GLAA statement on firing of HAA Director Lydia L. Watts
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GLAA statement on firing of HAA Director Lydia L. Watts

August 16, 2005


D.C. Department of Health Director Dr. Gregg Pane announced today that he has fired HIV/AIDS Administration Director Lydia L. Watts.

We agree with Dr. Pane's decision.

Watts attacked critics of her agency's failings, and she spoke to Council members in a gratingly patronizing manner. Considering that she only came on board a year ago, she could have gotten in front of service providers' criticisms of HAA by embracing them herself, but instead she reacted with defensiveness and hostility. One longtime District employee told me of his difficulties in getting reliable data from HAA; he said the data they gave him was consistently old. HAA has failed to do the required site visits of grantees. It has failed to spend funds in a timely manner, thereby threatening a loss of future federal funds.

Watts used gratuitous racial rhetoric to deflect criticism of HAA. This was consistent with her racist attacks on needle exchange programs when she was director of contracts for Chicago's AIDS office in the 1990s. In her combative testimony at David Catania's June 23 Health Committee hearing, she alluded to racist public health policies as if she were an outside observer. Well, now she will be. With HIV infection rates at Third World levels, the District needs everyone pulling together and taking responsibility. We don't need a public official sowing discord.

While Watts deserves her share of credit for the positive changes that have occurred in the past year, her racially-tinged resistance of accountability made her more a part of the problem than the solution. We hope that District officials will ensure that her replacement has a better attitude. We also hope that they will act promptly, since the reforms at HAA, including needed shakeups of both process and personnel, are far from done.

Speaking of credit, we commend David Catania for his energetic efforts in shaking up HAA and holding seven oversight hearings on the agency this year, with more scheduled. This is in contrast to one oversight hearing in the previous six years while the agency was falling apart and the HIV/AIDS rates were rising.

Rick Rosendall
Vice President for Political Affairs
Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, D.C.

Photo of Lydia L. Watts

[Note: This document was modified on May 7, 2014 to add the fired official's middle initial and a photo, in order to distinguish her from an unrelated person with a similar name. We regret any confusion the previous version may have caused.]

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