The University of the West Indies’ (UWI) dismissal yesterday of Professor Brendan Bain, head of the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training (CHART), on account of a biomedical opinion on men having sex with other men (MSM) and of the objection and lobbying by the LGBT community make for fascinating study.
Professor Bain, held as a pioneer in clinical infectious disease practice in the Caribbean and a leading medical authority on the HIV epidemic in the region, merely pointed out in a statement –– in the high-profile case in Belize, in which Caleb Orozco, a gay man, challenged the constitutionality of an 1861 law that criminalizes men having sex with men –– that the risk of contracting HIV was significantly higher among men who had sex with other men (MSM).
The professor said this was as true for Belize as for other countries, including those that had repealed the law that criminalises anal sex.
“The risk to MSM and their intimate sexual partners,” he explained, “is not just to their physical health. The adverse physical and physiological consequences of STIs (including HIV) in MSM create significant and avoidable financial costs to individuals, households and governments. These important considerations must be included when considering whether to give public approval to risky behaviours such as are often practised by MSM,” Professor Bain said in his expert testimony.
The LGBT groups were clearly not impressed; and it is anybody’s guess which offended more: the professional statement offered in August 2012,
or the fact that Professor Bain presumably spoke on the side of a group of churches seeking to retain said 1861 anti-gay law?
The professor’s controversial opinion has its genesis in the case in Belize where he gave expert testimony in a matter against gay Belizean Caleb Orozco. Orozco had challenged Section 53 of Belize’s criminal code that states “every person who has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any person or animal shall be liable to imprisonment for ten years”, which, he has argued that, “violates his right to the recognition of human dignity, to personal privacy and the privacy of the home guaranteed by the Belize constitution”.
We are told that 30 or more advocacy groups had written to UWI vice-chancellor Professor E. Nigel Harris, following the contentious statement, expressing loss of confidence in Professor Bain as the head of CHART, and a wish for his removal. Their argument was that while they understood Professor Bain to have made it that clear that his written testimony, as an expert witness in the Belize case, was his entitled opinion, it was yet in conflict with his leadership of CHART.
The UWI is obviously in agreement, as in its statement of explanation for dismissal, it alluded to many authorities familiar with the brief presented believing the professor testimony “supported arguments for the retention of the law thereby contributing to the continued criminalization and stigmatization of MSM, which many public health experts believe violates their human rights and puts them at even higher risk of contracting HIV”.
The university said that while it recognized Professor Bain’s right to provide expert testimony in the manner he did, “it has become increasingly evident that he has lost the confidence and support of a significant sector of the community which the CHART programme is expected to reach, including the loss of his leadership status in PANCAP [Pan Caribbean Partnership Against AIDS], thereby undermining the ability of this programme to effectively deliver on its mandate”.
Professor Bain, who was the director of CHART since its inception, after his retirement from UWI in 2013, had been given a two-year post-retirement contract to continue in said director.
When this matter is stripped of the theatrics and semantics, some burning questions stare us in the face.
Will we have for a precedent the firing of a public or private official who offends or angers the LGBT community, even if statements made are in their best interests or others’?
Do the rights of the LGBTs supersede those of heterosexuals?
Are we not seeing glimpses of heterophobia?
We pass no judgement on Professor Bain’s observation of the incidence rate of HIV infections among men who have sex with men (MSM), nor the LGBTs’ variant position on it. Differences are a fallout of democracy. But is it not a folly to assume that the decriminalizing of MSM automatically leads to a reduction in infections more so than a rise?
More importantly, if the LGBT community will gain the greater tolerance and much less discrimination generally, it behoves them to be themselves more tolerant of differing views. The canvassing for the dismissals and destruction of people who “offend” them is extreme –– and unhealthy itself in this small space where we must all exist.
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