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

Sunday, December 17, 2017

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