Friday, November 23, 2012

My life as an activists in Belize

Posted November 23rd, 2012

I wrote as from back as 1997 in my personal diary, that I wanted to get my bachelor degree by age 30 and be a historical figure in Belize.What I did not know at the time was how it would happen for the latter. When I started this wor,k it was back in late 2004, with PASMO or the Pan American Social Marketing Organization. It was there, as a health educator I learnt quickly that HIV prevention, Care and Treatment issues for the men who have sex with men population required an organized voice. The first phase of developing the voice came with the effort to conduct a multi-centric study that was being led by the Ministry of Health. Then epidemiologist Paul Edwards brought a person from the CDC and he explained to the guys the concept of a MSM organization. We didnt know at the time, but we were setting the foundation of an organization. Persons like Fernando Novelo, Alex Avalos, Willaim Smith, Jerry Mendoza were the first be exposed to the Ministry of Health information on the research and the idea of developing an organization. The results, led to the creation of Unidad 96, through my connections with PASMO, we did activity centered education at Fernando Novelos house for the first time.

As time past and individuals changed addresses, we eventually moved the work to Belize City, in 2006. At a meeting on February 16th, 2006 at the National Development Foundation of Belize Building on Coney Drive, with the help of the UNFPA coordinator Arnulfo Kantun, 16 gay men came together to frame the idea of an national organizations for LGBT persons. The name became UniBAM or the United Belize Advocay Movement. At the time we used Allaince Against AIDS resources to arranage the meeting. Ronnie Bradley, Dennis Belgrave, Alex Avalos, Delbert Quilter, Edision Flowers, Bra was there and many more persons. As a group, they recognised that we needed a group that could represent everyone.

After the meeting, the Arnulfo Kantun led the way to do lasagna, the result of that effort was the rasing of the first $300 that was saved towards legal incorporation. The rest came from Arnulfo Kantun, Norman Bonnel, Elisa Castellanos and Dr. Paul Edwards. Together with my sister who worked at the Law firm of Lionel Welch, she gave me a precedent documents, directions about the Company Registry and costing for registration. I then pulled the documents together using the PASMO legal documents as reference and filed the papers at the Company Registry in April, 2006. This took one day to get done, but the non-governmental status took a few weeks to be completed as the person was on vacation. When this was done, my brother, Jared Orozco, borrowed money to buy a computer, an office table and he got an office chair donated from  Belize Telecommunications. He did not stop there, he paid directly, internet for three months. This allowed me to search for funds and in October, we have never looked back.

In 2007, the work of section 53 began with Tracy Robinson of the University of the West Indies Rights Advocacy Project. This meeting took place in Santo Domingo in 2007 at a human rights meetings with UNDP. There, she shared they had worked on a constitutional assessment and found that Belize had the most liberal constitution in the Caribbean. She explained they needed a claimant and I said I was ready like " yesterday." We used ovoo to video chat on the papers that needed to file and on strategy while they were in Barbados. The only side effect was that they spoke to me on a bad hair day.

We emailed back and forth documents, and eventually found a local lawyer to support the process. This was Lisa Shoman, who met with a larger regional human rights group in Port of Spain at the UNAIDS office. There we strategiesed further on the issue. Fastforeward to 2010 when the first set of papers where filed and then the trouble started, with PlusTV vilification of the LGBT community using bad science and logic to create an intensification of hate in the community. Prior to this, we had been quietly accumulating non-binding resolutions at the OAS, writting shadow reports, attending regional meetings in Washington, the Caribbean, documenting statements from the political reform commission and lending support to UN resolutions etc. We used the local spaces at the National AIDS Commission to ensure that our message was heard.

The personnal cost was intense social isolation, threats, imitations, daily insults and knowing that I had the evangelical screaming at the Battlefield park and the Churches involved with my case was now an issue of David verses Goliath.  Knowing that I cannot walk in large crowds in Belize City, like Carnival, go to clubs, or walk the street without worry about who would stone me or do some other physical harm. My car has become the center of my security. So when that does not have gas, I worry. Having a bike is the next mobile plan. I worry that my organization will fail and thatI will not be able to get any money and that i would be poor and broke in my old age. So I just pray that I can live comfortably and in good health and simply hope  I could reach age 50. As bold individuals like me dont reach 50 without being killed. Harvey Milk is such an example. My mom watches me each and every time as I walk into my gate and my sister Golda is a fire cracker who defends me like no other. The one good example was her grabbing her crutch and telling a man who was yelling homphobic remarks at me that his mouth worse than she "poke." The sad thing is we dont know if she poke is pretty or ugly. I also noticed my mom does not like me to go to shops which is often right around the croner. Still, as an almost 39 year old to be on December 5th, 2012, such fears cannot freeze everything. Though I will admit that buying toilett paper sometimes is a chore to do.

Relationships, are non-existent as I have no love to call my own and I am not sure if I will ever fine love that is honest and reciprocated. This really is the true cost of the work, as I may be sick or be dying and will have to do it alone. While I am sure family will be next to my side, it seems feeling alone and being alone has a degree of difference. I am now called UniBAM by the ignorant, but may never be called with the comment," this is my partner, my love!" I suppose I may have to accept that sleeping next to my pillow is the most consistent thing in my life right now, but it would have been nice to have had someone I knew loved me and could love me back simply by being there. It seems to be the most famous gay person in this country can also mean that it is the most lonely place to be. As I have my haters and I have my supporters. It can be a bit much trying to decipher how to response and remain grounded. Yet I do!Yet I do!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Political Acknowledgement from OAS to UN resolutions

21st, November, 2012

When The United Belize Advocacy Movement entered the arena of hemispheric and regional advocacy we did not imagine we would have sustain our history of advocacy action through the OAS Coalition facilitated currently by Heartland Alliance International,the Caribbean Forum for the Liberation of Genders and Sexuality, the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities, PANCAP and many petitions sites like allout.org and avazz. We have engaged PAHO, PEPFAR at its regional meeting in the Bahamas in 2011 and the Global Commission on HIV and the Law submitting abstracts and comments to their report for the region. We have represented at the UN High Level meeting twice, the last was as part of the Belize UN Delegation.

What makes the UN resolution on Extrajudicial Killing  found here http://www.iglhrc.org/binary-data/ATTACHMENT/file/000/000/610-1.pdf, especially important is that there is now visible political acknowledgement that L.G.B.T Citizens in Belize matters. What makes 2012 support important, is that, Belize is the consistent acknowledgement of the Human Rights of its Citizens from 2010 when it first expressed it support after calls were made to the Foreign Ministry. This follows efforts at the OAS since 2008 where Belize has not resisted supportive resolutions that condemns acts of violence and other human rights abuses. We are now in 2012 and have ensured with our Caribbean and Latin American partners that 5 OAS resolutions have passed called Human Rights; Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.

The UN resolution on Extrajudicial Killings that included sexual orientation and gender identity, it is our hope will continue to bosom into the next voting period. See here for 2012 photo of voting:



The voting process for the resolution had three votes in the following way:
One on each of two amendments, and one on the full resolution. Belize joined the Bahamas, Barbados and the DR in OPPOSING the deletion of sexual orientation and gender identity from the text. Jamaica and St. Vincent both voted to support the deletion. That amendment failed. The rest of the Caribbean did not vote or abstained. But Trinidad & Tobago, which abstained, took the floor to clarify they did not support inclusion of gender identity in the text.

On the vote on the final resolution with the SOGI language intact, five Caribbean countries abstained, Bahamas, Guyana, St. Kitts, St. Lucia and St. Vincent, most likely because of a reference elsewhere in the text to the death penalty and the failure of an amendment to defeat it. Trinidad & Tobago tried to vote too late, but said they intended to vote for the resolution.


The vote for the Singapore amendment can be seen here  http://www.iglhrc.org/binary-data/ATTACHMENT/file/000/000/618-1.pdf?utm_source=ISHR+Publications+and+News&utm_campaign=067e973358-RSS_Email_Campaign_General_Assembly&utm_medium=email. However the United Emirates amendments can be seen here and this is where  Jamaica voted for deletion of the SOGI reference.http://www.iglhrc.org/binary-data/ATTACHMENT/file/000/000/616-1.pdf?utm_source=ISHR+Publications+and+News&utm_campaign=067e973358-RSS_Email_Campaign_General_Assembly&utm_medium=email


Monday, November 19, 2012

Ignite the Rally- Violence and Family

19th, November, 2012

When we join the Ignite the Rally walk  on October 11th, 2012 in support of the Purple Movement effort to address concerns about crime and violence, it was our chance to show our solidarity with our opponents support, but more precisely, that while we disagree on many things, crime and violence was not one of those things. So 11 individuals from 17 to 40 showed up with signed as we supported a walk from the University of Belize to the Police Station Training School in Belmopan. Of note, the woman holding the torch was the mother of a student killed at the entrance for The University of Belize in Belmopan.


While waiting to organize, our opponents from PlusTV were out and one person in particular, Jason Andrews pass a comment ' Oh Caleb and y battyman dem!" which is our mind was clearly not in the spirit that was set out for the day on crime and violence. Still, unfazed by the moment the crew got into order and we walked with signs of violence:



Was the group anxious? I could not get a feel of their anxiety, comments shared were that it as fun, they would do it again and that while they had momentary problems, for the most part the they felt inspired to participate in more activities. Here is a picture of part of the group walking, holding up their signs and having fun:


 It was not the first time that UniBAM supporters sought solidarity on the issue of crime an violence as supporters during a candle vigil for Jasmine Lowe who was brutality murdered showed that they could be concern with child murders while feeding the homeless. The news coverage of  LoveFM covered what the We are One Campaigners could do without any prompting from the United Belize Advocacy Movement. the coverage pointed out the following:

 











Issuing its own press release, the group distributed 50 meals, light candles in solidarity with crime and violence concern's and issues the following statement below to lovefm among others.

 Another community group, the Supporters of the Constitutional Challenge to Section 53 of the Laws of Belize has also expressed solidarity with the grieving family of the slain teenager.  The group, under the banner of We Are One, attended the candlelight vigil at Battlefield Park in Belize City on Saturday night.  Prior to the vigil, the group distributed 50 meals to some of the homeless who regularly congregate in the park. The group, in a statement issued today said, quote: “we would also like to publicly commend private citizens, as well as the Special Envoy for Women and Children, Kim Simplis Barrow for their efforts to push for “Jasmine’s Taxi Law”, end of quote.  The group goes on to say, quote: “those of us who support the Constitutional Challenge to Section 53 pledge our unwavering support for any and all legal reforms that will result in greater protection for the children of Belize,” end of quote.

SOURCE: http://www.lovetv.com.bz/2012/06/11/unibam-announces-support-for-jasmines-taxi-law/


 As a collective we posed for pictures and we collected represented with the following imagery of solidarity with the rest of the nation in the following way before deciding to go to San Ignacio where the main event was held. It is our hope that the next walk will be with mothers and families to high light the point that intense opposition to young gay and lesbians individuals below to families and as such the issues of L.G.B.T human rights is a family issue.



Belize's and Guyana Dont Ask, Don't Tell: So?

19th, November, 2012

We hear about the United States "don't ask don't tell" policy, but have never looked at specific laws in Belize's Defense Force that can be used to release a gay or lesbian soldier from the force. The United Belize Advocacy Movement reviewed particular sections of the Belize Defense Force Act and found vague sections that applied to the idea that legislative stigma can very easily be perpetuated by vague laws or vindictive commanders if they so chose.

Section 60 of the Defense Force Act spoke to "scandalous conduct of officers," but conveniently does not define the term scandalous conduct. The specific section exact wording is as follows:

Every officer subject to military law who behaves in a scandalous manner, unbecoming the character of an officer, shall, on conviction, be dismissed with disgrace.

What exactly is unbecoming the character of an officer is open broadly to interpretation and as such, open to abuse. When compared with section 62 of the Act we fine the term" unnatural kind." Again, the section does not spell out what unnatural kind is referring to, whether consenting or forced. The wording for section 62  speaks to disgraceful conduct as follows:


Any person subject to military law who is guilty of disgraceful conduct of a cruel, indecent or unnatural kind shall, on conviction, be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or any less punishment provided by this Act.

While there is no disagreement for the need to maintain law and order among solider, our work is to explore the implication of vague language in law and its impact on the gay and lesbian population in Belize. The two sections mentioned is complemented by a third section. Interestingly enough, section 66  refers to conduct to prejudice of military discipline. It's wording speaks to the following:

Any person subject to military law who is guilty of any conduct or neglect to the prejudice of good order and military discipline shall, on conviction, be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or any less punishment provided by this Act.

One can ask the broad question, are we grasping at straws in our interpretation? Are we seeking to fine a problem where none exists? The answer to that is simply no, as the case of Selgado vs Attorney General Office, Minister of Defense and Security Commission action no. 418 of 2003 spoke to the following:

..given the tendency of attorneys and judges in Belize of accepting without questioning, what is considered legally right in the USA, Canada and especially England, despite vast differences in social views, Captain Selgado might have put up a formidable sex discrimination case under S:16 of the constitution of Belize, even a constitutional motion case, had he owned up to homosexuality..(Justice Awich)

 When we look at a country like Guyana, a case recently came to light about two women who's  sexual relations were documented on a cell phone, then it went viral the story shared that there is a "dont ask dont tell" policy and that the women were given a choice. See full story below:


Female Guyanese soldiers in same-sex relations can stay or leave; GDF's policy is 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'
 
Written by Denis Scott Chabrol   
Monday, 19 November 2012 18:23
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gdflogoOne of two female Guyana Defence Force (GDF) soldiers, who were involved in a same-sex relationship, has accepted counselling and has chosen to remain in the army that has a ‘don’t-ask don’t-tell’ policy on sexual orientation, acccording to a high ranking officer.
Requesting anonymity, the officer said the other soldier told her superiors that she is comfortable with her sexuality and would opt to voluntarily leave the military institution.
The senior military command officer emphasised that the two females have not been fired but have been given three months up to December 31 to decide whether or not they wanted to remain in the GDF.
Originally the females, said to be in their early 20s, had been ordered Struck Off Strength at their own request , another source told Demerara Waves Online News (www.demwwaves.com ).
The female privates were several weeks ago summoned to meetings after a video of them engaged in sexual activity punctuated with expletives and references to an orgasm began circulating among soldiers.
The video went viral after someone found a cellular phone and accessed its contents.
According to the officer, the issue at hand was whether the owner of the phone had taken enough steps to lock her phone to prevent unauthorized access and distribution of the video. DemWaves has learnt that all soldiers have been instructed to cease distribution of the videos and anyone caught with it in their phones would be sanctioned.
The high level military source insisted that the GDF’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy is also reflected in the deletion of the question “Are you a homosexual?” four years ago from documents that must be completed at the time of enlistment. At the same time, according to the source, the GDF has formulated a policy against sexual harassment.
The officer said that heterosexual and homosexual activities and any amorous behaviour are prohibited on all military bases and as such offenders could be cited for misconduct.
Soldiers are not prohibited from having same-sex relations in the privacy of their own premises as is the case with heterosexuals once it does not bring the GDF into disrepute, the high ranking official. “At the end of the day, this is a matter of rights and freedom of choice,” the officer added.
The GDF, according to the senior officer, was mindful of moving too far ahead of the Guyana government on the matter of sexual orientation.
For its part, the Guyana government has long given a commitment to the United Nations Human Rights Committee that national consultations would be held on the thorny issue.
At the same time, the 15-nation Caribbean Community (Caricom) has been crafting model legislation to essentially repeal a number of laws that infringe on sexual orientation. They include the criminalization of cross-dressing and sodomy.
Several male homosexuals, who were arrested and prosecuted several years for wearing female garb, are awaiting the outcome of a constitutional case in the High Court. (source:http://www.demerarawaves.com/index.php/201211194992/Latest/female-guyanese-soldiers-in-same-sex-relations-can-stay-or-leave-gdfs-policy-is-dont-ask-dont-tell.html)

So whats the point of telling this story and that of Selgado, simply, sometimes internalized fears cripple gay and lesbian individuals in their ability to stand up for themselves in a way that is honest. Also, the fact that Selgado felt he had to deny is sexual orientation in such a public arena suggest as a community we have a long way to go in protecting and upholding our human dignity in whatever situation that may occur. The Selgado case for example showed that even in addressing legal protection issues individuals from the gay community do not feel that their dignity can be upheld in a court of law, if they are honest about their sexual orientation. Time will tell and more work needs to be done around community mobilisation to ensure that the L.G.B.T is aware and confident enough to demand rights enforcement.