Up until this morning, it was illegal to be a homosexual man in Belize. Today at 10am, the justice at the Belize Supreme court, after deliberating for…years…turned that around. Acceptance rather than rejection? Love rather than hate? Belize just got more beautiful for me today.
I asked my friend Colette Kase, who flew to Belize City this morning to be there for the historic and IN NO WAY guaranteed verdict to write something for me. And she did. Please don’t wince at her British spelling habits.
And as my friend Ali just put it beautifully “after the rain comes a rainbow”. Hurray!
If you’ve never been to Belize, you probably wouldn’t know, but until recently, very recently, Belize was one of approximately 76 countries that criminalised consenting sexual acts between homosexual men. Even if you’ve been to Belize, it’s likely that this fact wasn’t even on your radar, but the truth is that many of the people who provided you with the amazing experience you had here were LGBT Belizeans and many were forced to hide their sexuality from their families, communities and even their employers.
Three years ago a very brave young Belizean gay man, Caleb Orozco and his highly respected Belizean lawyer (and Senator at the time), known for her work in human rights, took the Belizean government to court to change that. They were supported by a team of human rights organisations and lawyers, who are all committed to fighting for human rights internationally.
You see, Belize is a young country in terms of independence and because of that they are still ironing certain things out. The Constitution of Belize is a powerful document based on some of the most modern ideals, protecting the rights of people within Belize. But, there were also some rather antiquated laws that didn’t jive with the concept of freedom, equality and dignity for all outlined in the Constitution. One of those laws was Section 53 of the Criminal Code.
This law, like so many other laws that originated during British colonialism around the world, meant that lgbt people in Belize were stigmatised, had no right to a private personal life, could be discriminated against and had difficulty accessing health and other services. It made life much more difficult for lgbt Belizeans and that simply wasn’t a good thing. It also made lgbt tourists wary about visiting the country and while there has never been any evidence that lgbt tourists have ever been discriminated against (and I can speak for that personally), many chose not to visit in solidarity or simply because they were worried.
Today, in the Supreme Court, Caleb finally got his judgement, 3 years after the case commenced and it’s great news. LGBT Belizeans are now protected from discrimination. Yes, you heard me right. LGBT Belizeans now have equal protection under the Constitution of Belize. It also means that if you are an LGBT tourist, you have nothing to worry about now – not that you did before – but now, you know you are visiting a country that supports equal treatment of all of their citizens.
Of course, there is still some way to go, but we can be proud of the bravery of Caleb and the tenacity and skill of his lawyer Lisa for establishing a ground breaking precedent for the rest of the Caribbean, which will impact on the lives of so many in such a positive way.
As First Lady of Belize, the Special Envoy for Women and Children, Ms. Kim Simplis Barrow said on this historic day, “It’s a great day for Belize; it’s a great day for human rights; one step closer to dignity and the respect we all deserve.”