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Religious Activists Influencing Congress on Who Receives Health Study Funding

by NTAC Media Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2003 at 4:35 PM

This past week, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) sent a letter instructing the Dept. of Health & Human Services (HHS) to investigate what may be a sharing of confidential study information to the “religiopolitical extremist” group, Traditional Values Coalition (TVC)

The information on study proposals included the authors, the dollar amounts awarded and concise description of the studies which TVC compiled, then passed along to conservative members of Congress for targeting.

After fielding pointed questions from Republican critics of 10 federally funded programs, National Institute of Health (NIH) director during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, Dr. Elias Zerhouni, requested a complete list of studies the congressional critics deemed unsatisfactory, in order to provide more information to comply with the critics’ requests. All of the programs questioned studied sexual behavior, including sexuality, native two-spirit and gender identity issues, sex-workers and HIV-risk behavior patterns.

NIH received the requested list of programs, they discovered it was drawn up by the Traditional Values Coalition, a lobbyist group led by Rev. Lou Sheldon – a fervent critic of gay and transgendered America. With the revelation of whose list is guiding conservative voting, it’s become clear that religious pundits are staking turf for the next battleground: control of all tax monies and how they are spent.

“This is religiopolitical extremism gone wild,” said Vanessa Edwards Foster, chair of the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition (NTAC). “The faith-based initiatives are preparing to line up at the federal grant trough, and they don’t want competition from academe – especially if it doesn’t produce the results and values their particular sect espouses.”

Andrea Lafferty, Rev. Sheldon's daughter and the executive director of TVC, said she welcomed the controversy, hoping it marks the end of wasteful spending on AIDS behavioral research. In a local television interview, she claimed the NIH needs “adult supervision.” Lafferty even went so far as to ask for a Justice Department investigation of the grants on her list.

Lafferty labeled the NIH, and researchers of their studies "grant traffickers.''

Applicants for NIH grants usually go through a rigorous evaluation process simply to qualify for funding approval. This recent re-examination of studies that have already been approved is an obvious attempt to dissuade universities, medical and psychological research entities from applying or conducting science-based research. A copy of the targeted grant list obtained by NTAC includes the names of 180 researchers and 289 different grants.

Rep. Waxman, D-Los Angeles, denounced the review as "scientific McCarthyism'' and called the document a "hit list'' created by right wing ideologues. Waxman became involved in the controversy after his office began fielding calls from scientists who said they were being unfairly targeted in what they considered to be a campaign of harassment.

“The chill effect this has on legitimate research is far-reaching,” said NTAC chair Foster. “The Bush Administration has distinctly religious ideology they’re forging ahead with, which means that the church will determine what is true science – not academia nor scientific or medical researchers. Extending this logic to its apparent goal, one can expect that all future treatment for HIV, AIDS or any communicable disease will be prayer.”

In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson Monday, Waxman called for an end to "these attacks on science.''

The NIH spokesman said the agency had never been conducting a "grant by grant" review, but instead planned to report to congress on broad categories of grants, such as AIDS prevention. "We were not questioning their research,” said NIH spokesperson John Burklow. “In fact, we are defending the need to do research in these areas."

The NIH is nevertheless continuing its review, working off the coalition's list, because that is what the committee submitted. "When Congress asks, we respond,'' he said.

“This is dangerous policy,” Foster continued, “and irresponsible oversight of the American public’s health. One tax dollar collected is no better than another tax dollar collected. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex taxpayers deserve equal representation and attention to our health issues every bit as much as conservative Christian taxpayers.” NTAC urges anyone disturbed by this hyper-scrutiny by conservative congressmembers to contact the Dept. of Health & Human Services at: 877-696-6775, or Email the HHS Chief of Staff at or Rep. Pat Toomey (R-PA) at

“This intimidation of science is reprehensible,” Foster finished.

- 30 -

Founded in 1999, NTAC - the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition - is a §501(c)(4) civil rights organization working to establish and maintain the right of all transgendered, intersexed, and gender-variant people to live and work without fear of violence or discrimination.

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