Maurice Tomlinson: Belize and the Spelling Bee
Advocacy often takes a very heavy toll on the lives of human rights defenders. I have been spared the worst, as I am still alive, though I had to flee my homeland Jamaica because of persistent death threats which the police were clearly disinterested to do anything about. However, the cost to my family life has been more immediate and ongoing.
With just the slightest bit of hyperbole, I proudly declare that I am the father of a wonderfully bright and exceptionally talented pre-teen. My son excels at school, particularly in reading and spelling, habits his mother and I nurtured out of our mutual love for education. Even after our separation and eventual divorce due to my inability to suppress my homosexuality, we both maintained a strong interest in our son’s education.
A year ago, both of them moved to Belize, and this year our son’s exceptional spelling ability allowed him to win both his school and district regional Spelling Bees. He is now headed to the national finals. As a proud father, I would love to share this occasion with him. However, to do so, I would either have to break the laws of Belize, or engage in complicit support for the country’s homophobia. Section 5 of Belize’s Immigration Act bans the entry of homosexuals, as well as persons who are mentally challenged (described as “any idiot or any person who is insane or mentally deficient…”) and the physically disabled (described as “deaf and dumb or deaf and blind, or dumb and blind,…). Together, we are all considered “prohibited classes.”
I have been advised that I can always get a waiver from the government to enter Belize, but, on a point of principle, I simply cannot do so. The reason should be obvious. If I took up the offer of a waiver, I would be no better than the government which maintains this unjust and discriminatory law. It is clear that the law’s sole purpose is to stigmatize and demean marginalized and vulnerable groups. In solidarity with all such individuals, and out of a sense of self-respect, I will not visit Belize until ALL persons unfairly cast as “prohibited” are legally free to visit the country.
Mine may be a lonely crusade. However, if there is one other lesson I wish to teach my son, is that he must be a person of honour, even if it means standing alone. Years from now, I hope he will forgive my absence from this momentous day in his life. I will certainly try and make it up to him. I believe he knows I love him. And I also believe he knows that just as I expect him to try and live up to his convictions, I will always try to do the same.
In the meantime, AIDS-Free World is supporting a legal action I filed to have the discriminatory section of the Belizean immigration law struck down by the highest court in the region, the Caribbean Court of Justice. It is my belief that the existence of this law violates my right to freedom of movement within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). Ironically, the Jamaican newspaper, The Gleaner, reported today
that the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs is dissatisfied with Jamaican free movement across CARICOM and that the government will take the matter up with the highest level of CARICOM. I would hope that, during this high-level discussion, he will mention the fact that Jamaican homosexuals like me, along with disabled citizens, are legally barred from travelling to two (2) CARICOM states, Belize and the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
Such travel restrictions simply have no place in a modern civilized community of nations. They must be expunged.