Friday, April 26, 2013

Anglican bishops reject same-sex marriage

Friday, April 26, 2013

THE leadership of the Anglican Church in the West Indies has issued a firm rejection of same-sex marriage and has urged Caribbean Governments to resist attempts at compromise from outside the region.
In a draft provincial statement on same-sex unions issued yesterday, the House of Bishops and Standing Committee of the Church in the Province of the West Indies said that they were aware that Caribbean political leaders were being subjected to pressures from nations and institutions from outside the region.
"Frequently they are pressured to conform to the changes being undertaken in their redefinition of human sexuality and same-sex unions, under threat of economic sanctions and the loss of humanitarian aid," the bishops said.
"We urge our leaders of government and of civil society, as well as the people of our nations, to resist any attempt to compromise our cultural and religious principles regarding these matters.
"The dangling of a carrot of economic assistance to faltering economies should be seen for what it is worth and should be resisted by people and government alike," added the bishops, who are meeting in Barbados.
They said that during their deliberations they had taken note of trends within countries of the developed world and international forums in which these countries exercise a controlling interest in which matters related to human sexuality have been elevated to the level of human rights and are being promulgated as positions which must be accepted globally.
"Frequently, failure to conform by developing nations, like our own, results in the threat of various sanctions, including the withholding of economic aid," the bishops said.
"More specifically, there is a redefinition of gender to accommodate gay, lesbian and transgendered people, and the creation of a plurality of definitions which leaves the issue of gender to self-definition, thereby dismissing traditional definition of male and female," they argued.
"Additionally, there is the passage of legislation among a number of metropolitan nations whereby marriage is defined as a human right in which any two persons may be joined, inclusive of persons of the same sex."
As such, they said, the "marriage" of persons of the same sex is justified as a human right on the basis of marital equality with heterosexual unions.
The bishops said that while they acknowledge that there is a diversity of family patterns within the Caribbean, "these have been understood by our people to be between a man and a woman, whether defined in terms of the natural order of creation or on the basis of religious beliefs which see these grounded in the purpose of God".
They pointed to the Pastoral Statement from the House of Bishops of the Church of England in 2005 which defines marriage as "a creation ordinance, a gift of God in creation and a means of His grace. Marriage, defined as a faithful, committed, permanent and legally sanctioned relationship between a man and a woman, is central to the stability and health of human society. It continues to provide the best context for the raising of children".
The bishops also said that characteristic of our patterns of cohabitation and family life is the notion that such unions are based on a relationship between a man and a woman.
"The idea of such unions being constituted by persons of the same sex is, therefore, totally unacceptable on theological and cultural grounds," they insisted.
The bishops said that while they recognise that the church's mandate is informed by pastoral and doctrinal concerns and in drawing the attention of the faithful to the source and purpose of marriage, and in solemnising such unions, they accept that governments have the responsibility of providing the kind of legal framework for protecting, but not defining, this most basic social institution on which the stability of society and the socialisation of its members rest. They also appreciate that governments must protect the members of such unions against abuse and injustice.
However, they pointed out that the threat and use of economic sanctions are not new experiences to the region's peoples, "neither is the claim to a superior morality convincing for peoples who have known the experience of chattel slavery in our past.
"While claiming to invoke human rights as the basis for such imposition, we submit that the same principle must allow us the right to affirm our cultural and religious convictions regarding our definitions of that most basic of social institutions — marriage."


The Prevention Summit- A Civil Society Act of Health and Rights Action

25th April, 2013

Today, 60 individuals joined in a three day seminar to look at new research for most at risk population including men who have sex with men, sex workers, adolescents etc. Day one looked at the strong human rights framework under which prevention must occur and the contradictions of Belize having strong policies and signing on to international treaty obligation, but failing to systematizing its strong human rights framework on paper into practice. Of note the Executive Director, Dr. Martin Cuellar of the National AIDS Commission spoke at lengthen to the issue of stigma and discrimination and the work we are doing here at UniBAM. Part of the the speech said:

We now know that one population has over ten times more prevalence of HIV than any other population in Belize. Nevertheless, the NAC nor the CCM and not even the Informational Educational and Communication Committee has never sat down to discuss this fact and strategise a response. We simply must mainstream the reduction of stigma and discrimination into each agency agenda.

It isn't enough for us to simply write a one sentence email of compassion when Caleb circulates more new evidence of institutional stigma in Belize. We must now take our compassion to the public, in our press releases, in our organizational work plans, in our conversation at the NAC meetings. Perhaps one of the greatest opportunities for us...A few of us from the planning committee have decided to put our words into action and are planning on being there as a message to Belize that Caleb does not stand alone and that the stigma and discrimination...affects all of us and that we are all demanding positive change.

Of note, we had 20% of the participants being gaymen. The data revealed that we have a 13.9% prevalence rate for HIV, it revealed that behavior change communication is much more complex than improving knowledge, it points out that with the absence of rights it has a direct link to current health investments made in targeted interventions. Sergio Montelegro, presented REDCA study on risk profile for persons living with HIV and profiled Belize. The report pointed out that 7% of women cumulatively reported being bisexual or lesbian that were samples of the  Health centers vs  25% cumulatively, of men, self-identify as (16%)bisexual or (9%) homosexual  who were part of the sample taken at health centers. For those who were polled at health centers about the question during the last 12 months, have you had same gender sex, homosexual or trans? 30.64% said yes vs 51.72% of those polled at home. The data suggesting that same sex activity happen more frequently than we realize in Belize. Special guest to the meeting is Kent Klindera from AMFAR fo New York noted on the right with laptop. The note is important as AMFAR has a a history of supporting HIV related projects around the world for men who have sex with men.


Ultimately, the youth presentation sum it up best in this quote" give wi straight!" What the system have failed to do is look at barriers to access services like age to access services without parental approval, like censoring of health information in the church state education system, like the insistence that the church needs to be engaged in sex education discussion. I remain concern that that such a position, will elect the church system to define our public health approach, cement the continue oppression of LGBT citizens, young people right to full disclosure and discourage women from family planning as a choice. There is a reason why our poverty rate is 43%, our national prevalence rate is 2.1% for HIV, why teen pregnancy remains high and why MSM study reveal we have a concentrated epidemic. Its because the churches have been allowed to not only influence our public health approach, but the invested resources as well. Will bring you day two tomorrow.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Gospel According to Louis Farrakhan in Belize

 Reported: 22nd, April, 2013

The Gospel According to Louis

Last month Louis Farrakhan – Muslim minister, black nationalist leader, and spokesman for the militant ‘religion’ the Nation of Islam – came to Belize, his third visit in 38 years.  As well as giving interviews to the media, he was given a reception and dinner by the Government, met with religious and community leaders, spoke at the University and the Prison (talk about a captive audience), had some one-on-one face time with both the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader, and finished off with a public speech in the unlikely location of Bird’s Isle, a small island in Belize City that’s just big enough for a car park, a basketball court, and a restaurant & bar (he ‘held court’ in the basketball court).
The publicity surrounding the week-long tour didn’t give very much away, but after the minister had left, the conversations and speeches he made contained many references to terms like “unity”, “education”, “responsibility”, and “national pride”.  All fine ideas, and relevant to a member of any race of people living in the developing world.  Farrakhan even had a few choice words to say about Belize’s jaundiced political system, and advised the kleptocrats in charge (my words, not his!) to work together for the good of the whole country and its people.  Being a shrewd operator, he was sensible enough to keep a fairly tight lid on his religious beliefs – a sound idea, as Belize (like the rest of the region) is overwhelmingly Christian (and any devout Muslim would soon find that the minister’s version of Islam is lax enough to make an ayatollah choke on his kebab).  And he was careful not to alienate the Mestizo population by not focusing too much on only the black Belizeans.  So far, so good.
But sadly, all the inspiring words in the world can’t hide the fact that Farrakhan himself is a racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist, and a man whose charismatic personality and gift for oratory and colourful language have allowed him to get away with much more than he should’ve been allowed.  Which makes it disturbing when he’s invited into a democratic country by politicians and religious leaders – until you realise that politicians are always happy to be seen with charismatic orators (especially ones who claim to speak for ‘the people’); and religious leaders can always find something in common with each other (and in the case of the Belizean churches’ leaders and Farrakhan, it’s an unflinching belief in God and an equally unflinching dislike of gay people).
I first heard of Farrakhan after listening to Public Enemy’s Bring the Noise in the 80s (like any self-respecting white teenager, I listened to hip-hop!).  But I first saw him in Brother Minister, a 1995 documentary about the assassination of Malcolm X (who left the Nation of Islam and publicly denounced it for its racist teachings and the sexual improprieties of its leaders).  It contains a secretly filmed segment showing Farrakhan shouting at the top of his voice in an NOI temple in 1993.  Verging on hysteria, he says of the murdered Malcolm X: “If we dealt with him like a nation deals with traitors, what the hell business is it of yours?”  His apparent admission of what had long been suspected – that it was him and the rest of the NOI leadership that ordered Malcolm’s killing – isn’t known by enough people, or remembered as often as it should be.  Nor is it widely known that, two months before the murder, Farrakhan wrote in an NOI newspaper that Malcolm was a “Judas” and “worthy of death.”
I invite any Belizean, any black person, in fact anyone at all, to remember those words and to look at the film of Farrakhan’s sweating, yelling face, and to bear in mind that this self-righteous thug, who once boasted of “dealing with” one of black America’s true heroes, is someone now invited to Belize to tell Belizeans how to support each other.
And Farrakhan’s immoral statements don’t end there.  He’s produced flat-out racism (calling white people “evil”, “devils”, and “unevolved”), and bizarre science (apparently caucasians are the result of a sick experiment by a black scientist six thousand years ago – in breeding out the blackness, the deranged doctor inadvertently removed all the black man’s virtues too, and as a result, the white race has connived to enslave black people ever since).  Then there’s his anti-Semitism – according to him, Jews are responsible for everything from the slave trade to the global financial crisis.  And in his conspiracy theories, he manages to combine all of the above into a paranoid whole – Jewish doctors inventing AIDS and infecting black children with the disease, and the white establishment suppressing cures in order to commit the covert genocide of blacks.  And that’s before you get onto his quasi-religious pronouncements – Hurricane Katrina being “God’s punishment for America’s warmongering and racism.“  And if all that wasn’t enough, he’s also compared himself to Adolf Hitler, accepted money from Colonel Gaddafi, and expressed an interest in Scientology!
Any comment on Farrakhan and his rantings tends to dwell on the negative effect that black chauvinist rhetoric has on white people.  But why would any thinking black person want anything to do with a raving nutbag who believes that everything that’s wrong in the black community is the work of a white conspiracy?  Because he happens to say some inspiring things about black empowerment when he’s not foaming at the mouth about Israel?  I can perfectly understand why black people throughout the Americas would be sensitive about the way their ancestors were treated.  I sympathise with them, and I’d feel the same way too if I were them.  But that doesn’t (and shouldn’t) excuse anyone from saying that AIDS is the fault of the US government or that Jews were behind the slave trade.  And the apologist for murder minister and his equally vocal religious friends state (at least they used to state, these days they’re subtle enough to imply) this kind of nonsense every time they get on a podium.
All of which raises the ultimate question of why any country would invite this loud-mouthed bigot in, or allow him to come.  Perhaps the religious leaders of Belize saw a heady combination of enthusiastic zeal and humble piety in him that they found attractive, and thought that he could bring some of their lost sheep back to the flock.  Perhaps the politicians thought (as many people do) that, as a self-made black man living in a predominantly white society (and living through some very racist times), he’s a respectable role model for young black men (and with family breakdown, low education, poverty, gang membership, and crime much more common in the Creole community, they may well have a point about young black Belizean men needing role models).  And to give Farrakhan some credit for a moment, he’s supposed to have toned down his inflammatory rhetoric in recent years, and his Belizean speeches were mainly focused on concepts like self-respect, family values, education, and general responsibility (although the racism and the conspiracy theories were never too far away).
So is this man, for whom the cause of every problem that’s ever befallen black people is a conspiracy of white people and Jews, and for whom the only solution is a total separation of races, really the best person to be inspiring the inhabitants of multicultural, multiracial Belize?  I guess Belize doesn’t have the political clout or the money to have truly inspiring black figures like Nelson Mandela or Desmond Tutu come over, and I did note with some relief that most of the people interviewed on TV had never heard of Farrakhan, or had heard of him in only the vaguest way.  Perhaps if the minister’s audiences can remember his positive thoughts without ever finding out what he really stands for (and what he’s said and done in the past), maybe then his visit won’t have been a wasted exercise.


Allies write on section 53- Why I'm a criminal

Homosexuality in Belize, and Why I’m a Criminal

As I mentioned in my last post about Minister Louis Farrakhan, during his recent visit to Belize he did tone down his conservative (or as I see it, racist and homophobic) rhetoric.  But one thing he did have a none-too-subtle attack on was religion’s favourite scapegoat, homosexuality.  He described governments’ and people’s acceptance of same-sex relationships as “sanctioning something that God don’t sanction”, and berated Belize for bowing to foreign pressure and becoming “a whore to American aid”!  And he echoed many religious leaders around the world (including those in Belize) when he said that ordinary people should be afraid of the LGBT “agenda”.  Another ‘conspiracy’ to keep the paranoid minister awake at night…
Of course, Farrakhan and his religious kin are suspicious of the LGBT movement, for the simple reason that they do consider gay people to be sinners (they don’t believe that nonsense about “God loving the sinner but not the sin” any more than anyone else does), and they do think that homosexuals should be punished (or should be threatened with punishment at the very least).  And in Belize they have the law (or a common interpretation of the law) on their side – Section 53 of the Belize Criminal Code states that any person who has “carnal knowledge” with any other person that is “against the order of nature” can be imprisoned for ten years.
“Carnal knowledge that’s against the order of nature” – no matter how many times I read it, I still don’t know exactly what it covers, I only have my own interpretation of ‘nature’ to base my decision on (I get the ‘carnal knowledge’ bit, though).  But others might have a different definition of ‘nature’, and who’s to say that their idea of what’s ‘natural’ isn’t the correct one?  And that’s part of the problem – the wording of the law is so vague that it allows for multiple interpretations of it to be held simultaneously, all of which are equally valid (or equally invalid).  And you don’t have to be Perry Mason to know that the rule of law in a country can only ever fully work so long as its citizens know exactly what is (and isn’t) legal (In Europe, there’s the well-established principle of legal certainty, where the law has to be specific enough to allow those subject to it to regulate their own conduct – so it’s part of the law that the law shouldn’t be vague.  I hope that’s not too vague for you all).
So perhaps the first thing that should be done is to clear up this terrible ambiguity and clearly define what is and isn’t legal, and not leave it up to individuals to interpret the law in their own way, potentially breaking it (or incorrectly accusing other people of breaking it) in the process (and change ‘carnal knowledge’ as well, we’re not living in biblical times!).  Because so far, the people who’ve been shouting the loudest about what’s ‘natural’ are (surprise surprise) the church leaders and other religious people, the people with the strongest views on morality, the ones who believe that their interpretation of their holy book is the right one, and that their definition of what’s ‘normal’ should dictate what everyone else should do, and what laws should be applied to everyone else.  And they’ve been using their position of influence and power in Belize to conduct a campaign of such ignorance, misinformation, and hatred that it catches the breath.
Nor do you need to be Perry Mason to know that when you apply any law selectively it becomes inconsistent with the point of having a law in the first place.  That’s why the legal action initiated by UNIBAM (United Belize Advocacy Movement), challenging the constitutionality of Section 53, is so important.  It’s been suggested to the UNIBAM members that they could’ve just carried on as before (and after their leader was hit in the face with a bottle by a stranger on the street, maybe that thought crossed his mind!).  And it is true that UNIBAM’s high profile over the last few years has had the unfortunate side effect of bringing the latent homophobic sentiments of some people into the open.
But that’s not really the point – what we know about the world changes with time, and what’s considered acceptable and moral changes with time too; and laws are designed to be created, discarded, and amended in order to reflect those changes (That’s why we don’t have slavery any more, and why we don’t burn people for saying that the Earth goes round the Sun.  And that’s why Belize is now one of only ten countries in the Americas, and the only Central American country, who still have this law).  So Belizeans (like everyone else) would’ve come to this point eventually.  At the very least the creation of UNIBAM and its forthcoming court case forces people to examine their convictions and their biases.  And to remind everyone of just how shaky the foundations of some people’s beliefs are, and how ridiculous those people can be when their beliefs are challenged (Belize Action, the church-organised counter-organisation to UNIBAM, has described the decriminalisation of homosexuality as “an orchestrated plan of demonic darkness to dethrone God and open a gateway to destruction”!).  Seriously.  Someone actually said that.
Over the past two years that I’ve lived here, I’ve heard many people express their intolerance for homosexuality, and then defend that intolerance with the wildest of claims, and all whilst simultaneously expressing concern for the rest of Belize’s innocent population (to get an idea of their paranoid hysteria, imagine Helen Lovejoy from The Simpsons, shrieking her catchphrase of “Won’t somebody please think of the children?!”).  Some of these anti-gay crusaders are concerned that gays and lesbians won’t do their part to keep Belize’s population growing – the Mayor of Belmopan (the capital city) went so far as to suggest that Belizeans would become extinct if the country allowed gays to live freely here!  Others are more explicit in their opposition – the spokesman for the Council of Churches claimed that homosexuality and its popular bedfellow abortion are part of an “unacceptable” lifestyle, and one that’s being pushed on Belizeans by foreign countries trying to exert their power (that’s America and Britain, and all their baby-killing queers, in case you didn’t know!).  Then there are those who think that all this weirdness is just a lifestyle choice – which, as most (if not all) gay people will attest to, isn’t true.  And finally there are those who are downright vicious in their hatred – in the country’s most-read newspaper, The Amandala, there are regular columns by the editor and his readers, claiming that homosexuals are naturally sexual predators who’ll nail anything that moves if they’re given half a chance, and latent child molesters for whom paedophilia is a natural recourse, as they’ll turn to younger partners once their mates’ bodies become “worn out” (I wished I’d kept the article to quote it verbatim, I’ve never read a more detailed comparison of human orifices in a newspaper!).
The Belizean media (who traditionally fill most of their pages and airtime with sensationalised accounts of the latest crimes, many of which are shocking enough without the overblown reporting) are full of this garbage, particularly the aforementioned Amandala, which began as a newspaper associated with the struggles of black Belizeans in the 1960s (ironically, and sadly, being part of a group that’s the victim of discrimination doesn’t stop people from enthusiastically practicing it towards another group).
The people who write this hate-speech often say that Section 53 (or at least the anti-gay interpretation of it) is never used to actually punish anyone for being gay (and it’s true that there’s never been a prosecution of any gay person, or any person committing homosexual acts, under this law).  So why are they so insistent on keeping it?  I think it’s to act as a reminder to everyone that (at least as far as they’re concerned) homosexuality is abnormal and wrong.  In a similar way to how, in medieval times, a severed head would be publicly displayed to serve as a warning to anyone considering criminality.  Of course the religious conservatives don’t want to punish people for their lifestyle choices (after all, they’ve got their God to do the punishing!) – they just want those people to feel intimidated, and to be constantly reminded that they’re going to hell for their wickedness.
So what do the religious people of Belize consider to be ‘natural’?  Well, from a quick glance at The Bible (when it’s not defending slavery, condoning murder, oppressing women, advocating child abuse, encouraging genocide, and making demented pronouncements that it contradicts several chapters later), it’s clear that God intends men and women to be together for the purpose of procreation.  And woe betide anyone who tries to circumvent that plan – remember poor Onan and the result of his seed-spilling shenanigans?
But that produces another problem – if it’s ‘natural’ for a man and a women to be together to produce children, then I’m unnatural, I’m a sinner along with all the gays.  And if it’s a crime to go against ‘nature’, then it’s not just the homos who are breaking the law – I’m a criminal too.
Why?  Because I’m a heterosexual man and I’m childless.  I’ve had sex with women many times, yet I’ve never once had it for the purpose of creating life.  I’ve never left it up to God to decide if His plan is for me to have a baby or not – quite the opposite, I’ve been deliberate in avoiding pregnancy my whole sexually active life.  Oh the blasphemy!  I’ve been going against God’s will every time I’ve been with a woman.  I’ve been thumbing my nose at the supreme being of the universe every time I’ve got jiggy with a lady.
And that’s just sex with a partner.  If Onan was struck down by God for “spilling his seed” a few times, imagine what holy retribution the Lord has planned for a man who’s been enthusiastically blowing his baby gravy all over the place since he was a teenager?  Think of the genocide I’ve committed over the years, with millions of potential lives lost in the course of every profane monkey spank.
Clearly I conduct my sex life against the order of nature, contrary to the social norms of the country, in flagrant breach of the law of the land, and against the intentions of God.  But none of the religious conservatives have ever said (or even implied) that a person like me should be imprisoned for ten years.  None of them have reprimanded me for my reluctance to breed, or questioned my lifestyle choices, or compared me to a paedophile.  They seem content to allow me to make my own choices of who to be intimate with and how.  But only because I happen to do it with someone of the opposite sex.  Religious people cherry-pick their holy books and discard the parts that seem strange or immoral to them – that’s why no one makes a big deal today about picking up grapes, wearing clothes made of mixed fabrics, allowing dwarfs into church, and all the other bizarre things that are banned in The Bible.  But they’re still unnaturally obsessed with what other people do with their junk.
Another possible reason why the Christian (mainly Catholic) Church in Belize is so against changing the law is because it’s one of the most powerful forces in the country – and much of its power derives from the fact that it funds (and therefore controls) the country’s education system.  And as all parents desire the best education for their children, they’re careful to keep on the good side of the clergy.  Even when they’re told that their kids are to have mandatory religious instruction, and are required to attend a religious service every week, or they can’t graduate from high school!
Without going into a critique of religion (that would take too long, and I only have 3GB of free space with this blog), that’s another situation that should be changed as soon as possible (and everywhere, not just Belize) – school should be about learning facts and gaining knowledge (and equally importantly, learning how to think – understanding the importance of scepticism, questioning, and examining evidence).  And they’re the opposite qualities of the blind faith and incuriosity that all religion is based on, and the intolerance that religious leaders have for anyone who questions that faith.  Reason and religion have never been BFFs (ever since two nudists took dietary advice from a talking snake), and maybe if the church wasn’t so heavily involved in such an important aspect of Belizean life, perhaps it wouldn’t feel the need to publicly moralise on everything (and perhaps it wouldn’t be given the authority to do its pontificating), and as a result the dialogue might be slightly more reasonable and slightly less hysterical?  And what with them denouncing condoms, opposing stem cell research, and covering-up child abuse, morality isn’t exactly the Catholic Church’s strong point…
Nor does the Belizean church seem to know that the rest of its religion has finally wised up and accepted that discrimination of all kinds is wrong – even the last Pope (mini-F├╝hrer Joseph of the Hitler Youth) issued a statement opposing it.  And if The Pope is against anti-discrimination, then that must be because God’s against it (good old papal infallibility eh?).  So, far from contradicting God and Christianity, UNIBAM’s case is actually sanctioned by the Vatican itself, and it’s the Belizean church that’s going against what The Man Upstairs wants.
So let’s hope that UNIBAM wins next month – not so that they can turn the country gay and paint the flag pink, but simply so that they can carry on doing what they were doing before, but without being criminals.  Let’s hope that Belizeans appreciate the chance to examine an issue with intelligent, public debate (something that the citizens of some countries aren’t allowed to do).  Let’s hope that Belizeans who’ve been the subject of discrimination in the past realise how important it is to not discriminate against other Belizeans in the present.  Let’s hope that people realize that, for the good of everyone, universal human rights law must always prevail over the archaic commands of religion.  And let’s hope that, after all this, Belizeans can concentrate on the really important issues facing the country.