Homosexuality has always been one of those things that everyone accepts is part of the Belizean society but no one addresses publicly, least of all on a legal or policy level. But the case of the United Belize Advocacy Movement versus the Attorney General of Belize, which is asking for the decriminalization of sodomy, has changed all that. In the build up to the trial, the issue is being discussed in detail in churches, at work, on the streets and in homes across the country. Tonight 7 News correspondent Janelle Chanona presents part one of a documentary on the Belizean reality of homosexuality.
Dean Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize, May 13th 2011
"I would limit myself to saying that as a government has taken the position that it needs to argue for the constitutionality of the law that is in place that's being challenged and so I would not go beyond that official position. I am not prepared to comment on my own psychological conviction or lack thereof. That is the official position of the government. This is one time when it might be wise for me to say nothing more."
Pastor Scott Stirm, Jubilee Ministries, Belmopan
"By natural law they cannot reproduce. Therefore they must recruit and I want to say this in the strongest terms possible. That's what this is all about. This is their evangelistic campaign."
Martha Carillo, Regional Discrimination Unit, PANCAP, CARICOM
"It is not about changing people's values, it's not about seeking acceptance. I think the bottom line is that people need to be respected and we cannot have laws that disrespect the human rights of individuals."
Johnny Briceno, Leader of the Opposition
"The party does not have a position as yet and we'll certainly have to discuss as a party before we have a position."
Pastor Louis Wade Junior, Talk Show Host, Christian Youth Motivational Speaker
"We love people. We love these people. We love all people. It is the behaviour that we have a problem with."
Caleb Orozco, Executive President, United Belize Advocacy Movement
"I am willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to enforce my right and my freedom...as a human being."
Janelle Chanona (stand-up)
"The subject of sex is typically an uncomfortable topic for Belizeans. But debate over whether the laws should be changed to decriminalize sodomy in this country has ignited fiery reactions from both supporters and opponents."
As it currently stands, the Criminal Code of Belize states that "Every person who has carnal knowledge against the order of nature with any person or animal shall be liable for imprisonment for ten years." But in early 2011, Caleb Orozco, the Executive President of the United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM) filed for judicial review of the law, contending that the words "any person or" should be
removed because they are a violation of his Constitutional right to sexual freedom.
Caleb Orozco, Executive Director, UNIBAM
"The case is personal and it's about reminding the system that my human rights isn't about picking and choosing which you'll support and which you will ignore. My human rights is total. It's not to be mandated by the church because the church does not govern this country. Period."
If the law is changed, Belize would be only the second Caribbean country to decriminalize sodomy...Bahamas being the first. In May, that possible outcome prompted the Belize Council of Churches, which represents the major Christian denominations of Belize, as well as the Belize Association of Evangelical Churches to join the case as interested parties. The religious leaders insist Belize's very soul is at stake.
Bishop Dorrick Wright, Bishop, Roman Catholic Diocese of Belize
"We have the story from the old testament of Sodom and Gomorrah...destroyed a whole country...US...popular, very common...I don't
think we have to follow...think for ourselves...what would be the evil outcome of this?...permit same sex marriage...and children mustn't think it is acceptable. It's just wrong."
Good morning Belize and welcome to another edition of Rise and Shine, my name is Louis Wade.
One of the most vocal opponents to the gay rights case has been talk show host and Christian Youth motivational speaker, Pastor Louis Wade Junior.
Pastor Louis Wade Junior, Talk Show Host/Motivational Speaker
"Mark my words, it starts with one lawsuit, when this lawsuit is over, if they get their way, the next set of lawsuits will be against the social security board and other large organizations, insurance companies must give compensation not only a person but also to their spouse. Third set of litigation is going to be church and religious organizations when they refuse to marry homosexual
couples. And then the final set of mass litigation will be against people who stand up and say this is wrong."
Pastor Scott Stirm, Jubilee Ministries, Belmopan
"Presently in the United Kingdom, there are lawsuits trying to lower the age of consent. That proves to me, the agenda. They are after the children, they are recruiting campaigns and it's for people that have, I would say, demented sexual practices and they want
to go after the kids. That is happening globally, all over the world. It's called the child sex trade and this is another example of that same agenda. They want to go to younger and younger ages. And again, these are the things that cause us to stand up and rise with a lion's roar and say "no way", we will not allow this to happen, not only our watch."
Both Wade and his Christian colleague Pastor Scott Stirm insist that no one is born gay and maintain Belize's laws should uphold rights, not choices.
Pastor Scott Stirm, Jubilee Ministries
"It's a learnt behaviour...it's something people pick up. But I have ministered to I would say countless people, particularly in sexual abuse situations and the majority of them have been sexually abused. When you understand clinical homosexual behaviour and clinical homosexual relations, the absence of the fatherly role plays a huge factor. So you have classic foundations for homosexuality. But then you have other people that just pick up from sexual perversion or exposing to pornography and the power of suggestion and things like that."
Louis Wade, Jr., Christian Youth Motivation Speaker, Talk Show Host
"If they are born that way, it will be found in their gene. Where is the gene?"
I have met ex-gays and ex-lesbians but I have never met ex-whites...this is not a civil rights issue.
Similarly strong sentiments were also voiced in February 1998 when the cruise ship the MS Leeward docked in Belize carrying eight hundred and sixty gay men onboard. For Orozco, that incident and his own experiences highlights that he is living in a homophobic society...which is why the majority of Belizean men who have sex with men live secret lives.
Caleb Orozco, Executive President, UNIBAM
"Some of the things they say were like faggot, bonefire, they basically use a lot of the Jamaican dancehall slangs to let me know where my place is and that's rather frustrating because all I was doing was going to buy condense milk. I don't believe that I deserve to be treated like that especially if I'm not looking at you or harassing you in any way."
I need my freedom to be honest with people. I perpetuate my own discrimination or my own experience of homophobia...by remaining silent.
Martha Carillo, Technical Associate, Regional Stigma and Discrimination Unit, PANCAP, CARICOM
"Very few people will come to a workshop, very few people will access services at a health centre if they know the minute they step in they are going to be ridiculed or they are going to be treated any less than anybody else."
Martha Carillo is Technical Associate of the PANCAP Regional Stigma and Discrimination Unit. Carillo recently concluded a baseline study on stigma and discrimination with various focus groups, the media, the police, the Belize Defence Force and the religious community about populations such as men who have sex with men.
Martha Carillo, Technical Associate, Stigma and Discrimination Unit, PANCAP
"The preliminary findings are that stigma and discrimination are very much alive in Belize and it is coming from sectors that make it even more scarier for all of us. Because you would think that some of these would be sectors that would be embracing, loving, protecting, providing security and the experiences that have been shared with us indicate that we really are living in a critical situation and something needs to be done. And if we have laws, practices and policies that are contributing to this then it needs to be addressed in a very frank and genuine manner."
Ivan Cruikshank, Policy and Advocacy Coordinator, Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition
"The most effect response to address HIV and AIDS has to be addressing the social and legal environment, within the country."
According to Ivan Cruickshank, Policy and Advocacy Coordinator of the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition, countries with high HIV prevalence rates, like Belize, should be supporting every effort to eradicate stigma and discrimination to curb the spread of the disease.
"At all levels we are saying to policy makers, review your existing legal and policy environment so that people feel that this is a space that they can come forward and engage with the health care system...that's a big issue for us."
Maurice Tomlinson, AIDS Free World
"This is about bringing everybody to the table, not leaving anybody out. Because when you exclude people, that is when you provide an opportunity for harm and hate and disease to spread. And these diseases don't usually stay within the vulnerable groups."
Pastor Louis Wade Junior
"It is a lie. The evidence shows for example in Belize that HIV and AIDs is driven not by the homosexual community but by the heterosexual community. That is well defined in Belize. It is also well defined throughout the Caribbean."
The pastors refute the argument that laws criminalizing sodomy have a direct relation to HIV prevalence rates.
"I am talking about statistics in European...these are places where...they have the most freedoms. Not in the closet...not in the closet...rise in their circles."
Pastor Scott Stirm, Jubilee Ministries
"At a United Nations level, they have an agenda, they are people in that that have an agenda and they are pushing that agenda...all financial aid that comes from the European Union...and so that's why are people hemming and hawing over this issue, it's because there's big bucks behind it."
"They are free to form an opinion, an opinion does not provide the basis for reality. It simply offers an expression or description of an issue. Period."
Cultural attitude isn't going to change because of one judgement...because of misrepresentation of the facts and the fear mongering being sold by the religious politicians. There will be years and years around what really is sexual orientation and to an extent, gender identity and what does that actually mean for the individual.
Janelle Chanona (stand-up)
"In the months leading up to this trial, proponents and opponents of this issue will no doubt campaign heavily in their efforts to help you answer the fundamental question of this case: "Should the state legislate morality?" Because make no mistake, whatever decision is handed down in the courtroom, keeping the status quo or changing attitudes towards sexual minorities will be decided on in the court of public opinion. Reporting for 7News I am Janelle Chanona."
The case of Caleb Orozco versus the Attorney General of Belize is scheduled to go to trial in December 2011. UNIBAM's legal team includes former Attorney General of the United Kingdom Lord Peter Goldsmith, former Attorney General of Belize Godfrey Smith and Senior Counsel Lisa Shoman. The churches have retained Senior Counsels Rodwell Williams and Eamon Courtenay as well as Jackie Marshallek, Christopher Coye and Michel Chebat.