Don't cloud the true issue

Thursday, May 29, 2014

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Dear Editor,

Within every movement to redress perceived historical wrongs is an extremist fringe that sometimes gets carried away and mischaracterises the entire set of ideals and concerns of the movement. The human rights umbrella and those groups under it (HIV rights, LGBT rights, etc.) can and do fall victim to this very human tendency. That such a situation exists, however, never justifies ignoring the real issues being fought by the broader movement.

The dismissal of Professor Brendan Bain by the University of the West Indies from his position as head of the Caribbean HIV and AIDS Regional Training (CHART) network has been characterised by many as an example of how the extremist elements among the rights groups, particularly the so-called gay lobby and its allies, behave towards those with whom they disagree. Because, indeed, extremists often capture public attention and frame debates, it is sometimes difficult to clarify why some issues matter to the more reasonable among us.

In the case of Professor Bain, the central issue is not a difference of opinion or even a clash of values, important as these are. It is simply about a conflict of interest. Professor Bain headed an organisation which promotes the decriminalisation of buggery as one step in creating an enabling environment for one of the groups most affected by HIV and AIDS in the Caribbean. This has been the established consensus of the constituency served by the organisation for years, and it coincides with the position of other international bodies working in HIV and AIDS. By making an affidavit that opposed the position of that organisation, on behalf of an interested party in the Belize case to strike down the law against buggery, Professor Bain made himself ineligible for the job of leading CHART.

In light of the position he took in the case, he should have understood the need to resign from CHART. That would have freed him from any responsibility to reflect the views of organisation's constituency. Raising concerns here about the actions of a gay lobby and freedom of expression only clouds the issue and makes it nigh impossible to have a reasonable debate. It is time, too, that the media helps to lift the nature and tenor of the debate and eschew the kind of unhelpful sensationalism that has come to dominate coverage of the story.

Sex Work Association of Jamaica

Montego Bay




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