Belize Social Transformation: Looking back in 2017

15th February, 2017

The United Belize Advocacy Movement (UniBAM) started in May 2006 at the foot my my bedhead. Privacy was a matter of not looking behind, and smelling too deeply as the restroom and the office was only 3 steps apart. As we got our first grant in October 2006 we could not imagine that the work would catapult to the world stage be it the UN, OAS, CHOGM. UniBAM, as a non-governmental organization has experienced the most protest of any NGO in history.  Proof starts in 2010 when there were family forums at the University of Belize organized by Belize action.

 Then we saw Belize Action rally at Battlefield park in December 2011.Maria Zabaneh was a guess speaker at the rally along with Minister Boots Martinez. And he can be quoted as saying, in the Guardian newspaper of the UK. Martinez says: “My position is that God never placed anything on me for me to look at a man and jump on a man. I’ll be clear on it … How would you decriminalize that, I am sorry, but that is law. Not only is the law made by man that is a law made from the Bible. Why do you think God made a man and a woman, man has what woman wants, and woman has what man wants, it’s as simple as that. I’ll fight tooth and nail to keep that law.” his words ended up in the UK Guardian. We later learned from our source in the system that a memo was circulated about not issuing any comment on section 53 without permission. We never heard Minister Boots speak on the matter until the gender policy in 2013 when he was forced to take collective responsibility for a Cabinet decision to not withdraw the gender policy. PlusTV reported, "...and you have the Minister of Human Development, “Boots” Martinez, getting up, even at these Church rallies,  and saying one thing out of the side of his mouth, and then his official policies coming out of his Ministry are saying another thing."

We agreed with PLUS TV assessment, but for a different reason. In an environment of protest against the gender policy and UniBAM, the political lesson was clear, governance in a democracy with diverse groups require the state to arbitrate the principle of fairness and equality. It was clear as well that we can be governed through constitutional morality, but public morality can tainted parliamentarians views that is solely tempered by cabinet and parliamentary debate. The irony of the constitutional marches were that everyday indigenous people came out to support the marches, despite their their 30 year struggle of marginalization and use of the Courts to get customary land rights. Spokesperson Cristina Coc commented, “we are equally responsible to ensure state accountability to protect the human rights of all and not some. Therefore, all laws, policies and actions must be consistent with the constitution.” Showing a direct disconnect between leadership understanding of citizenry accountability.


In 2014, Jamaican , Professor Brendan Bain was fired from his job, as regional director for CHART, The Caribbean  HIV/AIDS Regional Training Network  as a result of Advocacy work supported by UniBAM and led by The Caribbean Vulnerable Communities over a 9 month period. We took the position,..." that the termination is not about academic freedom, or even the substance of Bain’s testimony, it is about a program leader publicly undermining the very program and principles he was mandated to support.” Still pastors in Jamaica mobilized and representatives from Belize Action did so as well as seen below.

In August 2016, The Belize Supreme Court, declared Belize Sodomy Law unconstitutional. Our opponents from the National Evangelical Association of Churches of Belize (N.E.A.B) sought to organize further protest against the decision. There were two protest on on August 23rd and another on august 26th with conflated the decision with government corruption. Again the Mayas were called out, but this time, it was clear that many were ask by their Pastor to join the protest, but few understood the issue. From behind the scenes, I was told that one  Alcalde was aware that the Pastors were misrepresenting the legal decision  to the Maya people. the idea that people would join a protest because" my Pastor said so," was incredulous at minimum. The first protest had about 1,000 people when the rallies in 2011, the marches in 2013 were added the total number estimated was 6,100 persons who joined in opposition to the acknowledgement of the rights to another group of Belizeans.


UniBAM 11 years of fighting the status quo through litigation and legal research brought was not only a social change, but a political shift in tone about how the state and the party in opposition should respond to LGBT Belizeans. It inspired the development of Our Circle-a Family-Focused NGO, P.E.T.A.L an organization focus on Lesbian and Bisexual Women, a Trans organization and two youth inclusive NGO called E.Y.B.M and B.Y.E.C. In addition, we maintain a policy seat in the multi-sectoral response for HIV as a Commissioner. Though small, offer the embryonic foundation of a social infrastructure that focus on quality of life issues for L.G.B.T Belizean. Internationally, we partnered with 28 International NGO, made our position knows at the UN Human Rights Council for The Universal Periodic Review and the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (I.C.C.P.R). We represent as a board member of The Commonwealth Network called (TCEN) and remained apart of the OAS Coalition since 2007.  All done with an army of three staff and a cost of $500,000us over 10 years. It is clear that our efforts have filtered in classrooms across the country in high schools, junior colleges and at University Level for debate and reflection. We learn quickly that litigation has to be given life with parallel strategy has to occur to advance legislative reform. The next stage is institutional coordination and Anti-Discrimination. For us here in Belize, backlash was a blessing, it offered our government evidence that there was a social issue, it galvanized a social movement and it has set the pace of our community to organized and defend itself.  Inspiring action is about the human heart and a belief that we carry the burden of our social transformation through acts of courage. Things are quite now, after years of conflict. The struggle continues!

Minister Boots Martinez  Catfight Tooth and nail with UniBAM

Opposition Leader comments on Gender Policy 2013


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