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How a Protest to Reinstate a University Professor Relaunched Jamaica's Gay Rights Debate

LGBT pride flag. Photo by Flickr user Sam Breach. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

LGBT pride flag. Photo by Flickr user Sam Breach. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Three times a week since mid-May, protesters clad in black, some with tape on their mouth, have assembled in front of Jamaica's University of the West Indies, carrying placards urging passing cars to honk in support of their campaign to reinstate professor Brendan Bain.

The university did not renew the popular professor and leading HIV/AIDS awareness expert‘s contract after he gave testimony in the highly public Caleb Orozco court case in neighboring Belize, which supported an old law that criminalizes consensual sex between gay adults.

According to leading bloggers, Jamaica's media has been covering the persistent protests widely and irresponsibly derailing the gay rights campaign into morality and freedom of speech issues. The Caribbean country already has an international reputation for homophobia

Bain's dismissal

This week the blog Active Voice run by Annie Paul noted that the Bain issue has Jamaica “in the throes of a full blown moral panic”:

The protest is indirectly fuelled by fear that an international ‘gay lobby’ is gaining ground in Jamaica as manifested by the termination of contract of a former UWI Professor from his post as head of the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training Network [CHART].

The post made the point that Bain's dismissal – at least from the university's perspective – was inevitable. The stakeholders in charge of Bain's department felt his testimony on behalf of a Church group to keep Belize's anti-gax sex laws, directly contradicted CHART’s mandate to improve HIV treatment by reducing the stigma associated with the disease. The blogger, Annie Paul, continued:

Disregarding these facts Bain’s supporters have turned the situation into a circus about freedom of speech. Their contention? That Bain should have been free to give expert evidence based on his ‘research’ and that by rescinding his contract the university had bowed to the dictates of an internationally constituted ‘gay agenda'.

Meanwhile, Jamaica Woman Tongue noticed that “Jamaica is back in the news for our irrational homophobia”, adding that “we have to move past the rhetoric of abomination and change our inhumane attitudes to queer people.” At the same time, the blogger Carolyn Cooper felt that acceptance did not mean unquestioningly embracing the gay lobby:

We also have to challenge unjust gay-rights activists when they misuse their collective power and victimise others. The recent termination of the contract of Professor Brendan Bain, director of the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training (CHART) initiative, is a complicated case of competing rights.

She also believed that the University of the West Indies’ reasons for his dismissal were disturbing:

I do support repeal of the Belize law that criminalises ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any person or animal'. But I am appalled by the decision of the UWI administration to bow to belligerent gay-rights activists, bringing down disgrace on a distinguished academic who has done so much to protect the health of MSM [men who have sex with men].

Bain opens a pandora's box in Jamaica's media

Annie Paul also took issue with the role the media has played in the national debate:

Jamaica’s leading newspapers have provided daily fodder to support these protests in the form of provocative anti-gay cartoons, columns and articles. An atmosphere of near hysteria prevails with all the radio stations besieged by callers self-righteously denouncing the ‘gay agenda’ that is about to derail this virtuous, God-loving country.

On the blog 76 Crimes, which “focuses on the human toll of 76 countries’ anti-gay laws and the struggle to repeal them”, Maurice Tomlinson revealed that on June 27, he will be “appearing in court in Jamaica as counsel in the case brought by AIDS-Free World to challenge the Jamaican anti-sodomy law”:

Among the more ‘damning’ passages is the recommendation that persons use condoms during anal sex. Thanks to misinformation spread by the churches, many kids do not use condoms as they believe only gay men contract HIV.

He summed up by calling all the maneuvering around the gay rights issue “silly season”:

In the midst of all this political pandering, the Minister of Youth has still failed to deliver on the promise she made last month that her ministry will develop programmes for homeless LGBT youth who have been forced to live in the sewers of Kingston and are selling sex to survive.

Summer usually coincides with silly season and increased attacks against LGBT Jamaicans. This is shaping up to be more of the same.

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