Countdown to Tolerance

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Tue Sep 24, 2013

LGBT Victory in Belize

by Maurice Tomlinson, Legal Advisor

September 21, 2013 marked Belize's 32nd independence day and in an unprecedented move, the country’s Prime Minister, Dean Barrow, used the opportunity to support the right to equality for LGBT citizens.  In his message to mark the day the PM said:

"Government will therefore fully respect the right of the churches to propagate their understanding of the morality, or immorality, of homosexuality. But what Government cannot do is to shirk its duty to ensure that all citizens, without exception, enjoy the full protection of the law.

After all, the Belize Constitution that affirms the supremacy of God also affirms fundamental rights and the dignity of the individual human being.

That same Constitution further declares that all persons are equal before the law and entitled to non discrimination; to freedom from interference with their privacy; and to freedom from unlawful attacks on their honour and reputation."

Considering the virulent anti-gay rhetoric recently spouted by many Belizean churches, as well as the massive country-wide protests against recognizing the human rights of LGBT citizens, this statement by the PM is certainly commendable, and even brave. That said, there is a practical way that the Honourable Prime Minister can demonstrate that he is serious about respecting the human rights of LGBT Belizeans: simply move a Parliamentary motion to repeal the British colonially imposed anti-gay laws.  That would go a long way in fulfilling the goal of Belizean independence. 

Caleb Orozco is the brave head of Belize’s main LGBT organization, UNIBAM.  He is the claimant in the first-ever constitutional challenge to the country’s anti-sodomy law and the High court is expected to deliver its judgment on this matter soon. My organization, AIDS-Free World was very proud to provide financial and technical support for this strategic advocacy initiative.

AIDS-Free World is also leading an initiative to challenge Belize's immigration law.  Section 5 of this archaic statute bans the entry of homosexuals, along with other persons deemed “prohibited classes.”  Belize is one of only two states in the western hemisphere that actually bars the entry of gays; the other country is Trinidad and Tobago.  As a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) I am guaranteed the right to freedom of movement across the region.  As a gay man, I am therefore applying to have the immigration laws of Belize and Trinidad and Tobago overturned as they negatively impact on my right to travel freely across the Caribbean. The Caribbean Court of Justice will hear my application against these odious statutes on November 12-13.   

Earlier this year I requested international support for a mailing campaign to have the homophobic sections in the Belizean immigration law repealed.  Persons from all over the world sent letters to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Tourism, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs.  Undoubtedly, these letters helped to bring about the PM’s statement on Sept. 21.   

If you want to thank the Prime Minister for his bold statement and encourage him to do the right thing and start the process of repealing Belize's homophobic laws, please leave him a message on his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Office-of-the-Prime-Minister-Belize/317057388365804