Bayer, the maker of the Essure “permanent” birth control implant, is sponsoring a medical conference in Armenia. The conference, “Health-related issues of quality of life,” is co-sponsored by the Armenian Association of Young Doctors. The AAYD uses Bayer’s name in its PR campaigns for the conference, which sends a message that Bayer agrees with AAYD’s message. AAYD’s current president is a raving homophobe who wants to see LGBTQ people burned alive. While Bayer disavows support of this view in private messages to another blogger, it has to date refused to issue a public statement leading many of us to wonder if Bayer supports homophobia.
Mika, a brave blogger chronicling LGBTQ issues in Armenia, published a piece titled President of the Armenian Association of Young Doctors calls for anti-gay violence. That piece stirred up some controversy (as well it should have) over the fact that Bayer might be sponsoring the Association via its sponsorship of a medical conference, “Health-related issues of quality of life.” We know that Bayer is the purveyor of the dangerous birth control implant, Essure, but is Bayer backing homophobia?
The head of the Armenian Association of Young Doctors (AAYD), a gem of a human being named Gevorg Grigoryan, truly despises us LGBTQ folks. So much so, in fact, that he would like to see us set on fire. This level of ignorant hatred is nothing new, sadly, but the question of Bayer’s involvement is troubling.
Mika, doing what a good journalist would do, reached out to Bayer via Twitter, Bayer’s general mail desk contact system and through an email to Güner Forneck, its head of media relations. What happened next is first heartening and then disappointing.
Bayer Healthcare sent Mika a private message, reproduced below:
“Dear Mika, we have seen your Tweets you published earlier this week.
Bayer condemns any behavior that discriminates against particular groups for example on ground of race and ethnic origin, color, nationality, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, political affiliation.
Bayer does not sponsor the Armenian Association of Young Doctors.
Bayer’s support to the medical conference “Health-related issues of quality of life” in Erevan, 5-7 November 2015, was triggered by its partnership with the Armenian Anti-ageing Medical Association, one of the co-organisers of the conference.”
Others who contacted Bayer received similar private responses.
All sounds good, right? Bayer is disavowing its support of a raving homophobe, right? Right?
Not so much. Mika never received a direct reply to his email, nor did Bayer ever publicly disavow its support of the AAYD. If you’re head of media relation for a corporate giant has just been accused of supporting an individual who wants to burn people alive, would you not answer that accusation via a public response?
If you’re Bayer, apparently not.
Mika replied, saying:
“Thank you for clarifications about your sponsorship of the conference and for re-affirming your stance against discrimination. I am writing to you on behalf of a group of LGBT activists and allies. I am glad to know that you do not sponsor directly the Armenian Association of Young Doctors. However, your support for the conference, even if via your partnership with the Armenian Anti-aging Medical Association, means that you sponsor an event which include organisation headed by a virulent homophobe. This was covered in social and other media, including the Armenian media outlet Epress.am. The Armenian Association of Young Doctors widely uses the fact of your sponsorship for their PR purposes (example). I would therefore like to ask you to issue a public press release to clarify the situation and your stance. Thank you in advance.”
After this message, Mika described several communications and Twitter conversations, but no public statement from Bayer was forthcoming.
Mika said, “As I mentioned in my reply above, support for the conference, even if via partnership with another co-organiser, in the absence of public statement to clarify their stance, means that Bayer Healthcare sponsors an event which is co-organised by a virulent homophobe. As a consequence, many activists now question a non-discrimination commitment by Bayer, while number of young doctors in Armenia are unable to participate in the conference due to virulent homophobia by one of its co-organisers.”
I couldn’t agree with Mika more if I tried. However, as sad as it is, I do not expect Bayer to publicly respond. At least not with anything that isn’t a canned PR response designed to be as bland as possible. In a recent piece on LegalReader.com, I invited Bayer CEO Marijn Dekkers to respond to an issue of importance to women. I even emailed Dr. Dekkers directly. To date, I have yet to receive a response of any kind.
I stand with Mika and my Armenian LGBTA brothers, sisters and supporters in their efforts to secure human rights for all and wish them the very best.
As one of Mika’s readers put it on Twitter:
“@VismundCygnus1 @unzippedblog @Bayer @BayerHealthCare I expect Bayer to condemn this & withdraw its support. People are watching.”
Indeed we are, Bayer. And we’re not going away anytime soon.