Shanker departs Spahr Center after 6 months for Biden gig

  • by Eric Burkett, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday October 4, 2022
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Adrian Shanker has been appointed to a position in the Biden administration. Photo: Courtesy Spahr Center
Adrian Shanker has been appointed to a position in the Biden administration. Photo: Courtesy Spahr Center

Adrian Shanker, the highly accomplished activist who left the community center he founded in Allentown, Pennsylvania, only six months ago to lead Marin County's Spahr Center, is on the move again. This time, he's been poached by the Biden administration.

The New York native has been hired as the senior adviser on LGBTQI+ Health Equity for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services led by Dr. Rachel Levine, the highest-ranking trans person in an administration. She was formerly the Pennsylvania secretary of health.

Known under the acronym OASH, the office oversees the federal health department's key public health offices and programs, a number of presidential and secretarial advisory committees, 10 regional health offices across the nation, and the Office of the Surgeon General and the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, according to its website.

In the spring Shanker, a gay man, had taken on the post of executive director of the Spahr Center, Marin County's nonprofit community agency serving the county's LGBTQ community as well as those living with HIV. He began working there on April 1, after leaving the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Pennsylvania that he founded back in 2014.

His new employer at the federal health agency noted his past work with both national and state leaders in an email to the Bay Area Reporter.

"He is no stranger to OASH as he recently served on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS," the statement read. "He also previously served as Health Committee Co-Chair of the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs in Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf's administration."

Wolf, a Democrat, was elected in 2014 and reelected in 2018. He is termed out and a spirited race is underway to replace him pitting Republican Donald Trump supporter Doug Mastriano against Democrat Josh Shapiro, the state's attorney general.

Shanker began his work on the presidential advisory council in 2021 as one of eight appointments to the body. In a statement following his appointment at the time, he said, "I am grateful that President Biden, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. Rachel Levine have prioritized health equity, and I am grateful for the opportunity to serve alongside the other PACHA members as we all work toward the end of the HIV epidemic."

His new job puts him in an even more influential position. In a news release issued October 3, Shanker expressed surprise at the recent turn in his professional career.

"It has been a tremendous joy to work with the team at the Spahr Center to enhance and expand programs and services for LGBTQ+ and HIV+ community members in Marin," he stated. "When I started at the Spahr Center, I did not anticipate a short tenure, however, I am confident that the organization is in a strong position to continue its positive momentum in service to Marin's LGBTQ+ and HIV+ communities. I am deeply humbled by the invitation to join the Biden-Harris administration in this role and I look forward to supporting the administration's efforts to advance health equity for the LGBTQI+ community."

Shanker was not available for direct comment. The news of his appointment to OASH was quickly noted back in Allentown, the city he had left for Marin. The Morning Call, Allentown's daily newspaper, ran a story about his appointment Tuesday, noting his work in that city.

"Under his leadership, the [Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center] gained a statewide reputation for promoting LGBTQ health," the paper reported. "He created the biannual Pennsylvania LGBTQ Health Needs Assessment, which is one of the largest and most consequential state-level LGBTQ health data collections in the country."

Replacing Shanker will be Cindy L. Myers, Ph.D., as interim executive director. Myers, a lesbian, also stepped in as interim executive director at San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights following longtime leader Kate Kendell's departure at the end of 2018.

"Dr. Myers brings 30 years of executive leadership experience in the behavioral health and human services fields to the Spahr Center," the organization stated in a release. "She has served as an interim chief executive, chief operating and chief clinical officer for a diverse range of businesses and organizations, including the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Additionally, the organization will conduct a new national search for an executive director, which will be led by Kevin Chase Executive Search."

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