Jamaican University Fires HIV Researcher for Defending Anti-Sodomy Law in Court

Although Belize is best-known as the birthplace of chewing gum, it's really similar to Jamaica in a lot of ways. Both are English-speaking Caribbean countries that used to be British colonies. And even though Great Britain legalized homosexuality in 1967, both have anachronistically retained their former oppressor's anti-sodomy laws. According to section 53 of Belize's penal code, which was written in 1988, sodomy is punishable by ten years in jail.

But in a case that hasn't gotten much attention in the U.S. media, Belize might be in the process of changing its stance. Activist Caleb Orozco took on the country's supreme court last year to overturn the law. He's still in the process of fighting the Catholic, evangelical, and Anglican churches, not to mention one very vocal pastor from Texas.

But now the case has turned into a battle over free speech. Brendan Bain, an HIV prevention expert from Virginia who held a research position at the University of the West Indies, was fired late last week for testifying on behalf of the religious leaders who want to retain the law. The expert submitted a not-creatively-named Expert Report that basically said HIV infection rates are higher in men who sleep with other men.

Although this is a glaringly obvious statement, the school thought his participation in the case would prevent him from effectively working to prevent HIV in the Caribbean, which has the highest infection rate in the world outside of sub-Saharan Africa. On Monday, dozens of protesters gathered on behalf of Bain, claiming the firing was a form of censorship.

Bain basically got fired for making a no-duh statement. Everyone knows that gay men are at higher risk for HIV. But it's also common knowledge that infection rates are higher when you stigmatize gay sex, because it prevents education and outreach from being provided to the most at-risk population.

Although it's usually Jamaica that gets the bad rap for being homophobic, Belize is equally as dismal. As the Southern Poverty Law Center reports, a major downtown structure in the country is graffitied with "kill the faggots" and LGBT people are barred from immigrating there, along with the disabled and the mentally ill. As the SPLC points out, if activists overturn the anti-sodomy law, there will be huge ramifications that positively affect gay life in the Caribbean.

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Allie Conti was a fellow at Miami New Times and a staff writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach, where her writing won awards from the Florida Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists. She's now the senior staff writer at Vice and a contributor to the New York Times, New York Magazine, and the Atlantic.