An Inconvenient Truth that is all too Human! Belizean Prospective of the Commonwealth.
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
Bengal Famine 1943
Grief of loosing his wife