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Commentary: Re-examining the link between morality, behaviour, rights and HIV among gay men in the Caribbean
Published on July 1, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Dr Lazarus Castang

In my last article “Risky behaviours driving HIV epidemic in the Caribbean", I gave a collective response to a letter and four articles. In this article, I provide a critical response to “HIV in the Caribbean: Science, rights and justice” by Dr Ernest Massiah (UNAIDS Caribbean Regional Support Team Director).

Since it is said that “PANCAP views this current situation as an opportunity for the region to engage in a dispassionate, thoughtful and holistic discussion that accommodates differing views and promotes understanding and inclusion” then in three forthcoming articles, I intend to critically engage the following respective letter/articles on Caribbean News Now: “The costs of homophobia in CARICOM” by Sean Macleish, “Let’s work together to end AIDS” by Dr Edward Greene, and “Stigma and discrimination driving HIV epidemic in the Caribbean,” an anonymous article on behalf of PANCAP.

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Dr Lazarus Castang is a licensed psychotherapist and an ordained SDA Minister of Religion. He holds a PhD in Old Testament, a Masters in Psychotherapy, and has completed studies in basic medical science. He has ministered to several communities in St Lucia, Barbados and the US and has provided therapy to individuals, couples and groups. He is a graduate of University of Southern Caribbean in Trinidad and Andrews University in Michigan. He has written two theological books and several articles on social relations. (rcastang@gmail.com)
Dr Massiah’s submission that HIV is a virus, not a crime; that homosexual behaviour be not punished under law; that every individual should benefit from HIV prevention, treatment, care and support; that prejudice, stigma and discrimination against HIV patients and against MSM (men having sex with men) in Caribbean societies in general and in the healthcare profession in particular should be reduced or removed, are reasonable or acceptable goals/perspectives.

I enter this discussion with the ethical framework that neither HIV, nor homosexual behaviour gives anyone (Christians, non-Christians and homophobes) the licence or the right to treat another human being with indignity, disrespect and disdain. Everyone is entitled to the protection of his/her fundamental rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness under law. Homosexuality, though unnatural and immoral, is not the sin of all sins, or the crime of all crimes, or the post-Fall disorder of all disorders.

While I agree with Dr Massiah in some areas he addressed, there are two major problematic areas and a beguilement in his article.

First, his article carries a subtle caricature of Caribbean sodomy laws, societies and healthcare providers as guilty, uncivil villains and MSM as innocent, civil, and private victims of stigma, discrimination, prejudice, inequality and HIV/AIDS.

According to Dr Massiah, media coverage victimises MSM; medical professionals (doctors, nurses) are prejudiced against and mistreat MSM; sodomy laws discriminate against MSM, and Caribbean societies with their prejudice, physical violence, and stigma against MSM lead to the HIV epidemic among MSM. The HIV epidemic among MSM in the Caribbean is due to Caribbean legal, healthcare and social conditions, not to the homosexual risky and promiscuous behaviours of MSM at all.

Therefore, if we follow the backward/forward logical flow of Dr Massiah’s argument, we will arrive at the following: Caribbean MSM are not responsible for their unchosen orientation, not responsible for their “unavoidable” risky or promiscuous homosexual behaviours, not responsible for their contraction of HIV, not responsible for the HIV epidemic among them, not responsible for using funding to bully bullies and non-bullies for social acceptance of their sexual behaviours, and not responsible for shying away from treatment after their own actions brought about the contraction of HIV.

Dr Massiah promotes homosexuality acceptance with such flounder mentality that he asserts: “until we overcome prejudice, people will not seek services and we will see a steady rise in new cases.” His exaggerated weight on external factors (such as prejudice, stigma) with no mention of internal factors (such as personal consciousness of wrongdoing or sense of guilt, shame from unnatural sexual practice, male sexual aggression and high sex drive) demonstrates his uneven-minded deliberation of Caribbean context vis-à-vis HIV epidemic among MSM. For him Caribbean prejudice prevents MSM from seeking health services, and MSM not seeking health services is inversely correlated to HIV epidemic among MSM because of some undefined Caribbean prejudice.

Dr Massiah makes zero mention of MSM’s contribution to the HIV epidemic among them. This blatant omission is not an oversight, but a lopsided deliberate attempt to vilify the Caribbean in an effort to secure so-called freedom, equality rights, social inclusion and justice for MSM.

In the article, Dr Massiah has publicly chosen to take a politically correct, academically favoured, and financially convenient position that can do nothing but silently aid and abet MSM in their “MSMocide,” that is, their gradual eventual mass suicide by sexual indiscretion and social imprudence, if they don’t pay attention to their own sexual risky behaviours.

Moreover, his sense of martyrdom for sexual minorities apparently constitutes a subconscious nominal substitute for “MSMocide” (sexual self-martyrdom). In this way, Dr Massiah’s advocacy is guilty of two things: (1) He unleashes a disservice to MSM’s cause and (2) he shows flagrant disregard for Caribbean social norms and cultural values.

Second, Dr Massiah assumes that only MSM rights are at stake and Caribbean citizens have no rights at stake or should have only a positive say in the MSM matter. His whole article is written to say that Caribbean prejudice, stigma, and discrimination militate against MSM human rights, social inclusion, freedom and justice. In his article, HIV is not his key burden; it is his political and professional conduit of MSM acceptance message. His key burden is legal and moral acceptance of homosexuality.

His assertion that there is no gay agenda but a human rights agenda clearly assumes homosexual orientation/behaviours, not merely healthcare of MSM, as a natural or fundamental right. Also, calling Caribbean people and professionals to secure MSM’s freedom, equality rights, social inclusion and justice, and subsuming homosexual orientation/behaviour under “human rights,” connote an objective moral claim that should be morally justified. If you search his article high and low, it is bereft of such justification.

There is the assertion of Caribbean reality with some statistics to give it the appearance of un-“selective review of scientific evidence.” But conducting surveys like the CARIMIS study, though necessary in terms of providing behaviour risks data among other things, are less than satisfactory approaches to what is natural. Plus, such surveys do not provide a conceptual link between reality (how things are) and morality (how things ought to be).

While Dr Massiah’s article is clearly about MSM respect and dignity, he ignores the need for respect and dignity of Caribbean citizens in context of Caribbean legal, social, cultural and religious norms. This is a bitter beguilement.

Claims of “equality rights” are being used to weaken traditional values in the Caribbean. If MSM have a right to homosexual behaviours, then other Caribbean citizens do have a right to their legal, social, cultural and religious norms. In fact, in Dr Massiah’s eyes, it appears that Caribbean right is wrong (legal imposition of majority on minority), but MSM’s right is right (the quest for legal approval and protection of sexual minority over/against majority) even though the HIV epidemic among MSM incurs government costs for HIV treatment, necessitates and implicates non-MSM Caribbean support and MSM risky behaviours constitute a timeless immorality. Moreover, there is no natural right to practice homosexual behaviours.

The right to ownership of one’s body, the right to privacy, the right to choose in an individualistic or autonomous sense would also mean the right to commit or assist suicide, to take drugs, to sell oneself into slavery and to marry members of the same sex. If equality rights necessitate no legal discrimination or criminalisation of one (same-sex relations), then it should also apply to the rests (drugs, suicide, slavery).

The popular rebuttal that if the choice is consensual and/or does not cause harm to self or others, it should be legally admissible, leaves us with no objective moral basis for the rejection of consensual incest, pedophilia, bestiality and prostitution in Caribbean society. Though I believe that under certain conditions in order for a just society to protect liberty some form of immorality (objectionable activities) may be tolerated in society which may even include consensual MSM.

However, it must be noted that any society that pits rights of conscience against “rights” of homosexual orientation/behaviours, and then gives legal approval and protection to MSM, grants MSM superior or special rights. It would be gross blindness and prejudice to shout legal discrimination when the right to conscience holds sway in the Caribbean, but remain silently satisfied with no discrimination clamour if the “right” to homosexual orientation/behaviours gains ascendancy and protection over the right to conscience in the Caribbean.

Though I believe that both “rights” can coexist, with patent bias Dr Massiah’s article pushes only same-sex sexual rights under the veneer of much needed HIV treatment for MSM. In addition, with irony, Dr Massiah’s concept of “equality rights” drove him to acquiesce to the firing of Dr Bain without due process, but they are now legally driven to reinstate him.

From an eschatological Christian prophetic perspective, what is classified and glamorised as societal progress, enlightenment, and freedom is nothing more than moral degeneracy, darkness and enslavement. This world cannot be expected to achieve moral ascent but moral descent to the end of human existence and civilisation on this earth as presently known. The human moral train has left its dock from ancient to modern times and is destined to a progressively immoral cascading wreck.

In this emergent debate on homosexuality and morality, Dr Massiah’s beguilement is best illustrated in a recent encounter I had with a fellow Caribbean brother. This keenly observant brother retorted after reading his article: “Is push they pushing, what they say they are not pushing.” So I asked him, “What will you do about it?” He responded, “Is push, we pushing, to push back.”
 
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