I can’t claim to have spent very much time following up the issues at the heart of the impasse between Professor Brendan Bain and the University of the West Indies. In my view, the University was given an opportunity to make a mark but it has, instead, made a mess. For me, the institution should have seized the moment as a teaching opportunity for the entire society. Here was a chance to show the rest of us all how to negotiate a position between two disparate points of view, we could have learned about the value to any organisation and, ultimately to the society, of tolerance and diversity of opinion, we should have heard, yet again, the facts (remember, we are talking about a university) about the prevalence and etiology of HIV/AIDS in Jamaica.
There can be no right-thinking Jamaican who has any issue with the provision of universal access to health care at both the curative and preventive levels on the island. Anything that prevents this is not in the nation’s interest, yet I fail to see how an engagement that is typified by the respective parties shouting at each other across the socio-cultural chasm that exits around the issue of gay rights in Jamaica will help anyone.
For let me get real here, it is my opinion that both sides have arguments that merit a hearing. Gay people in Jamaica, MUST be afforded the same human and civil rights as any other non-criminal Jamaican, and gay activists and supporters MUST respect the right of all Jamaicans to hold opinions, even if contrary to their own. It is a fine line for me to tread, being on both sides of the fence, but at the core here for me, is the notion that at the end of the day, our Jamaican civilization must be protected and, if possible, enhanced by this discussion.
The right for any Jamaican to tell any other Jamaican what (s)he is allowed to think was abolished with slavery in the 1830s. It did not work then, and so in 2014 Jamaica, trying to force feed any opinion, be it fundamental Christianity or the political issue of gay rights is destined to fail, and perhaps not quietly. If we do not want a horrible backlash that will cause us to revert to the level of enlightenment pervading in Jamaica pre-1834 then we must begin to engage the entire society in a mature discussion of the issues of the norms by which we will regulate ourselves.
For too long, too many people of this society have shown little more than the cowardice of the bully: displaying bravado only with an audience of terrorized individuals or if in the company of uncritical henchmen. Should anyone stand up to people like these they will find that they usually blow away with the slightest puff of reason. This nation exists in the 21st Century, we cannot negotiate our way in the world with any degree of certain success if we will not shift our thinking from the 19th Century mores. To deny any Jamaican any of his or her rights to mature freedom of expression that is either backed by empirical facts or that hurts no one is to render oneself useless to the process of making Jamaica the place to live, raise families or do business. The days in this society when it was permissible to allow one segment of the society to terrorize any other segment of the society MUST be behind us if any of us hopes to have a life worth living here.