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 groupsâ support of Belizeâs 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 âconfuse, conflateâ and âintensify whatever prejudices that already exist to create a culture of fear and hate.â The editor of a leading Belizean newspaper wrote in a column before the country’s highest court heard UNIBAMâs case that âhomosexuals pray on children and boys.â
A participant of a demonstration in southern Belize on July 5 carried a hanging effigy with UNIBAM written onto it.
âThe involvement of these American groups is adding fuel to the fire in that country,â Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, said. âTo inject these ideas into a country like Belize is beyond irresponsible.â
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 âextremely concerning and even frighteningâ 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 governmentâs 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 âChristian churches of Belize are third parties in the sodomy caseâ that appears to have been written in May 2011.
âPowerful advocacy and international organizations have made the poor country of Belize a target in the international fight for homosexuality,â it reads.
The Alliance Defending Freedom did not return the Washington Bladeâs request for comment.
Belize Action, which posted a statement on its website against the UNIBAM effigy, defended its efforts in support of the countryâs sodomy law in an e-mail to the Blade on Thursday.
The group said the statute that âOrozco wants to changeâ has ânever been used to prosecute any person for a consensual act, not once.â Belize Action said more than 80 percent of prosecutions under the country’s anti-sodomy law have been for âsexual abuse against children.â
âWe say itâs a good law, leave it as is,â the organization told the Blade. âItâs not stopping gays from doing what they want to do.â
Belize Action sought to further discredit Orozco.
âOrozco says this is an issue of loving who they want to love, but in truth this is not about the bedroom. Itâs about the classroom,â the group said, noting Belizean men who have sex with men have the countryâs highest HIV/AIDS rate. âThey want their lifestyle legitimized so they can have it in kidsâ curriculums as ânormal, natural, healthy and productiveâ when itâs not.â
Orozco maintained the sodomy statute is ânot a good lawâ as he responded to Belize Actionâs claims.
âIt does not separate consensual sex from forced sex and mixes sexual practices with bestiality,â he told the Blade. âIt serves only to sanction current attitudes of extreme Christian right leaders like the Belize Action representative.â
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.
âU.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,â the official said. âThe 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.â
Supreme Court of the Judicature of Belize is expected to issue its first ruling in UNIBAMâs case later this month or in August.