The banishment of Bain
Michael Abrahams, Online Columnist
While I attended medical school at the University of the West Indies, Dr Brendan Bain stood out among his colleagues not just because of his academic brilliance, but also because of his humility, decency and respectful attitude toward his patients and his subordinates.
It was not uncommon for senior doctors to insult and denigrate their junior colleagues in clinical meetings and during presentations. But Dr Bain was different. The arrogance and aloofness displayed by his peers was absent from his persona. As a matter of fact, Dr Bain was one of only a few consultants I can recall who would routinely introduce themselves to patients on ward rounds, and his empathetic approach to patient care made him a role model for me.
When I first read about the controversy surrounding him in the newspapers a week ago, my knee-jerk reaction was annoyance with the gay advocacy groups that I thought were being bullies, trying to victimise a knowledgeable and honest man for simply stating scientific facts.
Personally knowing Professor Bain and having deep respect for him clouded my assessment of the case, but on stepping back and viewing the facts dispassionately, I realised that this is not so much about a gay agenda or freedom of speech as it is about a perceived conflict of interest.
In leading the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training Programme (CHART), Professor Bain's focus is the well-being of persons living with HIV/AIDS. Apparently, there is consensus among most experts in the field of HIV/AIDS research that punitive legislation, including the buggery law, acts as barriers for persons such as MSM (men who have sex with men) to obtain satisfactory health care, and it has been accepted by many that countries with no punitive laws regarding anal penetration have lower rates of HIV infection than those who do.
On accepting an invitation from a group of churches in Belize to be an expert witness in a case against a gay man who is challenging the buggery law, it is therefore not unreasonable for concerns to be raised regarding Professor Bain's suitability to lead a programme concerned with HIV/AIDS care, as the churches are seeking to retain a law that is thought by many experts to be oppressive and may contribute to an increased incidence of the disease.
To further strengthen the perception of conflict of interest, Professor Bain is also a devout Christian who actually co-founded a faith-based organisation, Family Life Ministries, and it is known that persons of faith are unlikely to lend support to the repealing of the buggery law.
In defence of Professor Bain, however, his assessment of the claim that the buggery law is linked to an increased HIV/AIDS incidence is that it is a hypothesis as opposed to irrefutable evidence, and that the causation of an increased incidence of the disease is multifactorial and not necessarily tethered to the legality of anal penetration.
His interpretation of the data, however, is a minority view among experts working in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Being a free thinker and having a minority viewpoint is not necessarily a bad thing, but if one finds oneself in that position, one must be prepared to deal with, and possibly fight strong and concerted opposition.
When Copernicus and Galileo stated that the Earth revolved around the Sun, that viewpoint was clearly in the minority and they were both persecuted for expressing their opinions, with Galileo being kept under house arrest until he died. Both men, however, were eventually vindicated.
Unfortunately, this situation has inflamed passions on both sides of the gay rights divide, creating even more of a chasm, and the media are partly to blame. Headlines such as 'Advocacy groups want UWI lecturer sacked over anti-gay comments' and 'Gay advocates want UWI professor sacked' will not only evoke emotional responses, but are also misleading.
Professor Bain did not make any anti-gay comments and it was not just gay advocates who wanted him removed from a leadership position, but a number of human-rights and civil-society groups, many of which are not gay lobbyists.
The good thing in all this is that it has pushed the issue of the buggery law to the foreground, and it really needs to be addressed. It must also be understood that anal penetration is not solely the domain of gay men. Many heterosexuals engage in the practice and some women will use strap-on devices to penetrate men or other women. So the buggery law is not just a gay issue. It is a human-rights issue.