Prejudice, ignorance and hatred must be challenged
Nassau, The Bahamas
Dr. Perry Gomez, Director of the National HIV/AIDS Programme, is the leading Bahamian expert on HIV/AIDS with a stellar regional and international reputation for combating the disease.
He has been on the forefront of the fight since the onset of the epidemic in the early 1980s. Dr. Gomez has helped to save lives by advocating for prevention, testing and treatment. The first Caribbean HIV Conference, recently held in The Bahamas, was an occasion for both the country and the good doctor to be recognized for the many successes in combating HIV/AIDS.
These successes are many in terms of intensive prevention awareness and education efforts; aggressive medical treatment, including in mother-to-child transmission for pregnant women, and measures to address stigma and discrimination in various areas related to the disease.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, through his foundation has honored Dr. Gomez and recognized The Bahamas as an international leader in the fight against AIDS. Dr. Gomez has earned his medical and moral credibility in fighting the disease through dogged advocacy and by journeying as a doctor and as a friend to many who have succumbed to the disease and others who continue to live with HIV.
It was noted at the HIV/AIDS conference:
“The Bahamas has been a leader in developing legislation to protect the rights of minorities and others living with HIV. In 1991 The Bahamas was the first, and is still the only country in the region, to decriminalize homosexuality. The Bahamas was the only Caribbean country to sign the Paris Declaration in 1994, which set global standards for HIV and human rights. We also strengthened protection from discrimination for HIV positive individuals in the workplace by amendment to the existing labor laws in 2001.”
Experts recognize the role that the reduction in stigma plays in preventing the disease, treating those affected, and reducing the incidence of the disease. Nearly three decades after the onslaught of the epidemic there is still much to be done, especially on the prevention side. There is also work to be done in the prevention of stigma and discrimination as evidenced by the unfortunate comments by Bishop Simeon Hall a few weeks ago.
Bishop Hall enjoys speaking out on all manner of issues. In the past few years he has developed a reputation for being glib, and for being something of a publicity seeker. Often he opines on matters of which he is exceedingly ill-informed.
At a labor conference in the past, a labor leader was stunned when Bishop Hall spoke to the gathering and pressed for additional protections for workers and changes to labor laws, unaware of the fact that most of the matters on which he opined had already been changed through new legislation.
Such behavior may be considered somewhat comical and harmless, but his comments relating to gays and HIV/AIDS were neither. Indeed, they were extremely harmful even though Bishop Hall tried to backtrack in the face of criticism. In yesterday’s Insight column in The Tribune, Joey Gaskins analyzes Bishop Hall’s doublespeak.
Prejudice has always used ignorance and fear as its natural allies. This is the means through which groups of people such as gays and lesbians are demonized and dehumanized. Early in the AIDS crisis gays were ruthlessly demonized, with some using the disease as a warped metaphor for the supposed innate depravity of homosexuals.
We have come a long way in fighting the epidemic and the prejudice. Yet we still need to be vigilant on both fronts. What is refreshing is the response to Bishop Hall’s comments by medical experts, activists, journalists and others.
Bishop Hall is not the only religious figure who has used specious thinking to demonize homosexuals. Pastor Lyall Bethel systematically demonizes homosexuals, using fear as one of his weapons while saying that he actually loves gays and lesbians.
A few months ago when The Bahamas supported a UN resolution which sought to protect various vulnerable groups from torture and violence, Front Porch criticized a group of ministers for their response to comments made by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Brent Symonette in support of the resolution. (See “When Hatred Triumphs Over Love”, July 5, 2011).
Conveniently and retroactively, Pastor Bethel and his cohorts said they agreed that gays and lesbians should be protected from such violence. Then why didn’t they demonstrate their love by quickly supporting the resolution instead of conveniently so doing after being criticized?
Worse, in response to the July 5 Front Porch Pastor Bethel was exceedingly disingenuous, fabricating that the column espoused gay marriage, one of the red flags which the apostles of discrimination often wave with abandon. Readers will find no such reference. But such fabrications and the employment of disingenuous moral and intellectual thinking is par for the course for extremists.
In another Insight column some time ago Tankea Thompson uncovered the source for some of Pastor Bethel’s tortured thinking, namely a Dr. Fields he has quoted to support his views. A letter to the editor referenced her column:
“According to Ms. Thompson, the Dr. Fields that Pastor Bethel quoted to support his demagoguery is a known white supremacist, neo-Nazi and member of the Klu Klux Klan.” She also notes: “Conservatives, who in the past have unwittingly cited Fields’ material, have publicly apologized and distanced themselves from Fields.”
Not only did Pastor Bethel not apologize, he defended his use of material from Dr. Fields by saying that people today quote from slaveholders like some of the American Founding Fathers. The illogic behind this will not elude most basic students of logic or moral reasoning, though it seems to have eluded the pastor.
While prejudice, ignorance and hatred are still directed against homosexuals, we have made moral progress in The Bahamas in terms of loving and seeking to protect from abuse and discrimination our gay brothers and sisters.
Ironically, it is good when those like Bishop Hall and Pastor Bethel issue their screeds. It highlights the demonization and ignorance that must still be fought. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. taught us this during his struggle against prejudice and discrimination in America.
Sometimes the world’s moral heroes wear a clerical collar, sometimes they don’t. Often, the moral heroes are people like Dr. Perry Gomez and the many others who have sought to uphold the moral dignity and protections of those living with HIV/AIDS. This includes gay men who often in the face of stigma and the effects of the disease know that they are no less a valued citizen of this country and a child of God, made as much in His image and likeness as Pastor Bethel and Bishop Hall.
Dec 06, 2011