By Joey Gaskins Last week, Bishop Simeon Hall made a number of remarks concerning HIV/AIDS and homosexuality. In response to these remarks, I intend to summarise what was said, explain why what was said is wrong, and show why being wrong is dangerous. And, while I have no intention of challenging the infallibility of the Bible, or the Christian faith, I have every intention of highlighting the fallibility of the man and his words. Admittedly, in my column at the Bahamas Weekly and on the Nassau Liberal Blog, I have in the past questioned the rationale of "the Church" in the Bahamas--its place in governance and its right to dictate morals. There are larger questions at stake here though. For me, this is about the preservation of human life, not the general enjoyment I get out of highlighting how boisterous piousness is usually attended by blatant hypocrisies (although I'm sure that's going to happen anyway). This is a matter of life and death. From his statement to The Tribune on November 15, 2011 and his address at the Rotary Club of West Nassau, we can gather the general tenor of his position on this issue. Homosexuality, in Bishop Hall's words is anti-family, non-productive, abnormal and essentially deadly. Homosexuals, because they cannot reproduce, recruit children. Homosexuals, instead, should get help under the healing "umbrella" of the church, whose corrective power will return the homosexual man to the head of family; otherwise the homosexual will reap the deadly fruits of his behaviour and the very stability of our society is in peril. Despite this, Bishop Hall has opted not to demonise homosexuals and has urged "homophobic clergy" to do the same. In short, he implies that "the homosexual" is a family destroying, abnormal, disease carrying monster that will snatch up your children if you let them. Perhaps this is a question out of vain curiosity, but if this isn't demonisation, then what is? And, in the world of Simeon Hall, is it "Opposites Day" all year round? This is doublespeak, pure and simple. Gays and lesbians aren't some secret society of deviants bent on unraveling the social fabric of the Bahamas; they are busy counting your money in banks, packing your groceries in food stores, keeping your power on and fighting crime in your neighbourhoods -- trying to earn a wage, provide for those they love and live their lives as honestly as they are allowed. And, despite what people may think, Christians in the Bahamas are not a hapless minority being overrun by a homosexual hoard in a country that is nostalgic for an imagined purely heterosexual past. Shame, mistrust, discrimination and abuse are all still visited on homosexuals in healthy doses and a particular brand of puritanical fundamentalist Christianity is still the ideology of choice for the majority--no need to worry about that. Bishop Hall is correct in saying homosexual relationships are generally non-(re)productive, but to call it anti-family is a statement of opinion, not a logical conclusion or a fact. Because one can produce children does not mean one is automatically pro-family -- I have a feeling multitudes of Bahamian women doing their best to manage single parent homes can attest to that fact. By suggesting that the restorative healing power of the church can miraculously return gay men to the family highlights the failure of the church to keep straight men in the home. We do know that there are places where gay and lesbian families exist and that research, empirical evidence, shows the children in these families display no signs of deficient social, academic or total competence. A cursory search on Google would've made that clear, or is Google anti-family too? Given what we know of teen pregnancy in the Bahamas perhaps the idea of sex sans reproduction is something we should do a better job cultivating among our youth. The Biblical edict to go forth and multiply does not seem relevant in the 21st century and neither is the belief that sex without reproduction is cause for concern, unless you're the Pope. Also, I'd like to point out that in the Bahamas about 25 per cent of marriages end in divorce, that's about a one in four divorce rate. If Bishop Hall's concern is fixing the Bahamian family, this is where he should start instead of singling out an almost invisible minority. I have a few thoughts about why he's failed to attack divorce, fornication and adultery with the same fervour, but this is about his statements, not tithes and offerings. The assertion that homosexuals are in the business of recruiting children because they cannot reproduce would be laughable if the implications weren't so serious. The attempt to qualify that statement by saying we should take all cases of child molestation seriously was nothing more than a wink and a nudge to the audience. With rhetorical sleight of hand, "non-reproducing homosexuals" (which, for Bishop Hall, means all) are potential paedophiles, but the male-female paedophile (men who are attracted to female children) is articulated as an abnormality. As clinical psychologist, Dr Ann C Slater, points out, when a man molests a little girl we are quick to label him a paedophile. We do not refer to him as heterosexual. However, when a man molests a little boy the separation between homosexuality and male-male paedophile is not made so clear. All reputable bodies of psychological and social scientific study find the obvious, problematic and fallacious conflation of homosexuality and paedophilia reprehensible and inaccurate. But again, when bias is involved, who needs facts? I could be wrong, but I'd guess that the overwhelming majority of sexual abuse cases reported in the Bahamas involve older men and young girls, as is the case with Bishop Hall's brother in the cloth, Bishop Randy Fraser. And, since I can't seem to find any study based in empirical evidence to support his claim, I'm going to assume Bishop Hall has come to this conclusion through his experiences and the media--anecdotal evidence. I too have come to a conclusion via anecdotal evidence from which I would like to make generalisation: many preachers who are vocally against homosexuality often have their own sexual skeletons in the closet. The examples of Bishop Eddie Long, Rev Ted Haggard, Pastor George Rekers of the notoriously anti-gay Family Research Council, and most recently, "Christian Patriot" Grant Storms, are the first to come to mind. You see - with a little anecdotal evidence one can make all kinds of unfounded assertions. For credibility's sake one is often cautioned against it; errors proceeding from the mouths of the sanctified are not truer simply because of where they originate. In the end, one truth seemingly remains: homosexuals are an obvious deviation from naturally occurring heterosexuality. Indeed it does appear obvious and I would agree with the good Bishop if the facts didn't suggest otherwise. Apparently, homosexual behaviour including sex, courtship, bonding and parenting have been observed in the wild among 1,500 species, well documented in 500, from primates to gut worms. I'm not even sure what a gut worm is but I would imagine it doesn't get any more natural than that. I'm sure some might argue that "they are animals and they don't know any better," but you can't have it both ways. Either homosexuality is unnatural and deviant, or it is naturally occurring--as proven by its observation in the wild--but should be avoided and criminalised anyway. I would even accept the argument that it is the product of some psychological damage or demonic/spiritual possession, if experts in the field of psychology didn't refute this years ago. I also find it hard to believe that Forces of Darkness, the very armies of Hell, spend their spare time possessing the souls of gut worms to advance the "vast homosexual agenda." And so we've come to it at last. The reasoning for all of Bishop Hall's doublespeak, these fallacies, errors wrapped in swaddling sacred cloth, is to bring homosexuals back to the church, to transform them into heterosexuals so as to save them from contracting a deadly disease. This cry for a return to the church as a means of avoiding the inevitable contraction of HIV/AIDS is specifically directed toward men who have sex with men. Compared to both heterosexuals and men who have sex with men, lesbians have the smallest chance of contracting the virus. Lucky them! Also, many people may not be aware of this, but HIV/AIDS rates among Christian populations world-wide remain higher than Muslim populations, as the article, "Religion and HIV/AIDS in Nigeria," at GlobalChristian.org points out. To adopt Hall's own words, "Using any measurement, that's call for alarm." If HIV is a plague on homosexuals because of its prevalence in the gay community compared to the heterosexual community, it seems equally plausible to assert that it is also a plague on Christians based on its prevalence compared to other faiths. I am tempted to suggest that if the point is avoiding HIV, instead of becoming heterosexual Christians, we should all become Muslim lesbians. A bit of a contradiction--I'm aware--but not much more than the "non-demonisation via demonization" Bishop Hall has been going on about in the papers. At the end of the day this fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS is not about homosexuality or heterosexuality. When it comes to preventing the transmission of HIV, sexuality doesn't matter, but sex does. For all the hot air about anti-family, unproductive, child molesting bogeymen, I've yet to see Bishop Hall advocate for safe sex education and access to condoms for all sexually active Bahamians. Now there's a plan I can get behind! As the special feature in The Tribune on teen pregnancy (November 01, 2011) makes clear, Bahamian youth are having sex and they don't know how to have it safely, or where to go for information on how to have it safely. Imagine what it must be like for homosexuals, who may want to seek advice, help or information after being categorised as abnormal, unnatural, paedophilic and liable to cause the destruction of our very nation. I'd also like to note that there is not a single comment under the article on teen pregnancy calling attention to the sin of fornication or the actual social damage teen pregnancy does; under the article in which Bishop Hall is expounding his unfounded opinions, there are 75 comments. There goes that "Christian nation" myth that is so artfully deployed when the right minority group is in the crosshairs. Bahamian moral indignation is reserved for only certain sinners engaging in certain kinds of sins. The hypocrisy is glaring and undeniable. The research shows that by stigmatising homosexuals, you encourage the spread of HIV. Dr Robert Carr, a researcher who has spent more than the last decade attempting to understand the relationship between sexual discrimination and HIV/AIDS stigma in Jamaica, clearly states that together stigma and discrimination have a "direct impact on access, utilisation and quality of care for people affected by HIV/AIDS." But what does he know, right? I mean, it's only his life's work. Bishop Hall and his supporters silence gay men with their uninformed rhetoric. They seem more concerned with peddling shame and self-hate than saving lives; reifying their own righteousness against the phantom of a diseased and deviant homosexual. With his authority as a man of God, Bishop Hall forecloses on the possibility of rational dialogue within our society concerning an issue of vital importance. How are we expected to talk about prevention, treatment, access and care if we're busy debating whether the HIV/AIDS patient had it coming? If I weren't a man of hope, I'd say Bishop Hall was being either wilfully ignorant or perniciously manipulative. Just because our constitution affirms our forefathers' Christian faith does not mean it necessarily precludes Bahamians from exercising a modicum of rational thought. Perhaps this presentation of facts and logic is futile. Fundamentalist Christians have the Bible and the only facts they need are located therein. Perhaps I'm wrong about all these things. People will no doubt argue my facts are nothing more than the talking points of an aggressive and radical global homosexual lobby, determined to legitimate their deviant lifestyles--the same homosexual lobby that has also orchestrated the destruction of the family, the economic downturn, hurricanes, sub-par lobster seasons and your extra high power bill this month. Christians often forget, as Lynn Lavner reminds us, that there are six admonishments in the Bible concerning homosexuality, and 362 concerning heterosexuals. As she says, "I don't mean to imply by this that God doesn't love straight people, only that they seem to require a great deal more supervision." Wacky, neo-Nazi conspiracy theories aside, there are two things of which I am certain. At 25 years old, I should not know as many people as I do, heterosexual and homosexual, who are courageously fighting against HIV/AIDS to stay healthy and alive. That does something to you; it enrages you actually. It's a battle that no one should have to fight, no matter their sexuality. I'm also certain that I'm too young to be spending my nights writing responses to grown men asking them to think before they speak. I'm not trying to suggest that Bishop Hall is not a good minister or that he is a bad person. At the end of the day I believe our concerns are fundamentally different. Bishop Hall seems focused on saving souls and I am concerned with saving lives; both of these goals are admirable. However, we know from history that Christianity has often found it more prudent to sacrifice human life in pursuit of saving the human soul--the Inquisition, the Crusades, colonialism and countless other conflicts can attest to that fact. The unfortunate truth is that causing pain and suffering has historically been the most efficient (and lucrative) way to spread the good news of Christ's love. This tradition is alive and well in the form of Bahamian sexual stigma and prejudice. So with this in mind, I'd like to propose a deal. I will promise to never again call the Bahamas Christian Council an obsolete old boy's club, a failed attempt at theocracy, one of the many banes of Bahamian progress, an obstacle of productive governance and/or a bastion of colonial mysticism, if Bishop Hall agrees to let the HIV/AIDS service providers, who are trained in this line of work, do their jobs without spewing all of this absurdity. In the meantime, I'd like him to do me a personal favour and tell his flock to add a little Jesus to their Christianity. Lay off the judgment and show a little respect. After all, you don't hear the gays running around saying, "Don't you just hate those awful, fornicating, adulterous heterosexual breeders with their failed marriages and uncontrollable offspring; causing crime, starting wars, abandoning their children, and doing it all in last year's tackiest trends?" Just something to think about... * Joey Gaskins Jr is a graduate of Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY with a BA in Politics. He was born and grew up on Grand Bahama Island. Joey is currently studying at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) where he has attained his MSc in Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies and has begun a Doctoral Degree in Sociology. He writes for the Bahamas Weekly and Nassau Liberal . Bishop Hall's original article, published on Friday, November 18: BISHOP: 'DO NOT DEMONISE' GAY PEOPLE BISHOP Simeon Hall warned "homophobic clergy persons" against demonising homosexual people, whom he urged to seek spiritual guidance to overcome their sexual preference. Disturbed by recent findings indicating an increase in the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among men who have sex with men, Bishop Hall said homosexual men and women should be "invited to experience the transforming power of God." "These people need the umbrella of the church to come and get healing," Bishop Hall, senior pastor at New Covenant Baptist Church, said. "I want hurting people to come for counselling, now the counselling does not mean that I bless your activity." He added: "Homosexual young persons do not have to practise it. I think our society lends weight to it and now we're finding people who pay for it." In the run-up to the 2012 general elections, a Christian group will survey both serving and aspiring politicians to uncover their stance on homosexuality, among a number of other issues, Bishop Hall said. "Homosexuals," he said, "cannot give birth to children, so in that vein, they recruit them. "Anybody, be they heterosexual or homosexual, who in anyway negatively sexually abuse children should be our concern," he said. "I don't want to browbeat homosexuals, there are heterosexual men who abuse little children. When that comes into the fore, we cannot play with that." Bishop Hall recounted statistics released by the National HIV/AIDS Programme during a speech to the Rotary Club of West Nassau. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS among homosexuals has nearly doubled in two years at 14 per cent, according to the programme's director, Dr Perry Gomez. "Using any measurement that is a call for alarm," said the Bishop. "I wish to make the appeal to all homosexual men to recognize that their worth and value as a man should out distance their sexual preference and their place as men is vital and important to social stability and normalcy." He added: "What I find disturbing is men absent, men unable to take care and provide for their families, men dying and leaving children to fend for themselves, men infecting their partners with AIDS, all this further negatively contributes to a society already on the edge of disintegration." Earlier this week, supporters of the Gay Lesbian Bi-sexual and Transgender community have warned of the dangers of equating HIV/AIDS to a specific sexual preference. According to the latest statistics, adult HIV prevalence in The Bahamas is among the highest in the Caribbean at 3.3 per cent. AIDS is also still a leading cause of death among Bahamian men and women, aged 15-44. The disease occurs primarily among heterosexuals - approximately 87 per cent - although under-reporting by men who have sex with men remains a challenge. The 2011 Caribbean HIV Conference, held at the Atlantis resort, begins today under the theme "Strengthening Evidence To Achieve Sustainable Action." The conference is expected to attract 2,000-2,500 participants and will highlight scientific research findings, implementation lessons learned, skills-building tools, and networking opportunities.