Headline — 31 May 2013 — by Adele Ramos

Cabinet insists on keeping “sexual orientations” in Gender Policy 2013

Belize’s revised Gender Policy 2013 continued to be the subject of debate this week, with the National Women’s Commission (NWC), the government agency responsible for publishing the document earlier this month, making a formal retraction for mistakenly including in the document a clause supporting the legalization of prostitution.

Cabinet also issued a statement this week, in response to concerns that the document refers to “respect for diversity” for a range of people, despite “sexual orientations”—which some factions have seen as an indication that the Barrow administration is now opening the door for mainstreaming the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) agenda.

Minister of Human Development, Social Transformation and Poverty Alleviation, Anthony “Boots” Martinez, under whose portfolio the Commission falls, told Amandala, though, that “nothing in the [policy] document favors them [the LGBT group], more than saying, ‘You are human and we respect you.’”

However, Belize Action and other faith-based groups, as well as ordinary citizens, have vocalized concerns that the inclusion of “sexual orientations”—a clause absent from the earlier policy of 2002—means far more.

Pastor Scott Stirm, spokesperson of Belize Action, told Amandala that as soon as Government included the phrase “sexual orientations,” the government began including homosexual definitions of gender, automatically giving the green light to same-sex acts, despite the fact that Belize’s Criminal Code outlaws sodomy.

Stirm said it is no longer clear what is being talked about when people talk about “gender-based discrimination.”

He pointed us to several pages of the document that raise issues, such as page 18, which talks about “special legal and infrastructure measures to safeguard the rights of vulnerable groups (sex workers, mobile workers, men who have sex with men, transgender populations, incarcerated populations…)”

He said that including “sexual orientations” in the new policy document means that gender now becomes a very fluid term.

In discussing the background of the policy development, Minister Martinez told our newspaper that it evolved from a working document prepared in 2009, and it first went to Cabinet in 2011. At the time, Peter Eden Martinez held the portfolio “Boots” Martinez now holds. The policy was returned to Cabinet and approved earlier this year.

“Boots” Martinez told us that he was aware that the controversial phrase “sexual orientations” was in the document. As for the inclusion of a provision in the policy which talks about legalizing prostitution, Martinez said that it was an oversight that the technical team should have caught.

Earlier this week, the National Women’s Commission issued a public apology, retracting that part of the document — a line on page 31, bullet 5, which speaks of government’s commitment to “amend existing legislation to legalize and regulate the sex work industry.”

The NWC said that this is “in dissonance with Government’s recent passage of stronger legislations on human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children…”

“How can that be a typo when they’ve been working on that for two years,” questioned Stirm.

Whereas the NWC said that clause in the document should be omitted, Stirm contends that the entire document, funded by the United Nations, needs to be redone.

“Many parts send crazy alarm bells,” the pastor said.

He also spoke of a ranking member of the ruling United Democratic Party who has been pushing for years for the legalization of prostitution.

“They got caught with their hand in the cookie jar,” Stirm said, adding that members of Cabinet, whose responsibility it is to shape policy, did not even bother to read the document.

In publicly addressing the issue of the policy this week, Cabinet did not retract the clause on “sexual orientations;” however, it announced that at its meeting held on Tuesday, May 28, 2013, it considered the concern raised by various religious leaders in relation to The Revised Gender Policy, specifically a paragraph of the policy entitled, “Respect for Diversity”.

“After serious discussion, Cabinet decided that it was necessary to maintain its policy to respect the reality of Belize’s wide range of diversity,” the Cabinet statement said.

The only concession it made was that, “…it would do no harm to that policy by omitting the last few words in the final sentence of the paragraph which reads: ‘… and customary religious and cultural practices must be subject to the right of equality.’”

Martinez takes the view that homosexuality is “morally wrong,” and he told us that the law should not be changed to suit UNIBAM (the United Belize Advocacy Movement). He said that the churches and the government should work with them, rather than discriminate, to encourage them to change their lifestyle.

The Minister said that he was informed by his Chief Executive Officer that most men who spend more than a year in prison end up having a homosexual encounter behind bars, but that doesn’t mean that is their nature.

Martinez questioned: “What do we do? Kill them? Stone them?”

He said that he would like to know the way forward. “Talk to someone from the church and ask them how you treat these people?” he said.

We did put that question to Stirm, and he said that the church operates on the basis of love on the personal level, and they don’t believe in any kind of violence being perpetrated against homosexuals. However, he said, they don’t support the changing of laws as “an inside job,” where groups like UNIBAM are included in the conversation but the churches excluded.

Whereas Opposition Leader Francis Fonseca this week told the media, in addressing the issue, that “We have to embrace all people…,” he did castigate the government for not having properly consulted on the matter.

Minister Martinez does accept, in hindsight, that there should have been more consultation on the gender policy. He said that if the UNIBAM case were not before the court, the public reaction to the policy would today be different.

He also said that when Caleb Orozco, UNIBAM’s spokesperson, endorsed the new Gender Policy, that also started “to raise brows.”

He said that he agrees with Opposition Leader Francis Fonseca that they should embrace all people, “based on what is the reality in life.”

The Minister went on to say that there are homosexuals who want to keep their activities secret. He also indicated that there are many bisexuals who are living “other lives” in the closet and who do not support the lobby for the removal of anti-sodomy laws because they want to keep their “other lives” a secret.

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