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VIDEO: More pressure

Protests over Prof Bain's sacking in Kingston, Belize City

Tuesday, May 27, 2014    

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A second protest against the firing of Professor Brendan Bain increased pressure on the University of the West Indies (UWI) yesterday as the controversy sparked by the decision continued to spiral.

Yesterday's protest, held at the UWI's main gate on Mona Road in Kingston, across from the office of the vice chancellor, came three days after a similar demonstration in Belize City, Belize, where Bain's expert testimony just under two years ago in a constitutional challenge brought by a gay Belizean man against that country's criminal code eventually led to the professor's dismissal as head of the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training (CHART) Network last Tuesday.

That action sparked the first protest outside the UWI the following day and opened a floodgate of criticism of the university, which has been accused of bowing to pressure from the gay lobby who had demanded Bain's head.

The Mona protest yesterday saw the involvement of prominent religious leaders, one of whom said Christians should not be surprised if homosexuals marched against the Church in Jamaica.

"What may happen next is that I am looking for them to march on our churches," said Wellesley Blair, administrative bishop for the New Testament Church of God in Jamaica and The Cayman Islands.

"What is going to happen next [is that] I may not be able to go into my pulpit to preach without being arrested; but I am not afraid," Blair told the Jamaica Observer as he joined more than 100 protestors, most of whom were dressed in black and who had their mouths covered with masking tape labelled 'Free speech'.

Bain earned the ire of a coalition of 33 gay and human rights lobby groups from across the Caribbean when he testified in the challenge brought by Belizean Caleb Orozco that the risk of contracting HIV is significantly higher among men who have sex with other men (MSMs).

Orozco had argued in September 2010 that the law, which states that "every person who has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any person or animal shall be liable to imprisonment for 10 years", violates his right to the recognition of human dignity, to personal privacy and the privacy of the home guaranteed by the Belize constitution.

But Bain, regarded as a pioneer in clinical infectious disease practice in the Caribbean and a leading medical authority on the HIV epidemic in the region, said in his testimony that the risk to MSMs and their intimate sexual partners is not just to their physical health.

"The adverse physical and physiological consequences of STIs (including HIV) in MSMs create significant and avoidable financial costs to individuals, households and governments. These important considerations must be included when considering whether to give public approval to risky behaviours such as are often practised by MSMs," Bain said in his testimony.

But the lobby groups said Bain's testimony represented a conflict of interest and argued that he had lost the confidence of the community that the CHART was established to serve.

The UWI, in announcing its dismissal of Bain, echoed that view and said that many authorities familiar with his testimony believe that it supported arguments for retention of the law, thereby contributing to the continued criminalisation and stigmatisation of MSMs. "This opinion," the UWI said, "is shared by the lesbian, gay and other groups who are served by CHART".

But UWI's action and explantion have resulted in a number of individuals and organisations questioning the university's commitment to academic freedom and free speech.

Among them was the Jamaican Bar Association which, last weekned, expressed concern that the controversial decision could have an adverse impact on experts giving testimony in Jamaica.

Yesterday, during the protest, child rights advocate Betty Ann Blaine said the UWI's decision has left professionals, including church officials in Jamaica, hesitant to speak out on certain issues as they were now concerned about the implications.

A pastor who was among the demonstrators said: "It is Professor Bain today, but who will be next, will it be pastors in the church, will they become a target, will they be taken down from the pulpits as they preach the word which also speaks out against such lifestyle?"

Popular clergyman Reverend Al Miller also added his voice to the protest.

"We will continue to make our voices heard. There is no question that the church should be leading the charge," said Miller.

"We do believe that injustice has been done. We do believe that it is continuing to speak to the issue of declining commitment to values and principles," Miller added.

"This is a critical defining moment for a nation which must decide its destiny; it must decide what are the principles and values that we are going to live by," he said.

"Any nation that gives in to allow moral and spiritual decline there is no question that they will never ever recover from the social and economic breakdown," Miller said.

Daniel Thomas, president of Love March Movement, another Christian organisation, agreed.

The group said that they intended to continue the protest tomorrow.

Last Friday, in Belize City, Christians, led by Christian group Belize Action, voiced support for Professor Bain in a lunch-hour street protest.

A website run by Belize Media Group reported that the protestors "taped their mouths shut, displaying a message stating 'freedom under attack'" and held placards with other messages.

According to the website, Pastor Richard Smith of Belmopan said the protest was about family values.

"While LGBT have their individual rights and freedoms, it is felt that they are interfering with Dr Bain's right to work and live and have free speech," the website said.

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