LGBT Movement Building in Belize: an internal look

Posted 16th, February, 2013

Political Movement building did not start with the United Belize Advocacy Movement , the concept can be trace back to George Price time after the British colonial government  sought to devalue the local currency. Assad Shoman, History of Belize pointed out that the primary motivator for social change was people thinking critically about what colonialism had done for Belize when there were so many living in poor social and economic conditions of the 1950's . He wrote:

The working class suffered from unemployment, low wages, bad housing, severe malnutrition, and poor health care. In early 1950, a British reporter complained that "the Colony has always been run exclusively for what could be got out of it . . . of the 35,000 employable from a total population of 60,000, 8,000 or nearly a quarter are without work or working part-time, earning less than twelve shillings per week. Belize City, with its 22,000 people, is about the most shockingly depressed spot in the whole British/West Indies - perhaps in the Commonwealth. Hunger, poverty, the filthy conditions under which the people live are incredible."The devaluation of the Belize dollar, on December 31, 1949, resulted in the immediate worsening of the workers' situation. 

What we learned is that leadership developed organically and that public education campaigns was carried out to link people understanding of colonialism impact on their social and economic lives. The lesson here is that the movement require a uniting issue for the people of Belize to have leaders rally  people behind. Leaders moved from a committee to a party and  George PriceOn September 29, 1950 the People's Committee became the People's United Party (PUP). Its objective was "to gain for the people of this country political independence and economic independence."

The parallel theme here is that UniBAM is a structure and  the uniting issue  is section 53, but it work could fizzle as soon as it started if there is inadequate leadership from the community or divisions, base on class and fear.

Another parallel is that they were working to  demand that their rights are acknowledged and respected, we have the courts and fundamental rights and freedoms to do so on our behalf. What we haven't done is organized rights-base education within the community for a sustained period of time.. The LGBT community  seems excited about the use of the court to bring social change, but it is clear that a base of leaders with strategic vision will be needed to push the issues of legislative and cultural advancement forward as well as the mainstreaming of services. Our issue is inspiring others to act either through quiet or public diplomacy and to arbitrate between the community and policymakers and opponents alike.

We can draw lessons as well from the national movement as it built allies with the working class, we will need to build allies in civil society, work intra-establishment and seize messaging strategies from our opponents. We are different for the nationalism movement for we  have produced symbols of the movement like wristbands while people became symbols of change in the national movement. We are different in that our political currency is in allies and families that support. We are different because our visibility need not be a protest, but a collaboration as we did with the Women's Issues Network. We are different because we have technology on our side and have watched the community create a communication infrastructure to support the education process through facebook and have watch the community create pages like Belizean Gay Community, PrideBelize, Belizeans for the constitutional challenge and spaces like Belize constitution revision and se la ve. We have access to groups in the Caribbean, Central American, Latin American and the Caribbean to engage UN and OAS systems without having to spend thousands of dollars to travel and lobby on a constant basis.

The struggle for us is getting the community to buy into the idea that the fundamental rights and freedoms are there for L.G.B.T citizens and that we must do what we can to ensure its implementation is fair and just. L.G.B.T leadership require legitimacy from the community and a clear agenda that must inform and unite the community into action. Like us, rights were not expended to Belizean populace without a struggle. It is clear the L.G.B.T movement need a base to motivate it. The politics of a movement however must recognize its division. Young out Queen who I consider the frontline warriors of societal abuse could be a significant force to increase public visibility while recognizing that the middle class and upper class might have a resistance to upsetting the staus quo regarding rights advancement or a threshold. Such a threshold can be seen in the national movement process where some in the middle class who did not want change, similarly, we will have some L.G.B.T individuals who do not want change for their lives are comfortable.It is clear as well that we have the constitution on our side and a well-educated population that could be tap to engage parliament in a way that is healthy for our political system, despite the environment.

So do we need to have educational development before we have a political structure or should we have hold off on the legal advocacy strategy. Experience tells us that  the National AIDS Commission commissioned in 2003 a legal review of the laws that included section 53. Forward to 2009 and the legal review was finally completed with a recommendation that section 53 be repealed on the conditions that the section offense laws are updated. The point is not lost that the system took its slow time and the politics dictated that we move the issue to the table ourselves.  For example, in a vote indicative of non-commitment, the National AIDS Commission vote 9 yes, 8 no and two absentions demonstrating that the political will to address the issues of discrimination for the men who have sex with men was not there. They did however, sought to endorse the National Strategic Plan which got approval from cabinet which was  chuck full of Rights Enforcement Language which in my mind was a safer document than section 53 the law. In this line of work, safer isn't always better as it may impede work.The value for us is that its an advocacy tool to monitor and hold the system accountable.  The 2nd point can be made  that community consultations in an atmosphere of passivity, inadequate meeting spaces and inexpereince in LGBT political activism would not have been any faster and ended up being affected by comfortableness with the status quo. Someone had to take the lead and risk everything to advance concerns and allow an issue to be transformative for the community. This was section 53 and the organization UNiBAM.

Women in the Nationalist Movement

 A report from channel seven done March 2oth, 2012 pointed out that women were critical in the national movement and played critical mobilizing roles in the movement. The role of women from 1910's up to the 1960's can be  examined to show that A woman could get you elected, but at the same time she could also get rid of you in the event that you did not address their needs and concerns, so basically we discuss the realm of roles of women in Belize's nationalist movement.

They would form sub groups out of the main street party but it would include some of the "bembe" women if you want to use that term, women who would go and slander and embarrass the people they were opposing, so women played a critical role, no one in the contexts of the patriarch of Belizean society. Nobody wanted to be embarrassed by a woman at a public meeting; nobody wanted to be embarrassed by a woman walking down a street, you know that sort of thing. So the women were critical in this psychology of getting men to walk the straight and narrow if you want to use that term."
Robin Schaffer "In formal education we usually associate the nationalist movement with George Price, Phillip Goldson; we rarely hear about women, or any single woman. Could you list off or tell me about some women in particular?"
Nigel Encalada, the Director of NICH
"Some of the women who were associated with healthcare, for example, were actually political and social activists, Nurse Seay, Gilda Lewis, Emma Boiton. You have a number of women who fall; Gwen Lizarraga, you know, a number of women who played a critical role."


The Political Struggle

The nationalist movement of the 50's were about outsiders vs Belizeans, but the L.G.B.T movement  is about Belizeans christian right wing opponents supported by US evangelical dominionist theology  seeking to control the level of legal and social advancement L.G.B.T citizens make.While there was violence involve in the nationalism movement that led to the shake up of the status quo, Belize's democratic Institutions have allowed for a non-violent confrontation, using the court, the media, health spaces, house parties to conduct community education among other strategies that allow us to slowly build allies in the process. We have not sought confrontation in government for we know we have hidden allies that will do their part to support the process, nevertheless, it must be driven by structure. The current dialogue for the Universal Periodic Review with government offers us a dialogue to educate, to inform and increase LGBT visibility in the political process unibam original report can be seen here at this link  The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Offers us another space for documentation and formal dialogue on possible action as seen here in this link

There is also powerful lessons to learn from the cooperative movement who structured themselves to be able to compete with larger business in the fishing industry. Turning simply human passions into an economic force. The credit unions are another approach to social and economic development. We can learn lessons from them in regards to how L.G.B.T Citizens can used their resources to protect the economic concerns of L.G.B.T individuals to provide for themselves while supporting a movement for social equality. The potential is endless for creating a party, having pro bono services that support legal rights of L.G.B.T individuals, working on the intersection of crime and violence and homophobia, gender and homophobia and transphobia, homophobia in education and the justice system, unemployment and homophobia, religion and homophobia, art and homophobia etc. We are only limited by our imagination for strategies and action..


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