Dr. Whitener graduated from Illinois College of Optometry and received a master’s degree in public health at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. After serving in Viet Nam, he provided clinical care in the Army Reserve at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C. and served on active duty during Dessert Storm. After 23 years, he retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
As the Assistant Director of Federal Relations for the American Optometric Association (AOA) in Washington, D.C., he specialized in health care policy and public health where his responsibilities included working with staff at government agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control, as well as national health professions' associations and Congress.
His activism for equal rights began at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where he was one of the founders of the Carolina Gay Association. He was a community AIDS activist in the Washington, D.C. area serving on boards to promote AIDS education in public schools and health services in local health department services.
He has been a member of Asheville First Congregational United Church of Christ for over 15 years and has served as a Deacon, Sunday school teacher, and Moderator of the Executive Board. Currently he serves on the Staff and Parish Committee and Personnel Committee.
John and Tony Saldana, his partner of 33 years, were married in Canada in 2008.