Charles Krauthammer {op-ed, June 12} is right: AIDS does occupy a privileged position in the hierarchy of diseases. After all, which other disease has its sufferers battling not only for their lives, but fighting extremists like Sen. Jesse Helms and Lyndon LaRouche for the right to remain out of concentration camps?

Which other disease exposes the people with it to the loss of jobs and their livelihood? To the loss of housing? To blatant denials of health care, emergency medical services and even the right to be buried in a dignified manner?

Who else but people with AIDS have the "privilege" of Phyllis Schlafly and Jerry Falwell's special attention? And for which other group of disease sufferers is national health policy made not by the administration's doctors like Surgeon General C. Everett Koop or Jim Curran (CDC) or Tony Fauci (NIH), but by nonmedical ideologues like Education Secretary William Bennett and his former underling, Gary Bauer?

Krauthammer's brand of denial cannot change the fact that AIDS worldwide is not a gay male disease. Nor does such denial change the fact that AIDS is now the leading cause of death for young heterosexual women in New York City. And no amount of polemical posturing can discredit the gay/lesbian community's right to assert a voice in decisions about AIDS policy which will profoundly affect our lives.

As in so many other areas, the Washington media and leadership are goose-stepping blindly to a deadly beat drummed by the White House. Why isn't journalistic cynicism focused on the administration's seven-year silence and sudden involvement at presidential election time? Why is there no condemnation of the administration's AIDS-budget policy of robbing Peter to pay Paul? Why are 21,000 deaths so easily dismissible to Krauthammer's ilk?

In short, why are gay men with AIDS (not hemophiliacs, not IV drug users, not kids, women, Haitians, Africans, etc.) singled out for special commentary and attack? Isn't bigotry the true underpinning of the "privilege" that Krauthammer identifies?

-- Urvashi Vaid

The writer is public information director for the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force.