Monday, January 16, 2006

Jamaica Observer Puts Gay CDC HIV Chief in Closet

Let me get this straight, if you'll pardon me using such an expression.

The CDC's division of HIV/STD/TB prevention, after years of being headed by a temporary director, finally gets a permanent full-time at the helm, and no U.S. media outlet gives even scant attention to the development, never mind profiling the new director, Dr. Kevin Fenton. As the country grapples with controlling and reducing sexually transmitted diseases and federally-funded HIV prevention groups face unprecedented scrutiny, the nation's new chief for these areas is not worth writing about for the U.S. general public.

But the Jan. 15 edition of the Jamaica Observer in Kingston devotes major space to Fenton ascending a top health position in the U.S., running a very fact-filled profile on him, his medical education and research, the respect he earned as a leading health authority in the United Kingdom, hid duties at the CDC, details on his family and a few photos. The only thing missing is something about his personal life.

As with any decent profile of a public figure, the Jamaica Observer tells us about his heterosexual parents and siblings, and that "over time he developed interests in fine foods, music, clubbing, traveling, and is fluent in French and Spanish [who] is also a painter."

But does he have a companion, either male or female? Nothing is said on that topic. We are told, however, that "Fenton has no children of his own, but is a mentor to others."

If only the reporter had seen the CDC's November memo on Fenton's appointment, in which the agency addresses his personal life, his unnamed, gender-less partner and their dog. "Fenton now resides in Atlanta, with his partner of seven years. In December, their family was expanded to include a beautiful Basset hound named Avery," said the CDC bio for him.

That information might have made the profile much fuller and comprehensive.

Not only that, but if everyone in Jamaica who read the profile had read about his open gayness and longtime male partner, his extensive collaborations with black gay health organizations in the United Kingdom that resulted in greatly controlling gay STD rates and improving the lives of gay men of all colors, then it would have been a fully-rounded profile that educated readers on the gay aspects of Fenton's life.

In Jamaica, a country with anti-homosexual laws on the books, rampant violence against gays and lesbians that sometimes turns murderous and antigay attitudes hampering effective HIV/STD prevention work, it is not okay in my book that the profile omits any mention of Fenton's homosexuality, or even the words gay or homosexuals. In other words, the Jamaica Observer forced Fenton, and the issues of gay STD stats and gay in Jamaica, into a deadly closet.

Maybe I shouldn't be so harsh on the paper. After all, it at least given Fenton some proper attention, which no U.S. media has yet done.

Are American journalists so over reporting on the CDC's HIV prevention programs, which, as we know they've been covering for 25 years now, that they think readers don't want news stories on Fenton and how he soon will take the nation on his path to stabilize and possibly eliminate STDs? There's always the possibility, of course, that readers no longer want or read articles on HIV and the CDC.

Whatever the reason is, for those of us who still give a damn about HIV prevention, we've got the Jamaica Observer profile giving a few clues to Fenton and his resume.

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