Wednesday, October 19, 2016

UniBAM at UN: It was about LGBT Politics, Humanity and Defiance

Post 19th October, 2016

On September 21st, Belize was placed in a room of power at the United Nations General Assembly side event meeting. An event organized  by the U.N. L.G.B.T Core Group, which includes more than 20 countries and European Union. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders spoke at the meeting alongside Biden.

  I had two cool parts to the event, the first was meeting Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koender and discovering the down to earth nature of the man while waiting for Vice President Biden at the door to the hall. Koender made me feel me l so at ease while waiting for Vice-President Biden that I was comfortable enough to speak to Biden sister for a few seconds. I learned latter, the Dutch Foreign Minsiter had passed or near through Belize once, years ago.

The highlight of the event for me was meeting Vice President Biden, I had asked Outright International to see if it could happen. It was down to the wire and a last minute arrangement.Also thanks to the Foreign Minister Koender of the Netherlands who said, " come, stand with me here and we'll meet Biden together!" And so that's what happened and that led to me meeting Biden in the Hall way with a couple persons taking pictures.

 I was drawn to the man because of how he spoke about his son and family. In an interview in 2015, the article said,"Beau’s mother and younger sister were killed in car crash in 1972, which badly injured the young boy and his brother Hunter. Biden Sr brought the two boys up while commuting daily from his home in Delaware to his job in the US Senate." Biden shared a conversation he had with his son in a military hospital, later in the interview, where his son said, " ‘Dad, sit down, I want to talk to you.’ He said, ‘Dad, I know how much you love me,’ Biden recalled. “Promise me you’ll be all right, because no matter what happens, I’m going to be all right.” He added, “I feel like I was letting down Beau, letting down my parents, letting down my family, if I didn’t just get up,” Biden said, his voice trailing off at points. “You’ve just got to get up.”I can relate to his son death from cancer, as I have my own sister with stage four cancer. Each time, I see her cough, hear her breathe with a whiz, see her crawl on the floor to the bathroom, I know we are crossing the bridge of life together. Then I see her spring up, ready to move the dirt drums, driving my car to help me do my errands, shouting and expressing her annoyance at her husband and I become surprised and her will. . She said once, "I am not ready to go yet!"And I said, "its your choice on what you want to do."This was a conversation in mid 2016 and so we fight on, she, for as long as her heart and body will last. And I, as  I buy her pain killers, her pills to stop her bleeding, her booster shots to build back her blood and make sure she has snacks like Tostados sauce and Nacho chips.   So I spoil her, over the years, we traveled to the state of Quintana Roo once with my mom in 2015 for New Years, traveled to San Ignacio to take a bathe in the river and even took a ferry, in the Spanish Lookout with her husband to try and find gellato ice-cream.  We got lost instead. Recently, I took her and her husband to San Pedro to ski and dive. She did the diving part and I did the club part and slept all day, as I needed to get away from a city that was just making me sick from news of the Morality Commission, the partial challenge of section 53 and all the quarrels that simply got people crazy, including me. If it was not the kind words of Special Envoy, Kim Simplis Barrow. I would not have remained grounded.

In this work, politics waits for no advocate. Good opponents, PlusTV, sought to propagandize Belize's presence at the UN with the report, " Caleb Orosco asks UN to tie LGBT agenda to their Trade, Development and Technical Assistance to Belize."The actual speech, spoke of, "if you have a relationship with the Government of Belize --- whether through trade, development, or technical assistance --- please use your access and voice to support our struggle." The speech did not call for conditional aid policy. this small fact, did not deter Plus TV from deliberately lying the Belizean Public. A practice it has upheld for the last six years against the litigation of section 53. 

To my surprise, the Belize Delegation was at the UN as well, and issued a statement. I immediately emailed the Director of Foreign Service with the Legal Documents filed by government against section 53 to ensure that she knew of the specifics of the filing and asked for the Foreign Ministers Speech in which he said, "The national debate on social issues took a precedential turn recently.  A high court ruling held that Section 53 of our Criminal Code which criminalized consensual sexual acts between same sex partners is unconstitutional.  The ruling also expands the definition of "sex" to include sexual orientation.   However, in response to the request of a not inconsiderable segment of our population, our government has launched a limited appeal to the judgment challenging only the expanded definition of “sex” by the High Court." In the spirit of constructive engagement, I sought to share that the government was doing a partial appeal on sex and freedom of expression. Here they are at the UN in 2016.

I also had the good fortune to meeting the Global Special Envoy on L.G.B.T issues Randy Berry in New York and the always considerate, Jessie Bernstein of the US State Department. We spoke of engagement processes with faith-base leaders and strategies for reducing conflict. What was clear in the conversation, is that L.G.B.T communities have global systems evolving that are slowly developing to support systems of support at the national level. Still, many will have to flee their states, dies, be imprisoned, killed or accept discrimination until the political environment changes. Belize remains lucky for it is not Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan or Russia. We have never had civil wars or acts of genocide. We do have hope that change is possible through the 68% of our citizens who are tolerant our accepting. But we have to make investments and build systems that promote justice and is accessible to all with limited resources.  If we don't, that 68% could easily be reversed to intolerance with the help of fundamentalism of the National Evangelical Association of churches of  Belize.

Did I have a goal to the UN Side Event Headlines, it simply to raise the profile of Belize's decriminalizing process, to acquire new knowledge of support systems seeking to scale up political engagement at the UN and it was to meet new people in the work. I met with donors to explain the value and timing of their support, I met met with donor activists to understand their history and strategies. It is clear, Belize has alot to do, with expectation of faster and better, but it must first deal with its fundamentalists opponents who out shoot through media ownership, access to institutional spaces like the Unions and is able to use an intersectional message that plays on collective prejudice and simply ignorance about human sexuality and rights.  With all the protests that happened on August 23rd, 26th and in October for close to two weeks by teachers that ended today October 19th. I remain strong in the belief as I said at the said event,"Today, my family is my greatest defender, but one day soon, I know it will be my government."

Washington Blade

PLUSTV Report on the UN LGBT Core group side event

Washington Blade



Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Belize's Good Governance: LGBT David and Goliath Battle.

Posted, September 25th, 2016

On 21st September, the Prime Minister of Belize, in his independence speech acknowledged that there was a culture war between traditional values and religious mores. The statement reflects a new era of understanding  in Belize about the value of good governance. It also comes at a time when, government has experienced pressures from the Belize National Teachers Union, scandals triggered by an Auditor General Report about passports, accusation that Ministers were associated with a dubious character named Danny Mason who was arrested for the alleged beheading of a Pastor, Lands department scandal, protests from fundamentalists and opposition party. In his speech, the PM said,
"the .... recasting of the categories of sexual and gender identity, and the claims that human rights include LGBT rights. Not surprisingly, the Chief Justice's Section 53 ruling detonated a societal pitched battle in which traditional values and religious mores are in a fierce offensive against liberalism, secularism and the arguments for evolved Constitutional protections"


 While, the Belize National Teachers Union public relations department issued a press release without membership consultation on August 24th, that called for, " BNTU appeals to the PM to “…ensure that this matter, which is of paramount importance to our teachers and to our vastly Christian nation state, is thoroughly ventilated and addressed.Our people must be allowed the opportunity to openly express their concerns and opinions on the issue and the possibility of an Appeal process before it is brought to the House of Representatives.“ and ends "for the sake of our children and nation we urge that this issue be treated as a matter of national importance."  Interesting enough the B.N.T.U was calling for good governance that included an 8 point proposal. They proceeded to advance their call with protest for close to two weeks.

In addition to this, the Belize Communications Workers Union, The Belize Water Services Workers Union, and the Belize Energy Workers Union also issued statements against 53. The release said,

"Governments are elected to office with the core responsibility of defending and preserving the rights and values of its citizens.... failure to react...clearly brings to light .. that the ill will of a few are being forced down the collective throats of the masses.... as tax paying citizens of this democratic nation, call on the Government to act ..... we insist that the Government of Belize appeals this decision all the way to the highest court...“we pledge our support to the Churches  and we call upon all Belizeans to stand in solidarity in defense of our country’s moral values for our people...”

We learned later that the Union membership were not consulted in the drafting of this press release either, but PlusTV was the first to air the Utilities Unions reaction to the Chief Justice ruling  about the unconstitutionality of section 53. Interestingly, the Belize Communication Workers Union mission is "To fight and oppose unfair labor practices and discrimination in whatever form or content." Lost in the release of all the Unions was the understanding that the case was about adult privacy, not children. Lost in the Union releases was their understanding that constitutional morality is what governs our democratic nation and its diverse people, not individual belief or morality. Of note,in  1981, Belizean supported rights were for all and that the state is required to address the social privileges and economic inequity between citizens. Some how fundamentalism created, exceptionalism about our fundamental rights as citizens base on sexual behavior rather than as human beings or even citizens. The point was made clear by Scott Stirm who said on September 16th, 2016,""We are talking about human rights for humans. Gay rights are for gays..., you talking about special rights for one special group of people."

Despite the preamble to our constitution and government obligation to protect all its citizens, government proceeded to support the idea of a Morality Commission which was a reaction to the decision on section 53 on September 9th, 2016.The reason for the commission," to in fact look at issues having to do with public morality and its role in our society, having to do with the institution of marriage and safeguarding that institution. Government believes, it's a shared position of all of us that marriage is between a man and a woman."So on that same day, I spoke about being invited to the Commission table, " If it's a process of building peace and understanding and its value about building peace and understanding, we will be included without question."

Out of concern for the impact of the Morality Commission and proposed discussions to amendments the constitution to define sex and male or female and to define marriage as one man and woman, a slew of meetings took place, with the Minister of State, within the Ministry of Finance, The Attorney General Office, the Deputy Prime Minister, leader of the opposition and others to neutralize discussions or find a pragmatic way forward. The results of the meetings started with The Deputy Prime Minister in local news coverage reminding the media," the Commission does not have the power to make policies based on the church's position; it only will have the ability to advise the Government on what course of action they should take..," and continued, "Faber added that personally, he would want to see the minority groups get more than an opportunity to dialog; he would want there to be some mechanism to address their concerns." While the PM did not sit down with the community, access to his Deputy Prime Minster and others became the alternative route to communicating our concern.

The largest contingent was when we had a meeting with the leader of the opposition. One point made during the meeting was, "if government abdicates its legal obligation to address the needs of all its citizens equally, that such a position will promote vigilantism and discrimination, but more importantly, will amplify the fundamentalism view that constitutional rights are to be subsumed and replaced with oppression and marginalisation." Another point shared was that it was important to ventilate the term sex in court. Nevertheless, it was a pragmatic point that the Government of Belize eventually agreed to along with examining the point of freedom of expression in its partial appeal. We managed, nevertheless to share information about our human rights concerns and the broader issues of sexual and reproductive rights as well. Participants both allies and community members shared their concern. A request was made to do a meeting in October, regarding further engagement work. The leader of the opposition agreed to the tentative month of October.


Of note, we learned the National Evangelical Association of Belize (NEAB) had its application dismissed on October 4th because it was not a party to the original case and it submitted the wrong documents to the wrong court. The irony in its submission, is that it was asking that the Claimant pay its cost directly, but the Chief Justice instead told them they owed the Claimant $750 along with the Attorney General Office. Of note the Roman Catholic Church submission asked for similar court cost, despite the fact, that its them appealing the case in its totality while the Government of Belize is only doing a partial appeal. Time will tell, how that requests evolves.

Where do L.G.B.T Belizeans fall into the framework of Good Governance promoted by the Belize National Teachers Union? Do the press releases reflect the official position of members in the Teachers and Utilities Union? Is fundamentalism taking over our governance structure? Is unconstitutionality of section 53  going to be respected by the Roman Catholic Church and others? We simply don't have an answer. Section 53, nevertheless, has become the one major tool to turn religious tradition on its head that it not longer has a right to promote impunity with automatic entitlements to discrimination in its institution. Will it be constructive and reasonable in accepting our right as citizens. Only the Universe has an answer! We fight on, nevertheless!


BNTU Press Release:

Utilities Union

The Morality Commission

Let All Voices be heard

Press Office Video of PM Independence Speech 2016

NEAB Filing Against Section 53