Feature: Decriminalising homosexuality in Belize

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Caleb Orozco is the executive president of the United Belize Advocacy Movement, UNIBAM, and is part of a constitutional challenge to overturn the law in Belize which criminalises homosexuality. Visiting London, he briefed PinkNews.co.uk on the case.

Under Belize’s Criminal Code, gays face a penalty of up to ten years’ imprisonment.

Section 53 states: “Every person who has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any person or animal shall be liable to imprisonment for ten years.”

Who is challenging the law?

Caleb Orozco is the lead claimant in the case against the Attorney General and the government along with other interested parties opposed to the criminalisation of homosexuality in Belize: the Commonwealth Lawyers Association, the International Commission of Jurists and the Human Dignity Trust.

Orozco says: “The case was initiated by the University of the West Indies Rights Advocacy Project, UWRAP, in 2007 in Santa Domingo. There were two countries picked by UWRAP, Guyana and Belize and it was felt Belize had a more liberal constitution based on its privacy law.”

The Human Dignity Trust, based in London, is a human rights organisation which aims to see local laws criminalising homosexuality brought into line with international human rights obligations, providing support and services at UNIBAM’s invitation.

Who is defending it?

Along with the government, Orozco says the Catholic and Anglican Church are the other interested parties in the case who support the government’s defence of the law.

Another organisation, Belize Action is “the watchdog, if you will, of the churches”.

He says: “They have been spewing out standard homophobic arguments, misrepresenting the facts of our case and using side issues as a strategy to confuse the general public. Like going after the children, saying we’re seeking to promote homosexual acts in schools, we’re seeking to lower the age of consent, and saying homosexuality is a choice.”

Caleb says to some extent he agrees with Belize Action on the need to clarify the age of consent, which is unclear. The age of consent for females is 16, though there is no similar statute for males, so if homosexuality were to be decriminalised, some standard should be set and Caleb believes the law should be made gender-neutral.

Orozco says Belize Action has enlisted a woman, Melissa, to advocate the idea that people can change their sexual orientation. In the Belize Action video below, Melissa says 99.9 percent of gays who “came out of the lifestyle” had been sexually abused.

He said of Pastor Scott Stern and Louis Wade, “They say they’ve never met an ex-black man, but they’ve met ex-gays”.

“Louis Wade runs Plus TV, and that’s what they use to spew their venom.”

The tenor of UNIBAM’s opponents certainly stands in contrast to Orozco’s mild-mannered demeanour. Belize Action’s website directs readers to Plus TV with the message: “Truth is, if you have followed any of Hillary Clinton’s speeches, as well as Obama’s pushing of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) “human rights,” you will notice that Human Rights is the new buzz word for GAY RIGHTS!!

“That’s where all this is pointing towards!!! Simeon Sampson from the Human Rights Commission has been added to the UNIBAM legal team, and they’re trying to tackle this issue from a “human rights” angle. After all, who would EVER disagree with “human rights” right?

“One of OUR main points is that… They already have human rights!! You know why? Because they’re humans! Not because they’re homosexuals!! Seeking “human rights” status for homosexuals is not human rights! It’s special rights! Or human privileges! Tune in this week and learn more!!!”

Pastor Louis Wade Jr said last year: “Mark my words, it starts with one lawsuit, when this lawsuit is over, if they get their way, the next set of lawsuits will be against the social security board and other large organizations, insurance companies that must give compensation not only a person but also to their spouse.

“The third set of litigation is going to be church and religious denominations across the nation when they refuse to marry homosexual couples. And then the final set of mass litigation will be against people who stand up and say that this kind of practice is wrong.”

Orozco says two to three hundred people attended a “Take a Stand” rally organised by these groups to protest the case ahead of a hearing in December.

According to the Amandala, one attendee of the Belize Action Family Forum event which preceded it said: “This is not just about a homosexual agenda. The warfare is not just a homosexual agenda; it is about an orchestrated plan of demonic darkness to dethrone God from our Constitution and open massive gateways to demonic influence and destruction that will affect generation after generation to come.”

Belize Action publicises videos like the one below from Belize BeAware, which denies that gay rights are human rights.

Belize Action said the video “needs to go viral”.

PinkNews.co.uk contacted Belize Action and Plus TV and was told Mr Orozco had made “various unsubstantiated, yet slanderous accusations against two individuals and a television company”, but no further response was given.

How is the law used?

“What I do know personally,” Orozco says, “is that the law has been used to intimidate, to blackmail, to harass. That comes to us from the community itself.”

Orozco describes the law itself as a “psychological barrier” and reported cases of rape in which the victims, men or transgender people, would not report the crime to the police.

Opponents of decriminalisation had claimed gay citizens were motivated by a desire to marry, an issue Orozco says was not in their minds when they began the challenge, being more concerned about health. Gay marriage, he says, is a “side issue” used by religious opponents to distract people, describing a “smear campaign” of “distractions and inaccuracies”, whereas UNIBAM desires “mature, rational discourse”.

“For us, we have two points. The first was the challenge, the other is to highlight what homophobia looks like in the media and on the ground, and we believe we’ve successfully defined what homophobia looks like in Belize.

“That’s important for us because it translates into how young people are treated at home, in schools, it translates into how rational people can be in their working environment, in their relationships with people.”

Orozco says the case has “intensified” hate.

“Our opponents would say they have never issued a hateful comment about LGBT persons but in my mind if they’re providing misinformation and selling fear about a group of people which had never been visible, then what you’re doing is cultivating fear and in my mind that makes people think they have permission to hit, to assault. In my case I was assaulted with a beer bottle in February.”

I ask Orozco whether the attack was motivated by the legal challenge, whether he had been recognised.

“Now my people are not called faggots or sodomites, they’re called UNIBAM. As for me, that assault was cumulative in that it was four persons in different ways contributing to the homophobic remarks. The first said something awful, the second tried to warn me to keep of the streets and after twenty years of abuse and threats one knows automatically when they’re under threat and in this case it was both the recognition that I was the person in this case and that I was gay.”

What does the future look like for the case?

Politically, the opposition say they do not support the challenge but will support the court’s decision.

“One would expect the current government to challenge the case, and that’s OK, but this is the extent of the political messages we’ve been getting in the country.”

They did have a minister wearing one of UNIBAM’s rainbow wrist-bands, however, but this is the only visible action taken by any government officials.

The outcome of the legal challenge itself, however, is too soon to call as UNIBAM focuses on raising awareness of the case.

Orozco says: “Where we are is the preliminary hearings, and a campaign with the slogan ‘We are one in dignity and in rights’ to increase visibility and support of the issue.

“The main issue”, he adds, “is still months away.”