There is controversy brewing in Jamaica over the non-renewal of medical professor Brendan Bain's contract at the University of the West Indies. Bain was the head of the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training Network (CHART). While his work is well respected, the grounds for his termination was related to Bain's expert testimony in Belize's high-profile Caleb Orozco case. (Belize, like many other Caribbean territories, has a law which criminalises consensual homosexual relations between adults, and Orozco sued the country's government for discriminating against him as a gay man.)
The University of the West Indies released a statement explaining its decision:
Professor Brendan Bain has been the Director of CHART since its inception and after his retirement from The UWI in 2013 he was given a two-year post-retirement contract to continue in his role as Director. CHART is not a department of the UWI but a regional project managed by the University under a contract funded by the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR), the Global Fund and a group of US agencies, to train health workers dealing with patients and communities affected by HIV/AIDS.
The issue in question arose about two years ago in a high-profile case in Belize in which Caleb Orozco, a gay man in Belize, challenged the constitutionality of an 1861 law that criminalises men having sex with men (MSM). Professor Brendan Bain provided a Statement on behalf of a group of churches seeking to retain the 1861 Law. Many authorities familiar with the Brief presented believe that Professor Bain’s testimony supported arguments for retention of the law, thereby contributing to the continued criminalisation and stigmatisation of MSM. This opinion is shared by the lesbian, gay and other groups who are served by CHART.
The majority of HIV and public health experts believe that criminalising men having sex with men and discriminating against them violates their human rights, puts them at even higher risk, reduces their access to services, forces the HIV epidemic underground thereby increasing the HIV risk. These are the positions advocated by the UN, UNAIDS, WHO, PAHO, the international human rights communities and PANCAP (The Pan Caribbean Partnership against AIDS)[i] which is the organisation leading the regional response to the HIV epidemic.
This week, a great deal of controversy has erupted over the termination of Professor Brendan Bain from the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training Network (CHART) at the University of the West Indies, after a coalition of regional civil society groups expressed their discomfort over expert testimony he gave in a Belizean court recently. Much of the discussion in Jamaican media has been inflammatory and ill-informed. It is hoped that the following releases from the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition and its partners will help to clarify many of the issues that are under discussion.
She continued by posting a letter from Dr. Carolyn Gomes, a noted human rights activist and the co-chair of the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition:
Professor Bain spoke no inconvenient truth in his testimony.The fact that men who have sex with men have significantly higher rates of HIV is widely known and acknowledged, and one reason for an urgent and more unified regional response. Where our colleague Prof. Bain erred was by linking without evidence those high HIV rates to the removal of laws that criminalize homosexuality in France, the Netherlands and United States, while ignoring that neither laws nor Jamaica’s notorious hostility to homosexuality have protected us from having one of the highest rates of HIV infection among men who have sex with men in the world.
Meanwhile, On The Ground News announced a protest at the UWI campus in Mona:
Confirmed: A protest has been launched at the University of the West Indies, Mona after Professor Brendan Bain was fired by the institution in relation to him giving evidence to the Belizean High Court. Several lecturers, medical doctors and students are now gathered outside the Vice Chancellor's office at the institution, with many of them stating that they are protesting Professor Bain's ‘unjust dismissal', and claim that he had a ‘right to share medical information to a Court without threat of persecution and that all people have a right to receive such information from medical experts.’
Facebook user Sean L. Johnson was glad about the protest:
YESSSSS Finally a voice for fairness. UWI has proven itself as the leading Intellectual ghetto of the world. It is appalling that Jamaica has adopted from the USA and UK, all but the good economic policies. I do not believe in discrimination against gays but why are they discriminating against straight? The worst thing you can ever ask anyone to do is give up their personal views and belief. I am a Christian believer and while I do not hate gays, I believe the act of homosexuality is wrong against my religion. Now the Professor has a right to share statistical facts based on his assessment, opinion and knowledge, without this ghetto treatment.
When truth hurts they try to force people to cover up and retract statements. How can u fire someone for stating FACTS? So what if you were offended?
Stephen Weiss thought everyone was missing the point:
Doesn't anyone read?? He was retired from UWI and only working under a contract for the special program…he was no longer a UWI employee anyway.
In the Facebook group Real Change For Jamaica, Dennis McIntosh said that while Bain has the right to his opinion, he should not treat it as actual research:
He had an obligation to reveal that most experts and essentially all the international/Caribbean health organisations disagree with his position. Had he said, ‘Most experts contradict what I am about to say, but this is my opinion', I would have supported him. That would have shown integrity and would have been both factual and informative. I support Free Speech, but not agenda driven experts, regarding public health policy, testifying on behalf of churches and their bible derived agenda.
The discussion on Twitter was particularly lively. Suzette Gardner addressed the criminalisation of homosexual acts:
We have over 150 years of evidence that keeping the buggery laws will not stop HIV/AIDS & other STDs from spreading #BainDismissal
— Suzette Gardner (@suzettegardner) May 21, 2014
Many LGBT organisations supported the move by the university…
— OUTJamaica (@Outweekly) May 21, 2014
…while others did not concur:
UWI WAS WRONG in firing Professor Brendan Bain. The man is incomparable in his field!!! He is a pioneer of medical research in JA!!
— Lioness ♥ (@ariibella_) May 21, 2014
One Twitter user asked:
If a professor gets fired over something that is not related to gays do we jump up and run to their defense in a similar fashion?!
— Brother Mouzone (@Sparky_Soze) May 21, 2014
Some were critical of the sensational way in which the controversy was handled by the media:
The Jamaican media has done an excellent job of being inflammatory (once again) when it comes to LGBTQ issues. #BainDismissal
— sash. (@sashsolomon) May 21, 2014
"GAY OUTRAGED" "UWI BOWS TO GAY HUMAN RIGHTS" … Ladies and Gentlemen, your media.
— Jherane (@Jherane_) May 21, 2014
Kevin Clarke made a clear point about where the emphasis on the issue should be:
And in the midst of all this hoopla, people are failing to recognize that HIV/AIDS is a health issue, not a moral one. #baindismissal
— Kevin Clarke (@kevtothec) May 21, 2014
Another netizen was concerned about the message Dr. Bain's testimony was sending in an already homophobic region:
His affidavit spreads the continued Caribbean thought that MSM have exclusive sexual practices and diseases #baindismissal
— Sammers (@sammythebammy) May 21, 2014
How can we provide "access to quality HIV & AIDS prevention, care, treatment and support" yet marginalize the lgbt community? #baindismissal
— Sammers (@sammythebammy) May 21, 2014