Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Deconstructing a System of Oppression in Belize and the Caribbean

Posted 4th November, 2014

As a presenter at  the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Intersex Association World Conference in Mexico City in October. It was my hope that I could share our experience on L.G.B.T activism in Belize. Knowledge transfer, it seems is not static, as I learned to appreciate how activism have given life to the term,"Deconstructing a system of Oppression." Whether in Saudi Arabia, the Sudan, Ethiopia, Iran or Belize we have all sought to assert and defend our rights, freedoms and dignity, in creative ways. When compared to efforts in the Caribbean, the death sentence that hangs in five countries in the world does not hang over activists heads. In this blog, we will look at how our response to deconstructing system of oppression have evolved organically at the national and regional levels.



In over three decades of independence, Belize has not needed to address sexual orientation or gender identity issues. UniBAM mission of using a rights-base approach to reduce stigma and discrimination was magnified when it agreed to support the role of claimant in the constitutional case around section 53 of the criminal code, Belize's sodomy law. The case became 668 of 2010.


Looking back, we did not see that the strategy of litigation as an effort to deconstruct a system of oppression and that it would amplify, the gaping holes in our rights protection and enforcement mechanisms. We did not know how, it was a means to an end that would be transformational. We discovered very quickly, however, how, our opponents would defend the current system of oppression, driven by ideology. We saw the media play its part with a non-scientific polls trying the shape the narrative of public attitude and playing the sovereignty card that calls US support for L.G.B.T rights as a " war" on poor countries.



Advancing L.G.B.T Human Right through litigation was further met with threats, character assassination, physical assault, rallies, demands to remove the H.F.L.E teachers manual,blacklisting of the organization by the Catholic school system to do health and rights education work in in March 2013 and constitutional marches as well. A traditional strategy of institutional isolation, knowledge stigmatization and intimidation through mass mobilisation. In addition threats, but the lesson, it seems, is that rights advancement does not come without action that tries to maintain the social status quo of invisibility. It does not come without personal sacrifice and insecurity and one learns that fear, must inform, but not dictation how we live our lives. The national narrative has evolved, however, like never before.







One of the crucial things one learns about sustaining a system of oppression, is controlling information using half-truths with a goal to make people believe or trust the information given. The (HFLE)-Health and Family Life Education teachers Manual is an example. Scott Stirm on 13th September, 2012 was quoted as saying the following:


“It was obvious to us, you could see a homosexual agenda that was in the manual but the general feel and overtone of the whole manual was kind of like stepping on the gas concerning sexual activity and that flies right in the face of some of the policies of the Ministry of Health and some of the others that are saying to discourage sexual activity among young people, particularly adolescents or pre-adolescents and yet here this is geared for standards four, five and six, ages nine to twelve and it’s asking questions like: how long should a couple date before having sex?  If a guy pays for the date is he entitled to, you know, kissing, touching, having sex?  This is to our nine and ten year olds right, and so those kinds of things just immediately started to jump out, as well as at the beginning of the manual it’s very strongly the emphasis that they are talking.  They are intentionally presenting values that they know are going to fly right in the face of the parents of these children.”

Stirm Spoke of the homosexual agenda, but failed to inform the people of the fundamentalist agenda of propagandizing, using legitimate spaces like business, education etc. Proof of that agenda comes from the Belize Prayer Network which clearly speaks of control of a society using the seven pillars as referenced in this snapshot below. Stirm, through Belize Action, coalition paved the way to get the Anglican and Catholic Churches to signed up against the section 53 challenge and  supported a statement sent to the Secretary General of CariCOM that led to the deferment of regional leaders endorsing a road-map on reducing stigma and discrimination. Belize Action also worked on misrepresenting our presence at the OAS in March, 2014 where a circular spoke of " filing a complaints!" and additional statements that our concerns expressed was,"a pack of lies straight from the pits of hell!"

 











At the regional level, we saw Advocates International through its contacts, organize regional meeting with Lawyers across the Caribean.A meeting held in Jamaica in 2010 highlighted how American groups have sought to push the American Christian right wing agenda. We know that a meeting was held between November 5-7, 2010 with 50 lawyers from the Caribbean region whose agenda was to speak about the “Truth” of Human Rights from Trinidad, Barbados, Antigua, St. Lucia, Guyana, Jamaica and other English speaking territories that was hosted by Advocates Caribbean in association with the Lawyers Christian fellowship of Jamaica at Knutsford Courts Hotel. Among the international speakers were Pierro Tozzi, senior counsel for Global Alliance Defense Fund; Justice, Alice Soo Hon, judge of the court of Appeals for Trinidad and Tobago and attorney at law Carla Soverall of Trinidad and Tobago who spoke on 'The Truth Behind Discrimination Law: The Constitution and Equal Opportunity Legislation'. Local Jamaican speakers spoke of The Truth Behind Abortion', with presenters Hyacinth Griffith, Jamaican attorney-at-law; Roma Paul, attorney-at-law of Trinidad and Tobago and local advocates of pro-life Dr Wayne West and wife Dr Doreen Brady-West. Dr Brady-West and Dr West have been advocates of the anti-abortion stance, working together with Shirley Richards and members of the Lawyers Christian Fellowship of Jamaica to lobby Government on the bill now before the Houses of Parliament for debate and ratification.



These meeting follows previous efforts in Jamaica, like one that happened on 10th December, 2011. Fellow activists reported that Pierro Tozzi was present at a human rights meeting at the University of the West Indies. Pierro was also present for a Belize Action meeting sharing his knowledge abut the ‘True Human Rights.”




At the seven hour long meeting, fellow activists Maurice Tomlinson wrote his experience below:
…Among the persons who sacrificed an entire Saturday to be in attendance at this event (which ran from 8:30 a.m. to well after its stated end of 2:30) were two sitting judges of Jamaica’s Supreme Court, the country's Attorney General (who brought greetings on behalf of the Justice Minister), the Executive Director of the Broadcasting Commission (which regulates content distributed via the electronic media), Jamaica's Chief Parliamentary Counsel (who is responsible for drafting the country’s laws), the Legal Counsel to all Parliamentarians, the Director of the Norman Law School Legal Aid Clinic (which is responsible for training all lawyers in Jamaica) and the Executive Director of the Airports Authority of Jamaica. Special mention was made of the presence of a Jamaican couple now residing in Britain who were denied the right to foster children there because they objected to homosexuality.   

The stated aims of the symposium were to:
1) Re-examine the role of law in society;
2) Increase public awareness of the potential danger that exists if human rights are freed from their traditional moral foundations;
3) Examine the subversive effect of the “fallacies” of popular human rights rhetoric on the democracy and
4) Examine major human rights treaties.


These meeting follows previous efforts in Jamaica, like one that happened on 10th December, 2011. Fellow activists reported that Pierro Tozzi was present at a human rights meeting at the University of the West Indies. Pierro was also present for a Belize Action meeting sharing his knowledge of ‘True Human Rights.” In Addition, he has been to meetings in the Caribbean on November 5-7, 2010 with 50 Caribbean lawyers again September 21-23, 2012. The Accra Beach Hotel in Christ Church, Barbados as a speaker.

This is important, as US right wing groups attack not only the gatekeepers of rights, but the social and cultural issues related to gender and sexuality. Way Out Ministries have sought to promote Reparative Therapy as a solution to cure homosexuals. They have offices in Jamaica, Trinidad and Guyana. This is despite, Exodus International denouncing the approach as not working.
The work of Right wing groups continued in 2013 with World Congress for Families meeting in Port of Spain as they did their thing. We saw the presence of the Elpis Centre,   Rebekah Ali-Gouveia speak at the August 2013 event in Port of Spain, along with many other speaks of dominionists ideology mindset. In addition, Sarah Flood Beaubrun of St. Lucia, former Health Minister, former Minister of Home Affair and Gender Relations, and UN Deputy Permanent Representative. We saw Justice Alice So Hon as well  as seen below. A familiar face, Pierro Tozzi, a US lawyer, has been working the Caribbean for quite awhile now. He has shown up in Belize, Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.





Deconstructing oppression, it seems is a process, it is opportunistic in nature and must be sustain with a clear vision. The United Belize Advocacy work is about policy engagement and research at the national, hemispheric, regional and Global levels. When the state refused to engaged us locally, we simply wrote a shadow report for the Universal Periodic Review in 2009 and got a statement globally, to frame our narrative. When we needed to leverage platform issues, we joined WIN Belize and became a Commissioner of the National AIDS Commission. When we had the constitutional marches in 2013 against UniBAM and the Gender policy, we simply supported the launched of the Southern Poverty Law Center Report, Dangerous Liaisons. When the state did not take us seriously, we engaged the OAS General Assembly in 2008 to 2014 and worked as part of the LAC coalition to advance sexual orientation and gender identity resolutions which created systems of support, like the L.G.B.T Unit, thematic hearing, calls for research on legislation and member states to address adequate protections in policies and laws base on sexual orientation and gender identity. We wrote again shadow reports in 2013 for the Universal Periodic Review and The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.The result, was direct engagement with the state. When we needed a Global Voice, we joined the Sexual Rights Initiative, Global Rights and Heartland Alliance. 


Regionally,we re-joined CARIFLAGS in 2014 after a couple of years of laps and continued our approach to leveraging spaces in international relationships. When we wanted regional support on Professor Bain, the regional relationships were leveraged to get the UWI to respond to our concerns and 35 organizations joined in support.  It was the first time that Civil Society collectively showed their political muscle in the region. Now, its about harnessing that energy again. At the regional level, our Jamaican allies, filed, constitutional challenges on against their buggery law locally,another on right to information against the media and another case at the OAS. Furthermore, a case was filed against Belize and Trinidad Immigration law to advance rights concerns at the regional level. While we are not there yet at dismantling our system of oppression, we certainly are on the right track in the use of section 53  of the criminal code  and other litigation, as tools to try to deconstruct systems of oppression.

In addition, we have used research to build a knowledge infrastructure, that is both international and local. For example,we have the only L.G..B.T legal Review that looks at constitutional protections and gaps in subsidiary laws among CARICOM member states and have seen the political tone changed nationally as  a result of eight years of Advocacy.


In an interview done May 13th, 2011 the Prime Minister, Dean Barrow made the comment about our litigation and it’s consequence in the following way:

one of the things that we have to be grateful for in this country is the culture wars we see in the United States have not been imported into Belize Well obviously this is the start of exactly such a phenomenon,...

Until the Prime Minister Of Belize said in his response to the Gender Policy, which came up on May 30th, 2013. The Belize Prime Minister of Dean Barrow is noted as saying, “There can be no discrimination in terms of employment opportunities, in terms of access to health care, in terms of the services that the society offers. This administration certainly is not concerned about what happens in the bedrooms of the employees of the government, there are constitutional protections for public officers, properly appointed, and even with respect to open vote workers there can never be any kind of interference, any kind of surveillance, any kind of concern about the sexual orientation of the employees of government"


While the Leader of the Opposition, Francis Fonseca said prior on 29th May, 2013, “I am the leader of a political party that embraces all Belizeans. I have Belizeans in my party who are homosexuals and we embrace all Belizeans........that will make for a stronger and vibrant party that is reflective of Belize and our society..."





 Later on Independence day, the Prime Minister Of Belize added in his Independence Day Speech in 2013, the following, "...Government will therefore fully respect the right of the churches to propagate their understanding of the morality, or immorality, of homosexuality. But what Government cannot do is to shirk its duty to ensure that all citizens, without exception, enjoy the full protection of the law."



What this indicated to us, was a change in the political tone in Belize, but the substance remains a challenge. What this indicated was that The United Belize Advocacy Movement work in litigation, community mobilisation and political engagement  had challenged the system to reflect on protection-gaps that are a concern specifically for L.G.B.T Citizenry, but as a whole as well. While we are far from advancing the work of societal acknowledgement and broader protection. The work we have done so far, has enabled us to refine our work better, not only in Belize, but in our response among CARICOM member states.Time will tell, how far we get in addressing violence and discrimination. At the moment, its one hell of a ride, as we struggle to refine our approach to deconstruct hundreds of years of oppression.



PM 2013 Independence Day Address

Source:http://www.guardian.bz/index.php?option=com_content&id=6824:prime-minister-dean-barrows-independence-day-address

PM comments on the Gender Policy 2013
http://www.7newsbelize.com/sstory.php?nid=25663 

Leader of the Opposition Speaking on Gender Policy and inclusion
http://www.7newsbelize.com/sstory.php?nid=25639&frmsrch=1

Blacklisting of UniBAM
 http://www.7newsbelize.com/sstory.php?nid=28150http://www.7newsbelize.com/sstory.php?nid=28150

HFLE Blacklisting
http://edition.channel5belize.com/archives/75834

Elpis Centre
http://elpiscentre.weebly.com/the-elpis-centre.html 

Speakers for the WCF meeting in Port of Spain
http://elpiscentre.weebly.com/the-elpis-centre.html 

AIDS Free World Comments on right wing in Jamaica
http://www.aidsfreeworld.org/Publications-Multimedia/Countdown-to-Tolerance/2011/December/Christian-fundamentalists-homophobia-on-display.aspx

Sarah Flood Beaubrun CARIFAM
http://www.carifam.com/about-us/our-history http://www.carifam.com/about-us/our-history  

Way Out Ministries
http://hiswayout.com/caribbean-ministry-trinidadtobago-and-guyana-2013/