WASHINGTON, April 11 (RNS) -- Conservative groups say they feel betrayed by President Bush's decision to appoint an openly gay Wisconsin man as the new White House AIDS czar.

Bush on Monday named Scott Evertz as the new director of the Office of National AIDS Policy, just a few weeks after White House officials had signaled they may close the office. Evertz is vice president of the Luther Manor Foundation and has been active in AIDS prevention in Wisconsin.

While Bush made no mention of Evertz's sexual orientation, conservative groups targeted it as a bad precedent for AIDS policy.

"This appointment sends a disturbing message that the problem of AIDS can be resolved without dealing with the promiscuity of many in the homosexual life," said James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family, an evangelical Christian ministry.

Dobson and others criticized Bush for also nominating Massachusetts Gov. Paul Cellucci, another strong gay rights supporter, as ambassador to Canada.

The two appointments show Bush is trying to pay off political debts, said the Rev. Ralph Ovadal, director of the anti-gay Wisconsin Christians United.

"Simply put, George Bush asked the sodomites to scratch his back and now he is scratching theirs," said Ovadal, who frequently leads public protests with signs saying things like "All lesbians do go to hell."

Ken Connor, president of the Washington-based Family Research Council, said his organization will keep an eye on the policies crafted by Evertz and the rest of the Bush White House, but lamented Evertz's appointment as sending "the wrong message."

"We will not overcome the AIDS epidemic in this country by hiding our heads in the sand and ignoring the realities about mechanisms for the transmission of this disease," Connor said.

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