Georgia leaders demand state health department rescind job offer to anti-gay pastor

News that the Georgia Department of Public Health is about to hire an embattled and anti-gay pastor from California has the state Democratic Party and an LGBT health group decrying the move and demanding the job offer be rescinded.

The GA Voice reported Wednesday after seeing reports in the Pasadena Star-News that Dr. Eric Walsh, who was put on administrative leave May 1 from his job as the Pasadena Public Health Director for anti-comments among other things, was about to be hired by the Georgia Public Health Department to lead its North Georgia Health District.

Backlash was swift today. Linda Ellis, executive director of the Health Initiative that serves all LGBT people in the state, wrote a letter to the state health department’s commissioner, Brenda Fitzgerald:

Dr. Fitzgerald,

We are writing you today to urge you to rescind the job offer extended to Dr. Eric Walsh by the Georgia Department of Public Health. The Health Initiative works throughout the state to connect LGBT Georgians to health services and resources. We value the work of the Department and have partnered on outreach campaigns, such as efforts to promote smoke-free spaces.

Dr. Walsh’s public displays of anti-gay propaganda and religious rhetoric will become symbols of the department and will further isolate an already vulnerable population. We believe this hire is detrimental to the wellbeing of our community, as well as to the effectiveness of the Department to conduct meaningful outreach to LGBT Georgians.

As spelled out by the federal Healthy People 2020 report and the Institute of Medicine’s 2011 findings, LGBT individuals are more likely to avoid accessing preventative health screenings due to a lack of culturally competent providers and an overall fear of discrimination. When adding an additional factor, such as living in a rural community, this disparity is further heightened. This avoidance of care results in LGBT populations exhibiting higher rates of a variety of health conditions, such as heart disease, and higher mortality rates for treatable conditions, such as cervical cancer. In short, homophobia is a health risk.

Placing Dr. Walsh in a leadership position will validate our community’s fears in engaging health systems and will hurt the credibility of any future campaign launched by the Georgia Department of Public Health that may seek to address LGBT health disparities.

We believe the work that the Department has done to reach the community is tremendously important, including having a presence at the annual Atlanta Pride Festival. We do not wish to see those efforts diminished by bringing onboard an individual that speaks out so vehemently against the LGBT population.

Our organizations share common goals of educating Georgians about their health, encouraging them to access screenings, and to take actions that will increase their longevity and well-being. Today, we are asking the Department to continue to act in the best interests of the state and rescind the offer that was made to Dr. Walsh.

Thank you for your consideration,

Linda Ellis
Executive Director
The Health Initiative
“Georgia’s Voice for LGBTQ Health”

The Democratic Party of Georgia also jumped in with their disappointment.

“I’m deeply troubled by the prospect of Walsh’s hire, given his well-documented hateful rhetoric. Georgians need to know that their public health officials can serve without bias,” said Michael Smith, spokesperson for the party said in a statement. Smith is gay.

“I have serious doubts that someone like Walsh, who has publicly denounced women’s rights, attacked schools for tolerance of LGBT youth, and vilified faiths other than his own in such a toxic manner is the right fit for this position. My advice for the GPHD is to keep looking,” he added.

GPHD spokesperson Ryan Deal told the GA Voice Wednesday the hiring was contingent upon a completed background check. “Dr. Walsh has been offered the position of District Public Health Director within the North Georgia Health District, contingent upon the results of a background and credentials investigation. Currently that investigation is ongoing and is not complete,” he said.