The fundamentalist Christian group, Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society (JCHS), is one of the island’s most strident campaigners against LGBTI human rights. The organization’s Chairman and most outspoken representative, is Dr. Wayne West, a medical doctor and Senior Lecturer in radiology at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus.
West regularly uses his medical credentials to make largely unfounded allegations about the link between homosexuality and HIV. For example, in his sworn affidavit in the aborted case challenging Jamaica’s anti-sodomy law, West claimed that homosexuality is “inherently infectious” and would lead to HIV.
When I publicly challenged him on this blatant fallacy (among other things, non-infectious gay men cannot transmit HIV to each other) West admitted his error and amended his affidavit. However, he was only willing to concede what the science has already declared, namely, men who have sex with men (MSM) are overwhelmingly vulnerable to HIV. What West failed to acknowledge is what the HIV community has also known for some time, which is that homophobia, supported by anti-gay laws, contribute to the vulnerability of MSM by driving them away from effective anti-HIV interventions.
Regrettably, and despite being publicly chastened for his reckless and unscientific statements, West still persists in peddling illogical arguments that are a discredit to his profession and the noble institution that he serves.
His latest foray into falsehood was at a recent demonstration against President Obama’s visit to Jamaica. This event, and West’s response to it, showed a decided lack of logic.
Speaking to the Jamaican press about the anti-Obama protest, West claimed that if our Prime Minister kept her 2011 election promise to review the 1864 British colonially imposed anti-sodomy law, then she would somehow be submitting to US pressure(!) What nonsense. Regular Jamaicans have long called on our PM to keep her word. In fact, two op-eds published in the Jamaican newspapers in the past two days have made this point.
West, also alleged (again) that the archaic anti-gay statute is necessary to prevent HIV among MSM. As stated above, this myth has been scientifically debunked, as even with the law, Jamaica still has the highest HIV prevalence rate among MSM in the western hemisphere, if not the world (33%). Clearly the law does not work.
He then made another spurious claim that criminalizing people will help them to make better health choices. In his words: “Now, if 64 per cent of persons were going to get diabetes, the Ministry of Health would say ‘No, stop what you are doing and rethink.”
As a medical doctor, West knows that over-consumption of food contributes to diabetes. Is he therefore suggesting that we ban eating to prevent the disease? Or, is he suggesting that we take steps to encourage healthy eating? If the latter is true, then I would agree.
And since the desire for physical intimacy is a powerful urge, like eating, and since we can no more choose who we are attracted to than what foods we like to eat, then the logical thing would be to encourage safe expression of desire. There is absolutely no evidence that making people criminals will encourage this type of behavior change. On the contrary, it will drive them underground, away from appropriate health-seeking interventions.
But, there may be evidence that West is questioning his own strident commitment to the archaic anti-sodomy laws. In a letter that he wrote on behalf of JCHS in response to an editorial by a major daily in his native Trinidad and Tobago. West declared that HIV epidemics “continues to expand” among MSM in countries WITH OR WITHOUT anti-sodomy laws. So, is he ready to concede that these statutes do not, in fact, prevent HIV among MSM? Dare we hope?
- LGBT advocates interrupt Jamaican prime minister’s speech (washingtonblade.com)
- Jamaican PM reneges on promised review of sodomy law (76crimes.com)
- Advocates Reach Out to President Obama Before His Caribbean Visit (hrc.org)
- Op-ed: Obama Must Stand Up for LGBT Jamaicans (advocate.com)
- Obama addresses lack of LGBT rights in Jamaica, cites Angeline Jackson’s advocacy UPDATED! (SDGLN.com)
- Obama applauds LGBT advocate during Jamaica speech (Washington Blade)
- HRC Commends President Obama for Including LGBT Advocates in Jamaican Town Hall (HRC Blog)