So, I’ve held off for a while from speaking on the entire Prof. Brendan Bain issue, for a lot of reasons. The major reason was that I thought the issue was pretty cut and dry – a healthcare professional made a faux pas and was asked to step down.
But it’s never that simple when you add the letters LGBT to it, huh…
For those who are still as unaware as I was, Prof, Brendan Bain is one of the Caribbean’s foremost experts on HIV. He was formerly the Coordinator of the UWI HIV/AIDS Response Programme (UWI HARP), as well as Director of the regional Coordinating Unit of the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training Network (CHART).
One of the objectives of CHART is to “continually strengthen the capacity of national healthcare personnel and systems to provide access to quality HIV & AIDS prevention, care, treatment, and support services for all Caribbean people.” You’ll want to remember this when I get back to it later.
In 2012, Prof. Bain gave testimony that was ultimately used to defend the sodomy law in Belize. According to a statement issued by his employers at the University of the West Indies, this statement was the behest of a group of churches lobbying for the retention of the law. Or maybe they didn’t have to ask him. After all, he’s a practicing Christian, an elder at a church in Jamaica. Think of that what you will…
A copy of the 19-page testimony is here. TL:DR – Men who have sex with men are at greater health risk. And that should be taken into consideration when considering removing a pre-Independence law that inhibits men’s ability to have consenting sex with other men.
After news of the testimony caught wind, LGBT groups in the Caribbean asked that he be asked for him to be removed at CHART head. They say the testimony he made not only represents a bias in his view towards those at risk and in need of treatment, but disregards the fact that those same archaic laws prevent men who have sex with men (MSM) from safely and comfortably reaching out for medical counsel and treatment. Remember the quote I made about CHART’s agenda being to treat all people? All people, including MSM. Treat, not empower legislation that puts them in jail.
There’s a question of impartiality here that those supporting Prof. Bain are not tapping into. Here, Bain uses his medical counsel to guide legislative powers to retain laws that put MSM, his potential patients, all in jail for 10 years with hard labour. He does this deliberately, instead of guiding a medical process that encourages them to come seek treatment devoid of judgement and even practice safer sex.
Mr. Bain makes a claim that there is no data that supports the view that removing laws like the buggery law would reduce HIV rates among MSM. There’s a huge issue with that…there are at least two statements to the contrary; one from a peer-reviewed medical journal, and another from the American Foundation for AIDS Research, an organization that sends its findings to the UN, who in turn funds organizations like CHART. Both make deliberate recommendations that laws like this one should be removed in order to more effectively provide care for MSM and reduce HIV rates within that at-risk group. Which means he either hadn’t read all the information, or deliberately neglected to mention it.
It cannot be ignored that there is some question of freedom of speech here. After all, right after a man testified what he genuinely and personally believed, he lost his job. And that argument would stand…if there wasn’t more to be said. Prof. Bain wasn’t fired from CHART because of the collectively agreed medical fact that men who have sex with men are an at-risk group. He wasn’t fired for testifying in court. He was fired because that testimony got in the way of him and his organization being able to perform its mandate to groups that needed medical care for HIV.
Long story short, his testimony was in defence of a law that discourages men who have sex men from seeking treatment. His job, however, was to strengthen healthcare professionals and systems to provide quality HIV prevention, care and treatment and support for all Caribbean people, and ensure that all persons at risk for or positive for HIV can access services without stigma and discrimination from healthcare professionals. Those two things clash. He testified towards the end of retaining a law that discriminated against MSM, when he knew his contractual obligation is to help end that same discrimination so he could provide care for MSM.
Prof. Bain does have the right to say what he said in court. He still does right now. CHART didn’t attempt to silence him, attack his statement or character, or remove his freedom. In fact, now he has the freedom to continue making testimonies like that one without affecting CHART’s mandate. Because Prof. Bain simply can’t do both things at the same time. He’s participated in maintaining a legal landscape that is discriminatory to MSM and scares them away from treatment, and he has made it difficult for other HIV care organizations reaching out to MSM to give them the treatment they deserve. He’s made it more difficult to provide HIV treatment for MSM. He’s damaged his ability to provide HIV care for all.
And that’s not more important than his freedom of speech. But’s it’s definitely not less important. I respect Prof. Bain’s freedom to speak from and for whatever position he desires. I also respect CHART desiring for their Coordinator to work completely towards the vision and mission set out for the organization. Prof. Bain made it clear through his testimony that he is no longer that man.