Remembering Robert Carr

Published: May 10, 2011

Remembering Robert Carr

The Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF) is devastated at the untimely passing of Dr. Robert Carr, MSMGF Co-Chair and Director of Policy and Advocacy at the International Coalition of AIDS Services Organizations (ICASO).  Robert was a champion of social justice, a tireless defender of human rights, and a world-renowned leader and advocate for men who have sex with men and people living with HIV.  To those of us who were fortunate enough to know him personally, he was our colleague, our mentor, and our friend.  Robert is believed to have passed on peacefully in his sleep at his home in Toronto.

A pioneer in advancing the health and human rights of marginalized groups around the world, it is nearly impossible to capture in words the breadth, depth and impact of Robert’s life.

From the outset, Robert’s work was grounded in compassion, dignity and justice for all – especially those whose rights were denied, whose health was undermined, and whose sexuality was dismissed.  Robert began his advocacy work in 2000 in Jamaica, working on issues of stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV.  By 2002 he was Executive Director of Jamaica AIDS Support for Life, a national NGO serving the most disenfranchised in Jamaican society, including prisoners, the hearing impaired, sex workers, gay men, and other men who have sex with men.  Over the past decade, his work grew to take on a global scope.  Robert served on the NGO delegation to the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board (PCB), and most recently he was appointed Director of Policy and Advocacy at the International Coalition of AIDS Services Organizations (ICASO).

Robert not only identified glaring gaps in the global movement for health and human rights, he took leadership to address them – building lasting, sustainable structures that continue his fight to this day.  In response to widespread discrimination and lack of access to HIV and health services in Jamaica, he co-founded the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition, a network of indigenous frontline service providers working on rights-based programming with marginalized groups across the Caribbean. In 2006, Robert joined with other global advocates to found the Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF) in recognition of the lack of attention to gay men and other MSM in the global HIV epidemic.  At the MSMGF, Robert was the definition of a mentor – not just for the organization, but to other activists from emerging MSM regional networks throughout the world.  Robert’s profound brand of mentorship continued to be felt at the UNAIDS PCB, where he provided guidance and support to other delegates, helping to make meaningful contributions to negotiations well beyond his official term.

To truly understand his accomplishments, one must reflect on the vast set of skills and qualities Robert brought to bear on his work.  An articulate and passionate public speaker, Robert was an impeccable listener, humble and accessible in one-on-one conversations. He had the ability to consider issues thoughtfully and systematically, but also the capacity to move quickly.  Robert was a skilled negotiator and bridge-builder who never betrayed his principled stance on the core issues. He brought professional integrity of the highest level to each situation, yet remained an affable personality with a common touch.  Robert possessed an intimate knowledge and compassion for each individual he knew.  He stayed connected and up to date on a myriad of discussions around the world, without letting it disconnect him from individuals and close friends.  Robert Carr did these and many other things – and he did them all with grace and elegance. He made us all want to be better, fiercer human beings.

Robert leaves us too soon, and because of his incredibly vast work, he leaves behind a huge gap in the global response to HIV, stigma, discrimination, and the broader issues of social justice and human rights that he committed his life to addressing.  He also leaves an amazing legacy that serves as a roadmap for our movement.

Robert was unafraid to speak truth to power. As much as Robert was a passionate and committed activist dedicated to HIV, homophobia and human rights, he very much saw his work as being part of a broader movement for marginalized groups everywhere.  Robert always insisted that a unified front between gay men, other men who have sex with men, people who use drugs, sex workers, transgender people, and women was the best way forward for achieving health and rights for all.  Maintaining unity is not an easy line to hold, as dwindling resources pit different interest groups against each other in the international arena.  But Robert would not stand for it – no one, in his view, would be left behind.  Somehow, Robert deftly navigated this complex environment of competing interests, holding the big picture for us with his sweet, deep kindness while never letting anyone off the hook when they could do better. 

We know that advocates and allies around the world will honor Robert’s tireless pursuit of justice for all marginalized groups in the HIV epidemic.  We believe the best way to pay respect to Robert’s legacy is by recommitting ourselves to seeing his vision become reality.

We will deeply miss Robert’s warmth, intelligence, humor, and willingness to “call bullshit when needed.”

No one could light up a room like Robert Carr.

Rest well Robert – we miss you.

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