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


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 Youeth 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

Written By: Janine Mendes-Franco




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Toronto World Pride 2014: The man behind the omnipresent rainbow flag


Before the rainbow flag, the pink triangle — a Nazi concentration camp badge to identify homosexual prisoners — was the symbol for gay pride and gay rights movement.
And if it wasn’t for Harvey Milk, the late American gay rights activist in the 2008 biographical movie “Milk,” the multicoloured flag might not have come to be the world’s most popular gay symbol today.
“Harvey Milk challenged me to create a new flag,” said Gilbert Baker, who sewed the first rainbow flag and flew it at San Francisco Pride on June 25, 1978, amid the exploding gay political activism led by Milk.
“It’s our answer to the pink triangle from Hitler and the Nazis. We needed something different, positive and empowering.”
Baker, 63, is an honoured guest at WorldPride in Toronto, the first in North America, and has made a rainbow banner almost one metre wide by 10 metres long to lead Sunday’s parade and a special flag to be handed to the organizers of World Pride 2017 in Madrid.
A native of Kansas, Baker served in the U.S. army in the early 1970s and was deployed in San Francisco. After his discharge, he stayed there, taught himself to sew and put the skill to use making banners for gay and anti-war street protest marches.
The original flag used eight colours to symbolize the diversity, inclusiveness and hope of the gay movement. There have been variations, with the most popular and commercial version being the six-colour edition (hot pink and turquoise were removed because they presented challenges to manufacturers).
Baker said he knew the rainbow flag would be a hit and would change his life, but didn’t expect it would spread around the world as it has.
Toronto is currently blanketed in rainbows for WorldPride, everywhere from crosswalks to flags on people’s homes.
“It means something to people, something that people can relate to,” said Baker, who is now based in New York and owns the world record for creating the largest flag in 2003 that stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean in Key West.
“It feels good when I see people waving the flag. It’s wonderful. It’s expressing our visibility.”
When the rainbow flag was first created, it only represented gay men, but since it has evolved to include lesbians, bisexuals, trans and other sexual minorities. Baker said there’s always a place for the flag as many LGBTQ members still live in violence, oppression, discrimination and struggle.
That ever evolving gay movement, he said, is reflected in the very nature of the rainbow: “You never see its beginning and you don’t see the end.”
What the rainbow flag’s colours represent
Hot pink: sexuality
Red: life
Orange: healing
Yellow: sunlight
Green: nature
Turquoise: magic/art
Blue: serenity/harmony
Violet: spirit
Source: flag creator Gilbert Baker

Canada’s banks take pride in message of LGBT support


He is 66 and has seen so much. Billion-dollar bank mergers. The 1960s culture wars. Yet, Ed Clark still can’t help but cry when discussing gay rights.

For nearly a decade, Toronto-Dominion Bank’s chief executive officer has been vocal about his support – shocking senior managers in 2005 with a speech about the need to defend gay rights, running ads that feature same-sex couples, breaking down crying at annual Pride events for TD employees.

But this week he is doubling down on his message, and Canada’s other big banks are eager to add their voices.

In the middle of WorldPride, a major international summit taking place in Toronto this month, Mr. Clark spoke at the Economic Club of Canada to argue that the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community still needs more support around the world and in Canada’s workplace, even though gay marriage is legal here.

In many countries, gay people are at risk of being killed, and in Toronto more than 20 per cent of homeless youth are LGBT – many run out of their homes by unaccepting parents.

“You listen to these stories and how can you not cry?” Mr. Clark wondered.

Could blackouts one day be a thing of the past?

He isn’t alone on his crusade any more. Some of Canada’s biggest financial institutions, including Royal Bank of Canada and Bank of Montreal, are also joining in. This week, many of RBC’s downtown Toronto branches are draped in massive rainbow flags and BMO raised its own flag at First Canadian Place, the 72-storey skyscraper that hovers over the heart of Bay Street. The message: There is no reason to hide anymore.

While their vocal support can seem like a public relations stunt, the banks say it’s a reflection of their internal commitments. If they win business in the process – gay people are typically well-educated, often affluent, and they travel more than the average Canadian, making them ideal clients – so be it.

“Raising the flag was an important visible manifestitation … of what we believe internally,” said Simon Fish, BMO’s general counsel.

In the 1990s, Matthew Barrett, BMO’s colourful chief executive, told Tony Comper, the man who would replace him, that pushing diversity internally was crucial, Mr. Fish said, and the bank has since committed to everything from creating LGBT groups to promoting female senior executives.

At RBC similar initiatives exist and CEO Gordon Nixon has personally attended the bank’s internal celebration of “coming out day” – something that sent a powerful internal message. “Honestly I felt a sea change there,” said Jennifer Tory, RBC’s personal and commercial banking head.

The lenders are going more public with these views because they appreciate their power in Canadian society. Collectively RBC, TD and BMO employ just fewer than 200,000 people and they made $19-billion in profits last year.

Their executives also feel some personal responsibility. TD has offered same-sex benefits since 1994, and years after they were made available Mr. Clark asked to see how many people had taken advantage. The answer: Just 55. Too many people risked being outed.

He went home that night utterly embarassed. “My God,” he thought to himself. “I have been running a homophobic institution … and didn’t know it. Shame on me.”

Bank executives also have close friends and colleagues who have struggled with coming out, something Ms. Tory attested to. The personal connection not only makes them want to speak to the issue, but has taught them that the banks have to stay committed. They can’t simply wave the flag for one year and move on, she said, because every time an employee changes departments or roles, their old insecurities can come roaring back.

The banks aren’t perfect. When LGBT rights were thrust into the spotlight leading up to the Olympics, many didn’t say much. And to outsiders, their internal initiatives can seem hokey.

But their diversity teams have taught them to stick with the fight, and they are learning that even the smallest things, such as messaging, can matter the most.

When Mr. Clark spoke about LGBT issues in front of every single one of his senior managers in 2005, it was more than just a message that diversity needed to be addressed.

“Seriously, it was one of those moments in my life when time slowed down,” said Tim Thompson, now TD Asset Management’s COO, who had yet to come out at the time.

“It was like he was talking to me … I had never heard a business leader ever, ever, talk about me.”