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Murder of cross-dresser in Belize sparks outrage

Belize, gay news, Washington Blade

Belize (Photo by Greg Westfall via Wikimedia Commons)

The murder of a cross-dresser in Belize has sparked outrage among LGBT rights advocates in the Central American country.

The Reporter, a Belizean newspaper, reported two men fatally stabbed Joseph Sanchez, 18, in the chest early on Jan. 12 while walking on a street in Belize City, the country’s largest city.

The publication said authorities found Sanchez wearing a blouse, a short skirt and women’s underwear.

Channel 5 Belize reported police have concluded Sanchez was the victim of what the television station described as “an armed robbery turned violent.”

Sanchez’s brother, Abner Sanchez, told the Reporter he feels the two men deliberately targeted Sanchez — reports have emerged that Sanchez had previously received death threats from a man with whom the 18-year-old had been previously involved.

“It was a setup because they called him out of his bed,” Abner Sanchez told the Reporter. “He doesn’t normally walk those hours. He was always picked up.”

Jen Psaki, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, condemned Sanchez’s murder in a Jan. 16 statement.

“We send our condolences to Joseph’s friends and family and the entire LGBT community in Belize,” she said.

Psaki added the State Department is “encouraged by the Belizean authorities’ swift investigation into the killing.” She said the agency echoes “the government’s commitment to ensure that all citizens, without exception, enjoy the full protection of the law.”

Caleb Orozco, co-founder of the United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM), an HIV/AIDS advocacy group, expressed concern over the Belizean government’s response to Sanchez’s murder.

“It is my hope they don’t contaminate evidence in this case,” Orozco told the Washington Blade last week, citing a 2009 murder in which a court released the suspected perpetrator after alleging authorities forced him to confess to killing his partner. “Right now because there is not a definition of hate crime, the police is not legally obliged to say it was nothing other than a robbery gone wrong.”

Anti-LGBT violence and discrimination remain a serious problem in Belize in spite of the government’s recent efforts to combat it.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow last May defended his government’s revised gender equality policy that specifically includes sexual orientation. Belizean First Lady Kim Simplis-Barrow the same month spoke out against anti-gay discrimination and violence in a video that commemorated the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

“The Abominable Crime,” a film that documents anti-LGBT violence in Jamaica, last July won Best Feature Length Documentary at the 8th Belize International Film Festival in Belize City.

UNIBAM in 2010 filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court of the Judicature of Belize that challenges the country’s colonial-era anti-sodomy law.

Orozco said he has received hate mail and even death threats because of his advocacy. He told reporters during a Southern Poverty Law Center conference call last summer that two masked men broke into his yard and vandalized his car last May as court’s chief justice heard UNIBAM’s lawsuit against the sodomy law.

A participant of a demonstration against efforts to repeal the statute last July carried a hanging effigy with UNIBAM written onto it. Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development Minister Lisel Alamilla described it as “extremely concerning and even frightening” in a post to her Facebook page a few days later.

A Southern Poverty Law Center report highlights U.S. religious groups that have backed Belize Action, a group that opposes efforts to overturn the Central American country’s anti-sodomy law. The organization said these efforts have inflamed existing homophobic attitudes in Belize.

20
Jan
2014

Activist tells U.N. panel LGBT people face ‘brutal’ violence

Kenita Placide, United and Strong, St. Lucia, gay news, Washington Blade

Kenita Placide of United and Strong, an LGBT rights group in St. Lucia, on March 20 testified before the U.N. Committee on the Status of Women. (Photo courtesy of United and Strong)

A St. Lucian LGBT rights advocate told a U.N. commission last week that lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people around the world face “brutal physical and psychological violence”

“Globally, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people and others with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities face brutal physical and psychological violence,” said Kenita Placide of United and Strong, Inc., in a statement she read on behalf of 76 organizations from 28 countries during a U.N. Commission on the Status of Women meeting in New York on March 20. “We are subjected to harassment, assault and discrimination in the global North and South alike.”

Placide read the statement on behalf of the Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus. United Belize Advocacy Movement, AIDS Foundation of Suriname, Minority Rights Dominica, Space for Salvadoran Lesbian Women for Diversity in El Salvador, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International and the Council for Global Equality are among the groups that signed onto it.

“Realities and fears of violence and discrimination have direct impact on people’s ability to live safely, earn a living, have roofs over their heads and to be healthy,” reads the statement. “When people are persecuted because of their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity, they will be forced to recede, go underground, forfeit privacy and personal and family safety, even as they resist, organize and fight for justice at great personal risk in the North and South alike.”

St. Lucia is among the more than 70 countries in which homosexuality remains criminalized.

The U.S. is among the countries that have curtailed aid to Uganda after the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, last month signed a bill into law that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in January signed a draconian anti-gay measure that, among other things, bans same-sex “amorous relationships” and membership in an LGBT advocacy group.

The Jamaica Supreme Court last June heard a lawsuit that challenges the island’s anti-sodomy law under which those who are convicted face up to 10 years in prison with hard labor. The Supreme Court of the Judicature of Belize a month earlier heard a challenge to an identical statute the United Belize Advocacy Movement filed in 2010.

“The criminalization of adult consensual sexual activity and our communities, along with efforts by political and religious authorities to manipulate and stoke fears about sexual orientation and gender identity, only makes matters worse,” said the LBT Caucus in the statement that Placide read. “Whether at the national level or at the CSW (U.N. Commission on the Status of Women), decision makers must stop using these issues and our lives for their geopolitical gain.”

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon discussed anti-LGBT violence and discrimination in a video message during a panel with retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova, current Brooklyn Nets center Jason Collins and others that commemorated the 65th anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“An abuse against any of us is an affront to all,” said Ban. “Human rights can only be visible when we stand in solidarity as one.”

Vice President Joe Biden on March 22 said the U.S. should “champion” LGBT rights around the world during a speech at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual dinner in Los Angeles.

“I travelled to most countries in the world, and I can tell you, they’re looking to us as an example, as a champion of LGBT rights everywhere,” said Biden.

26
Mar
2014

Supporters mark global day against homophobia, transphobia

International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, Hong Kong, gay news, Washington Blade

A poster promoting the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia in Hong Kong (Photo courtesy of Bess Hepworth/Pink Season HK)

LGBT rights advocates in more than 120 countries will commemorate this year’s International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) with a series of vigils, conferences and other events.

Geena Rocero, a transgender Filipino fashion model who founded Gender Proud, a trans advocacy group, is among those who are scheduled to take part in an IDAHOT event outside of Manila, the country’s capital, that the Association of Transgender People in the Philippines has organized. Rocero on Thursday also participated in a candlelight vigil in Hong Kong that local LGBT rights advocates organized.

The Rainbow Pride Foundation, a Fijian LGBT advocacy group, on May 10 held its own candlelight vigil at a church in Suva, the Pacific island nation’s capital. Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education on the same day held a “conga against homophobia” in the Cuban capital as part of a series of events throughout the country that will commemorate IDAHOT.

The Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays on Friday will hold a symposium at a hotel in the Jamaican capital that will examine challenges that LGBT people in the Caribbean country continue to face. María Eugenia González, co-founder of the Georgia Safe Schools Coalition, is scheduled to attend an anti-bullying conference in the Peruvian city of Iquitos on May 21.

So-called rainbow flash mobs are scheduled to take place in at least 11 Russian cities on May 17. An estimated 100 people are expected to gather in Khabarovsk to release rainbow colored balloons in an IDAHOT demonstration that city officials have allowed to take place.

Svetlana Zakharova of the Russian LGBT Network told the Washington Blade earlier this week that her colleagues are “willing to defend their rights” in spite of the Kremlin’s ongoing crackdown on LGBT rights. These include a 2013 law that bans the promotion of so-called gay propaganda to minors.

“Whatever the difficulties, many LGBT (people) and their supporters in Russia are looking forward to participating in the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia,” said Zakharova.

Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays Executive Director Dane Lewis had a similar view, noting anti-LGBT violence and discrimination remain pervasive in the country.

“We need to begin to have discussions about the layers of stigma and discrimination experienced by LGBT Jamaicans and the challenges faced by those who identify as Christians,” he said.

Kate Montecarlo Cordova, chair of the Association of Transgender People in the Philippines, noted to the Blade that LGBT Filipinos lack legal protections and access to health care. She said hate crimes and speech, anti-trans harassment and bullying in the predominantly Muslim portion of the country that includes the island of Mindanao often go unreported.

“We, from the transgender community, feel that the IDAHOT celebration is important in our advocacy and in our lives,” said Cordova.

The Mexican government this year is officially organizing IDAHOT for the first time.

Enrique Torre Molina, an LGBT rights advocate and blogger in Mexico City, told the Blade earlier this week that he is hopeful that President Enrique Peña Nieto will speak at an IDAHOT event.

The British Council Mexico on Friday hosted an event that government officials, local LGBT activists and journalists attended.

“The conversation will go beyond the government’s official position and public policy on the subject of homophobia,” said Molina. “Fighting homophobia and promoting respect is, at the end, a task that concerns us all.”

The Finnish government on Thursday announced it will increase its contribution to the Global Equality Fund, a public-private partnership founded by C-SPAN co-founder John Evans that seeks to promote LGBT rights, by one million Euros. A State Department press release noted that Helsinki will continue to work with the governments of Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, the Arcus Foundation and other groups to “build on our shared commitment and partnership to advance freedom, equality and dignity for all.”

“Today of all days, we are reminded that the cause of justice can and must triumph over hatred and prejudice,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. “This is a day of action for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities and their allies all over the world. It is time to reaffirm our commitment to the equality and dignity of all persons, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Gays, trans people gain rights in 2013

IDAHOT first took place on May 17, 2005, to commemorate the World Health Organization’s decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.

This year’s commemoration takes place against the backdrop of significant progress in the LGBT rights movement in the U.S., Europe, Latin America and other regions of the world.

Ten U.S. states, Brazil, Uruguay, France, England, Wales and New Zealand have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples over the last year. The U.S. Supreme Court last June struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.

The Dutch Senate last December approved a bill that would allow trans people to legally change the gender on their birth certificates and other official documents without undergoing sterilization and sex reassignment surgery. A similar measure advanced in the Chilean Senate earlier this year.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley on Thursday signed a bill that bans anti-discrimination in his state. A similar measure took effect in neighboring Delaware last year.

The Indian Supreme Court last month issued a landmark ruling that recognizes trans people as a “third gender.”

Jamaican and Belizean judges last year heard lawsuits challenging their country’s laws that criminalize homosexuality. A Lebanese judge in March struck down the Middle Eastern nation’s anti-sodomy statute in the case of a trans woman who faced charges for allegedly having a relationship with a man.

Gay Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel was sworn into office last December. Angélica Lozano, a former Council woman in the Colombian capital, in March became the first openly LGBT person elected to the South American country’s Congress.

LGBT rights crackdowns continue in Africa, Russia

In spite of this progress, anti-LGBT violence and discrimination remain pervasive in many parts of the world.

The U.S. and several European countries cut aid to Uganda after the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, in February signed into a law a bill that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in January signed a draconian anti-gay bill that, among other things, bans membership in an LGBT advocacy group and punishes those who enter into a same-sex marriage with up to 14 years in prison.

The 2014 Winter Olympics took place in Sochi, Russia, in February against the backdrop of criticism over the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record.

Police arrested 10 activists who held rainbow and Russian flags as they sung the country’s national anthem near Moscow’s Red Square just before the games’ opening ceremony began. Authorities earlier in the day arrested four Russian LGBT rights advocates in St. Petersburg as they marched with a banner in support of adding sexual orientation to the Olympic charter’s anti-discrimination clause.

The Indian Supreme Court late last year recriminalized homosexuality — it announced in April it will consider a motion to reconsider the controversial decision. A new Brunei legal code that punishes those convicted of homosexuality by stoning them to death has sparked global outrage that includes calls to boycott hotels the Bruneian government owns.

A report the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission released earlier this week found discrimination and violence against lesbians, bisexual women and trans people in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, the Philippines and Japan remains pervasive. Grupo Gay da Bahia, a Brazilian LGBT advocacy group, noted more than a quarter of the 338 reported LGBT homicide victims in Brazil in 2012 were trans.

Carlos Vela of the Homosexual Community of Hope in the Loreto Region (of Perú) told the Blade that one LGBT person a week is murdered in the South American country. This violence continues to take place, even as Peruvian lawmakers debate a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions.

“It is the most extreme expression of systematic violence,” said Vela, referring to the murders of LGBT Peruvians.

Jasmine Kaur of Oceania Pride, which took part in the May 10 candlelight vigil in the Fijian capital, noted homophobia, anti-LGBT hate crimes and violence is “quite strong for the LGBTIQ community” in the South Pacific country. She said the Fijian constitution includes a non-discrimination clause, but it is “flawed.”

“The bill of rights has many limitations,” said Kaur. “It is not one that can guarantee its citizens protections.”

The Human Rights Campaign on Thursday released a report that documents advances and setbacks in the global LGBT rights movement over the last year.

“Despite entrenched homophobia and transphobia in many nations around the world, the global fight for LGBT equality made historic gains in 2013,” said HRC Director of Global Engagement Ty Cobb. “At the same time, last year included horrific new anti-LGBT laws as well as alarming trends in anti-LGBT harassment and violence. These serve as important reminders of the many challenges ahead and the tremendous amount of work left to be done.”

Henness Wong, a Hong Kong activist who helped plan IDAHOT events in the former British colony, said the climate for the city’s LGBT residents is slowly beginning to improve in spite of lingering institutional and cultural homophobia and transphobia.

“Hong Kong is definitely safer than Brunei who will stone gays,” said Wong.

16
May
2014

Report criticizes U.S. religious groups’ support of Belize sodomy law

Belize, gay news, Washington Blade

Belize (Photo by Greg Westfall via Wikimedia Commons)

A report the Southern Poverty Law Center released on Thursday criticizes U.S. religious groups for supporting the campaign to defend Belize’s anti-sodomy law.

The organization specifically singles out the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom and the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, which has offices in D.C. and New York, for sending lawyers to the Central American country to advice Belize Action, a group opposed to a lawsuit currently before the Supreme Court of the Judicature of Belize that seeks to overturn the statute under which those found guilty of consensual same-sex sexual acts face 10 years in prison. The Southern Poverty Law Center report also notes that Extreme Prophetic Ministries, a Phoenix-based group, has also publicly backed Belize Action.

The The report further documents that Scott Strim, who heads Belize Action, was born in Texas.

The report further alleges that the aforementioned groups’ support of Belize’s anti-sodomy law has only inflamed existing homophobic attitudes in the country.

Caleb Orozco, co-founder of the United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM,) the HIV/AIDS group that challenged the statute in the Supreme Court of the Judicature of Belize in 2010, told reporters on Thursday that two masked men broke into his yard and vandalized his car around the same time the justices heard the case in May. He said he has also received hate mail and saw a YouTube clip with a caption that encouraged someone to shoot him in the head.

Orozco further accused Belize Action of using the media to “confuse, conflate” and “intensify whatever prejudices that already exist to create a culture of fear and hate.” The editor of a leading Belizean newspaper wrote in a column before the country’s highest court heard UNIBAM’s case that “homosexuals pray on children and boys.”

A participant of a demonstration in southern Belize on July 5 carried a hanging effigy with UNIBAM written onto it.

“The involvement of these American groups is adding fuel to the fire in that country,” Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, said. “To inject these ideas into a country like Belize is beyond irresponsible.”

Belize is among the 11 English-speaking Central American and Caribbean countries in which colonial era anti-sodomy laws remain on the books.

Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development Minister Lisel Alamilla described the UNIBAM effigy as “extremely concerning and even frightening” in a post to her Facebook page on July 11. Belizean First Lady Kim Simplis-Barrow spoke out against anti-gay discrimination and violence in a video in which she appeared to commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on May 17.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow in the same month also defended the government’s revised gender equality policy that specifically includes sexual orientation.

The Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute declined to comment on the Southern Poverty Law Center report. The group’s website, however, contains a statement in French under the headline “Christian churches of Belize are third parties in the sodomy case” that appears to have been written in May 2011.

“Powerful advocacy and international organizations have made the poor country of Belize a target in the international fight for homosexuality,” it reads.

The Alliance Defending Freedom did not return the Washington Blade’s request for comment.

Belize Action, which posted a statement on its website against the UNIBAM effigy, defended its efforts in support of the country’s sodomy law in an e-mail to the Blade on Thursday.

The group said the statute that “Orozco wants to change” has “never been used to prosecute any person for a consensual act, not once.” Belize Action said more than 80 percent of prosecutions under the country’s anti-sodomy law have been for “sexual abuse against children.”

“We say it’s a good law, leave it as is,” the organization told the Blade. “It’s not stopping gays from doing what they want to do.”

Belize Action sought to further discredit Orozco.

“Orozco says this is an issue of loving who they want to love, but in truth this is not about the bedroom. It’s about the classroom,” the group said, noting Belizean men who have sex with men have the country’s highest HIV/AIDS rate. “They want their lifestyle legitimized so they can have it in kids’ curriculums as ‘normal, natural, healthy and productive’ when it’s not.”

Orozco maintained the sodomy statute is “not a good law” as he responded to Belize Action’s claims.

“It does not separate consensual sex from forced sex and mixes sexual practices with bestiality,” he told the Blade. “It serves only to sanction current attitudes of extreme Christian right leaders like the Belize Action representative.”

While not responding directly to the Southern Poverty Law Center report, a State Department official told the Blade the U.S. government continues to support efforts to decriminalize homosexuality around the world.

“U.S. policy, articulated by President Obama and numerous other officials, including Secretary of State [John] Kerry is that the United States opposes laws that criminalize consensual same-sex relations,” the official said. “The United States also staunchly defends freedom of association and freedom of expression, even when individuals or groups are advocating policies that are inconsistent with universal human rights and our foreign policy.”

Supreme Court of the Judicature of Belize is expected to issue its first ruling in UNIBAM’s case later this month or in August.

26
Jul
2013

Saba becomes first Caribbean island to legalize same-sex marriage

Saba, Glenn Holm, gay news, Washington Blade

Saba Tourist Bureau Director Glenn Holm (Photo courtesy of Glenn Holm)

The Dutch island of Saba earlier this month became the first jurisdiction in the Caribbean to allow same-sex couples to legally marry.

Xiomar Gonzales Cedeno Ruis and Israel Ruis Gonzales from Aruba and Venezuela respectively exchanged vows at the island’s courthouse on Dec. 4. A same-sex couple from Curaçao married in Saba on Tuesday.

The Netherlands, which has allowed gays and lesbians to marry since 2001, gave its Caribbean territories more time to implement the same-sex marriage law. Observers expect Bonaire and St. Eustatius, which were formerly part of the Netherlands Antilles that formally dissolved in 2010, will follow suit.

Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten, which have greater autonomy from Amsterdam, do not allow gays and lesbians to legally marry. The three islands, along with Bonaire and St. Eustatius, must recognize same-sex marriages performed within the Netherlands.

Glenn Holm, the openly gay director of the Saba Tourist Bureau who worked with Cedeno and Ruis, told the Washington Blade he plans to promote “gay weddings on the highest point of the Dutch kingdom” while in the Netherlands next month.

“There are of course some people who are against it, but they will just have to get used to it,” he said, referring to Dutch euthanasia and abortion laws that will soon take effect on Saba, Bonaire and St. Eustatius. “It simply means that the choice is there should it be necessary, the same for same-sex unions. If it’s not your bag you don’t have to let it concern you. Live and let live, love and be allowed to love whosoever you choose to.”

Martinique and Guadeloupe are expected to consider the issue next year as French lawmakers debate a same-sex marriage bill. Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, has spoken out in support of nuptials for gays and lesbians, but LGBT people still face systematic discrimination and even violence throughout the region.

Jamaica and several other English-speaking Caribbean countries still have colonial-era sodomy laws on the books that criminalize same-sex sexual acts. The U.S. State Department, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have all criticized the Jamaican government for not doing enough to curb rampant anti-LGBT violence in the country.

Puerto Rican advocates have repeatedly criticized outgoing Gov. Luís Fortuño and his administration for what they contend was an unwillingness to speak out against anti-LGBT violence in the American commonwealth in the wake of gay teenager Jorge Steven López Mercado’s brutal 2009 murder. The Puerto Rico Senate late last year approved a proposal that would have eliminated LGBT-specific protections from the island’s hate crimes law.

A 2011 Justice Department report that blasted the Puerto Rico Police Department cited an inadequate response to hate crimes as among its numerous deficiencies.

Maurice Tomlinson, a Jamaican lawyer with AIDS-Free World who fled his homeland in February after he received death threats following local media reports about his marriage to a Canadian man, described same-sex marriage in Saba as a “toehold where we can advance LGBT human rights in the Caribbean.”

The Supreme Court of Jurisdicture of Belize in May is expected to hear a case challenging the country’s sodomy laws. AIDS-Free World has also challenged laws in Belize and Trinidad and Tobago that prohibit gay people and those with disabilities from entering the country.

A Trinidadian newspaper on Dec. 18 reported Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar wrote in a private letter to the head of an international LGBT advocacy group in the United Kingdom that she would support a ban anti-LGBT discrimination.

“As a human rights activist, I think it’s excellent because it’s a way to get up the laws and two it provides evidence for the courts to say there is absolutely no negative impact within this entire region of these rights being recognized for LGBT,” Tomlinson told the Blade, referring specifically to Saba. “Its evidence that even within the Caribbean you have forward-thinking legislators who are willing to push the envelope and take the political risks that are necessary to advance human rights of all citizens.”

19
Dec
2012