EDITORIAL - Behind the Bain affair
The sacking by the University of the West Indies (UWI) of Brendan Bain from the leadership of its regional HIV/AIDS health-care training project is being promoted in some quarters as an attack on academic freedom and an effete surrender to a 'gay lobby' that is about to infect the Caribbean with some presumably incurable agenda.
The first point is obvious nonsense. The second is to narrowly interpret, if not deliberately misconstrue, the role of the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training (CHART) Network and to underpin that with anachronistic social prejudices that sustain homophobia and its concomitant ills.
We are, of course, saddened at the turn of events. For there is no question of Professor Bain's service to people living with HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean. But the issue is whether Professor Bain's affidavit to a Belizean court in support of interests who want to retain that country's buggery law was a catastrophic development that rendered him incapable of continued leadership of CHART.
The issue of academic freedom does not arise. Professor Bain was no longer on the academic staff at UWI and was not fired for an intellectual position held as an academic. He was an executive administering CHART. Many Caribbean HIV/AIDS, human- and gay-rights advocates lost confidence because of his intervention in the Belizean case, which they argued potentially impaired strategies for fighting the disease in the Caribbean.
The critics of the university's action note that CHART's mission statement commits it to strengthening the capacity of health-care workers and systems to provide access to HIV/AIDS prevention, care, treatment and support services. It does not specifically address the removal of laws that criminalise anal sex.
DOESN'T OPERATE IN A VACUUM
But CHART neither exists nor operates in a vacuum. While it is under the umbrella of the UWI and is funded by United States government agencies, it was conceived by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and other regional and international partners as part of the response to a major health crisis of our times. Its efforts are, in part, informed by on-the-ground partners, including those that lost confidence in Professor Bain's leadership, as well as national and regional institutions, including the CARICOM agency, PanCaribbean Partnership Against HIV/AIDS (PANCAP).
A critical part of the anti-AIDS strategy in the Caribbean is the elimination of discrimination and stigma against those communities, including gay men, most susceptible to its ravages. It is the settled view of the majority that punitive laws that affect groups such as homosexual males and sex workers perpetuate discrimination and stigma, thus keeping communities underground and shy of using necessary health services.
Indeed, it is part of PANCAP's action plan, up to 2015, to achieve "legislative reforms for modifying and repealing discriminatory laws that infringe human rights". Denzil Douglas, the St Kitts and Nevis prime minister and the CARICOM leader with responsibility for health, expanded on the issue in Jamaica last month at a PANCAP consultation.
The agenda, he said, included "actively promoting and identifying the processes for reducing and eliminating those laws that actually contribute to the discrimination on the basis of gender, race and sexual preference and, therefore, that particularly infringe on the rights of the LGBT communities".
The question, in the circumstances, is how Professor Bain would resolve leadership of CHART, its relationship with other agencies and the matter of his conscience.
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