advocate starting condom instruction for junior-high students or younger. Why? By definition, the overwhelming majority of sixth- through 10-graders are beneath the age of consent.

In my eyes, "marriage equality" is a far less important than the fight against HIV/AIDS. Virtually the entire gay community felt that way when I first became an activist. After all, what lesbian ever died a painful death because the government called her relationship a domestic partnership instead of a marriage?

For years, I've been asked, "How can you be a gay Republican?" In 2008, I can answer, "Because on one of the gay community's top priorities, Republicans outshine Democrats hands down."*

David Benkof blogs at and can be reached at