Thursday, March 29, 2018

Belize: Challenges and Hopes in Building a LGBT Movement !

29th March, 2018

In Belize's movement building process we are writing our own rules. Over the years we saw a focus on systems, we had no visible pool of leaders. So an investment was made to build a social infrastructure of leaders, but then we discovered visibility in a hostile environment require time to recharge. Many movements focus on strategic planning, resource mobilization and project management and collaboration which are all important and forget that their human capital, the leaders are mortals who are not limitless in their invincibility to challenge social norms in a hostile environment. What we fail to realize is that the human element in the collective must take the time to manage their well-being. Many are affected by cancer, death of a parent, hypertension, depression, personal intimate relationships, violence, back problems, heart diseases and a myriad of other health and psychological issues. healing is as important as organizing.

When one looks at leadership, we don't immediately realize that the humans come with quirks, frailties that include inability to cope with criticisms, stress, impatiences, diverse management and communication styles. More importantly, no human being likes to be pigeon-holed into an expectation.  I have been working on LGBT Health and human rights policy issues for over a decade and this is what I have learned over time. Self-care matters; use your experience to instruct your strategies to mobilise; study the problem and look for social patterns; be solutions oriented at all times;  any effort is a long-term investment in managing the efficient use of human capital.  Last weekend, The United Belize Advocacy Movement coordinated a Cohesion Retreat that was as much about community strategy as it was about self-care. We did massages, ziplining and yoga. In zip-lining I was reminded about the need to, set the example. No screaming, no shaking, just listening to the instructor on how to stop when I was near to the next platform. The result, I simplified my thoughts and focus on the experience! 

I had never done ziplining before, I was nervous, full of anxiety and found it ridiculous, until I saw our trans sister Honey Bee, with legs and hand shaking stepped up to the challenge. I even heard her say later, " if i can do that, I can overcome any fear I have!"  While Honey Bee was shaking all the way, she never wavered in her commitment to reach the end of the platform which had 4 stages. Others joined in the action-oriented effort in setting the tone of silent encouragement to participate.It was a team effort which included, no drama, lots of jokes and a laser sharp focus to reach the other platforms. While one person was not prepared to zipline, she re-purposed herself to be the group's photographer. Without her, we would not have any of these images. Her action reminded me that in movement building, we have an opportunity to define, believe and take ownership of community process and that it is not just defined in strategic plan, project implementation and community. The key lesson here was that she volunteered her time to support collective action of team-building. I never saw an objection to her decision. As we all intuitively knew the value of her decision. This is how leadership advances, we initiate, learn to take risk and set the standard to act.

We learned, as well, that we cope differently with the same challenges. I was chewing gum with a stoic face while other were in a strike a pose moment and making noise for fun while moving done hundreds of feet in the air. I was told ,"My God, you moved like you did this before!" I smiled only, because it was my first time. Movement building,  requires a psychological shift in the impossible , an ah ha moment that leads to defining  your contribution, even if its just, but for a time. What I learned was that a pioneer may volunteer their time to an issue, but the people around study the patterns of social engagement, creating social expectations around that person efforts. I discovered that it not about being liked or validated, its about recognizing that there is an outcome to reach that involves a process that is dynamic. A process that involves listening, strategic communication to motivate, to inform, to inspire, to structure and give life to a vision to act. It is a process of centralized analysis and feelings-based responses. The most intangible things are being able to cope with  fear, lost confidence,failure and to refine disagreements as opportunities to act. We began in fear, but we posed as  individuals in a team prepared to act with all its diversity.

When we finished we took time to reflect about our physical bodies. Yoga, might be a simply act, but its quite effective to raise ones consciousness of breathing movements. Listening, allowed us to examine our psychological and physical limitations as individuals living in a hostile environment. this is important as LGBT work, exist in an environment of hostility. "Faggit!", "battiman!" "Shitty cock!" "You will not make it pass 2016!" "Orozco should be put infront of an Orlando style massacre"  has been words used to attack my dignity and many in the community. And I will be the first to say it has a cumulative effort. Of note, I am reminded that one of our colleagues sister dies, another father died from prostate cancer, my own sister was breathing on 3 pints of blood before the retreat and I had to deal with an attempted murder in our community. The result, is that family issues and work related issues can take a told on our sleep patterns which amplifies our exhaustion and burn out in this work.  Yoga offered us all a short time to be still, to clear our minds to listen to our bodies and what it needs. For me, it was about internal peace! More importantly, we discovered in partner yoga that empathy is a big part of how we negotiate our differences as a movement. I was smiling with my partner, touching his inner thighs as part of our poses to discover that in that moment, we both could touch each other without conflict, feel awkard about the poses and honest about our reactions. We laughed most of the time. In the back to back yoga, it was about feeling the breathing of the other with a deliberate effort to synchronize our breathing patterns. It was clear feeling the patterns of breathing was difficult because we were easily distracted by a minutia of things in the environment. As each person could be easily distracted in their act of coordination, in movement building, personal stress, family conflict, death, depression,  job loss, limited resources can all derail  the pool of leaders involved in a moment. We took the time to be reminded that the work to find balance is a constant struggle. The work to internalize a process of internal peace is about timing and its different for every person.

Our the Two days was not only spent on working on ourselves, we invested time and energy in strategic thinking, in Political, Economic, Social and Technology-base (PEST) analysis, in community mobilization work. the workshop offered the representatives a base-line structure that examined our function and progress in a hostile environment. It offered us a peek into the limits of our leadership base, it offered us insight into the limitations of strategic thinking and advocacy among our community and informed us about our operational values as a collective in how we engage each other. At its core, movements require a diver in a position to find resources, document strategic direction, provide technical, financial and mentoring support and leaders who have a basic support structure to thrive in their visibility and advocacy. Many will exist, but few will be tenacious to stay the course to see social transformation occur. The final lesson is that social inequity will remain in Belize for its our shared silence that will sustain it.  Movement, don't come with a magic bullet or a one size fits all guide book.  

Finally, we closed not with an evaluation, but a pause that our effort to organize is challenged by how we frame a National Social Marketing Research Strategy to take advantage of preliminary data which tells us that there is over 12,000 men who have sex with men and over 1200 Trans Belizeans. We are challenged to leverage the private sector and structure our own community economic productivity and political voice in Belize. One thing I have learnt as a Belizean, there will always be someone who finds the social solutions to transform our society for the better. Many will want to lead, few will be effective, even less will be tenacious to make a long-term investment to stay the course. With luck and tenaciousness, Belize will set the standard among CARICOM member states. The struggle continues! 


Saturday, March 3, 2018

An Inconvenient Truth that is all too Human! Belizean Prospective of the Commonwealth.

2nd March, 2018

In January, 25 activist and related LGBT organizations met in London for Advocacy Week with the help of Kaleidoscope Trust, our secretariat for the Commonwealth Equality Network. While most of the network are unaware, Belize's only and oldest led LGBT-led policy and advocacy organization the United Belize Advocacy Movement have been engaged in policy and advocacy as a transnational and as a national strategy for over a decade. Our first attempt at building a transnational strategy started with the OAS LGBT Latin American and Caribbean Coalition in the Americas with the help of present Syngeria leaders. Our First meeting was Panama, in 2007. It was an awkward experience for I thought that the person, sitting in the seat during the General Assembly was the Foreign Minister. Oh, how little did I know! Of our political representatives.  How little did I know that most murders of trans people documented by the Trans Monitoring Murder Project in the world happened in Latin America and the Caribbean.The TDoR 2017 update revealed a total of 325 cases of reported killings of trans and gender-diverse people between 1st of October 2016 and 30th of September 2017, constituting an increase of 30 cases compared to last year’s update. The majority of the murders occurred in Brazil (171), Mexico (56), and the United States (25), adding up to a total of 2,609 reported cases in 71 countries worldwide between 1st of January 2008 and 30th of September, 2017.Over a four-year period, there were 1,600 cumulative LGBT murders that occurred in Brazil with 200 LGBT murders occurring in 2017 alone. In the US, FBI reports for 2017 revealed there were 6,063 single-bias incidents involving 7,509 victims− of that, 16.7% and 1.7% were victimized because of offenders sexual-orientation or gender identity bias respectively. In addition, in 2017 alone, there were 100 Anti-LGBT Bills introduced in 2017 in 29 states.

This is why, I am frank in every international space because lives have been lost in Latin America and The Caribbean. We owe it to ourselves to remember the blood spilled, in the name of state complicity through inaction, omission and indifference about the lives of its own LGBT citizens in the commonwealth. This is unacceptable!. And so, protest was abound inside and outside Organization of American States General Assembly meetings for years. Mostly respectfully in our protests, we recognize the stakes were high in trying to get the attention of the diplomats at the General Assembly. 8 years and nine resolutions later on Human Rights: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity we make the point about the power of collective organizing and political visibility in international spaces. Anti-right or not, we are going now where in the Americas nor the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth Equality Network members intuitively recognizes their colonial history that is generation in the making. We recognized that civility, smart engagement which include a history of national litigation, criminal code reforms, using human rights mechanisms like the Universal Periodic Review are among a  multi-layered transnational strategy to advance change. We also recognize the memories of colonial history which include the 1943 Bengal famine created on Winston Churchill orders that led to three million people starving to death; in Kenya, the October, 1952 state of emergency lead, according to Kenya Human Rights Commission 90,000 Kenyans executed, tortured or maimed during the crackdown, and 160,000 were detained in appalling conditions.  The times have change, but not the violations. LGBT political engagement exists in a fragile power structure of courtesy and communication, around the world.  

During Advocacy week we were able to meet with the Commonwealth Secretariat, its Secretary General, The All Parliamentarians Party Group ( a group of gay politicians that work across party isle) to map out political action and knowledge about advancing LGBT rights in the Commonwealth. The meetings demonstrated that it was possible to be gay and in parliament, it was possible to share national strategy and political communication and refine engagement. It offered members of the Commonwealth Equality Network a moment to strengthen high level communication skills with the political system as its a different political mechanism than the UN, the African  Commission and the Organization of American States. The intangibles cannot be denied, as it reinforced a moment of hope that the UK government will eventually get to all countries, large states and small states alike.


For Belize, we have been good at refining our asks and strategies when engaging the All Party Parliamentarian Group meeting; with Baroness Anelay, we took advantage of the time and have documented her efforts asking the right questions in parliament on Belize as well as looking at the need for High Commission Offices to be more locally responsive. 

I can firmly say, When I compare Belize to other Commonwealth countries, on how they responded to the LGBT debate, our government has been constructive and responsible. It did not threaten our freedom of movement, association or expression. It could have created an official position of harassment, jailing, advance administrative tactics to shut us down, incited hate or sustained surveillance. It did not! What it did do, was allow the cultural debate to happen in the media, it respected our right to seek redress in the Court. In addition, left open a social and political conversation that was reflective in national debate about our Gender Policy. What has Belize gotten for our engagement in London over the years. Well, I can point out to a few words on Twitter from Baroness Anelay and Lord Black of Brentwood in 2015  and 2018 offering questions to parliament. along with Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon on separate occasions. The intended result is about increasing engagements with the local UK high Commission.

Furthermore, the work of Commonwealth Equality Network has allowed The United Belize Advocacy Movement to expand its pool of high level communication that would not otherwise be immediately accessible. It has allowed us to inform the FCO on possible national and regional strategy and to leverage communication as evidence that the world has its eye on Belize. The chance encounter of meeting Baroness Anelay with the UK Global Alliance in 2016, showed that while hurdles among various states exists, work to build systems of support continues at the global, regional and hemispheric bodies. Despite death threats, levels of violence in many countries, anti-right resistance, political complicity at the national level, individuals and organizations alike continue to engage every power structure to reduce obstacles focusing on political strategy, resource mobilization,  national and international advocacy and legal defense. No one is giving up the fight to advance the ideals in the Universal Declaration of human rights. A stubborn lot we are, no matter where we are in the world. For me, I never forget the pain that we document in Belize through our Human Rights Observatory. For me, its that pain that informs, sustain and inspires action.
An inconvenient truth in our work is that we aspire to love, to be economically self-reliant, to be educated, to have access to healthcare, to have our systems of support that is called family. Expectations that our state is to acknowledged and support us, as citizens of the commonwealth. 

The work in London has been complemented with high level communication at the UN General Assembly side event in September, 2016 that was organized by the LGBT Core Group. It was an important space to  high light Belize as a country that was struggling to address LGBT rights.No, open LGBT Belizean ever spoke at a UN side Event before in our nations history. I was the first, and made use of the five minutes I was given to speak.

Meeting Joe Biden and talking to the Foreign Minister of the Netherlands at the door was over whelming. I know this because I was busy looking at the large screen in the hall not realizing, that former VP Joe Biden was waving his pencil at me. I was overwhelmed because of the way he spoke of his son before he died on a talk show and I got to not only shake his hand but hug him and talk to him, but for a minute. For me, there is nothing like family which supports us in good times and bad. He lost his wife, his daughter and eventually his son and through it all, he remain a human being. When an article notes," Beau apparently told his father Joe that he must be ok with his death, so he can help look after the wife and children Beau left behind." You know the value of life. For his son Beau Biden, he died at age 46 from a brain tumor called gioblastoma, knowing family matters. The Struggle Continues!

Trans Monitoring Murder Project 2017

Mau Mau Uprising

TMM 2016

Bengal Famine 1943

Grief of loosing his wife