Headline — 19 July 2013 — by Adele Ramos
PM “hardheaded”: Bishop Dorick Wright

“I wish the Prime Minister wouldn’t be so hardheaded …” “… homosexual, gay – I am opposed to it.” “… if the people are telling him this thing is not right … I think he should look at it.”
– Roman Catholic Bishop Dorick Wright

Patrick Menzies of Belize Can to Obama: “…keep your trash in the White House!”

New US Ambassador supports LGBT agenda

Belize Census released in 2010 said that Roman Catholicism remained the single largest religion with 40% of the total population saying that they belong to that Christian denomination.

“Why go into the school to teach the children that the anus is a sexual organ? Why is UNICEF financing UB $100,000 to put up a gender department?” – Lascelle Arnold

This morning, the fifth in the series of demonstrations being led nationwide by Christians, but which have also garnered support from non-Christian Belizeans who are likewise opposed to the Gender Policy 2013, took to the streets of Belize City. What was most significant about this episode of the demonstrations, dubbed Constitutional Marches, is that the head of the Roman Catholic Diocese in Belize, Bishop Dorick Wright, was at the frontline of the parade, sending a message to the Barrow administration that he does not support the policy which Cabinet had approved back in March.

In an exclusive interview with Amandala after the parade and rally at Memorial Park, Belize City, Bishop Wright, who heads the most populous religious denomination in Belize, told us categorically that he cannot support the new gender policy.

“Anything that is homosexual, anything that is gay – I am opposed to it. Not for myself, but for the future. I am closer to the cemetery than I am to this life, and I am concerned about our children. I don’t want this sort of thing to be imposed on our children, so I cannot support this in any way,” Wright said, who, we understand, made the sacrifice to demonstrate despite battling health issues.

Amandala asked him: What is it that you would like to see the Government do about the gender policy?

“I would like to see them look the whole thing over and be sensible about it. I wish the Prime Minister wouldn’t be so hardheaded and say that nothing on the face of the earth can change it. I think if the people are telling him this thing is not right … I think he should look at it and see what needs to be changed,” he replied.

The latest Belize Census released in 2010 said that Roman Catholicism remained the single largest religion, with 40% of the total population saying that they belong to that Christian denomination.

Pastor Eugene Crawford, the head of the Evangelical Association of Belize, which represents the ecumenical movement, joined Wright at the head of the march.

The backdrop

The last time the churches were at loggerheads with Government over the “sexual orientation” issue was back in August, when Parliament passed a new Domestic Banks and Financial Institutions Act in which the definition of “spouse” was vastly broadened.

In that new legislation, “spouse” came to mean “a wife, husband, or other individual with whom the first-named natural person is engaged in an ongoing conjugal relationship, whether common-law union… or not and whether or not the two persons are living together.” (See page 39 of the version published in the Gazette).

The church community was up in arms over the change because, in their view, Government sneaked a definition onto Belize’s law books that could pave the way for the sanctioning of homosexual unions in Belize. They argued that the piece of legislation goes down a “dangerous road” by casting a very wide definition of “spouse” that would seem to legitimize same-sex unions.

This dispute happened just around the time when the Ministry of Education pulled the Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) Manual (2010) from schools, amid protests against what many concerned citizens deemed to be a perverted sex education agenda aimed at very young children.

The United States Peace Corps manual includes the anus as an “opening” in the female genitalia and rates anal sex with a condom alongside vaginal sex with a condom, as “low-risk.”

Although the Ministry of Education had last year withdrawn that manual, the new Gender Policy 2013 makes notable reference to its revival. Specifically, pages 22-25 refer to this said document saying that, “The Health and Family Life Education is part of the national curriculum at the primary level…” Page 25 goes further to assert that the Government will strengthen the implementation and monitoring of the Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) curriculum across public, quasi-public, and private schools in both urban and rural areas across the country.

It goes on to add that, “Special attention will be given to ensuring the full and effective institutionalization and delivery of comprehensive sexual reproductive health curriculum within the HFLE curriculum.”

Calls for retraction

This reintroduction of the HFLE manual is among the many controversial points highlighted by Belize Action, one of several groups challenging the adoption of the new gender policy and which, like Bishop Wright, is calling for its retraction.

Whereas certain factions of the church community have expressed support for the Gender Policy, Giovanni Brackett, a Christian who heads the Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA), told the media that the biggest member of the Council of Churches is the Catholic Church, and the Roman Catholics are disgruntled. He reiterated a call to the Government to go back to the drawing table and negotiate.

However, since the call was first issued nearly two months ago, the Barrow administration has hardly budged, except for clarifying some language, such as a purported error in the document where it spoke of legalizing prostitution.

Businessman Lascelle Arnold, who participated in the demonstration, told our newspaper that the Government is losing a lot of political capital because of the march. Arnold expressed two concerns: the first is the intent to include the disputed gender policy in schools, and the second is the call to provide infrastructure for LGBT persons.

“You cannot provide infrastructure for something that is illegal. The law says that homosexuality is illegal and says you cannot provide any kind of infrastructure to facilitate that,” he said.

The laws can be changed, we suggested to him.

“That is exactly what they want to do…. They want to change the laws. The thing is, the only two things the homosexual[s] cannot do in this country are to adopt and to marry. So when two homosexuals go to the court to marry, if the Registrar refuses, the Registrar will be violating the rights of the homosexual…” he replied.

In answer to those who say that LGBT persons are made that way by the Creator, Arnold replied: “Why go into the school to teach the children that the anus is a sexual organ? Why is UNICEF financing UB $100,000 to put up a Gender Department?”

Dead on arrival

Patrick Menzies, founder of Belize Can, told us that the marches are a call to the Barrow administration to “respect our Constitution.”

Menzies said that the Gender Policy is a violation of the Constitution of Belize: “It violates paragraph (a), (c), (d), (e) and (f) of the preamble of the Constitution. We will not sit back and allow that to occur. Therefore, we want it retracted…” he asserted.

In the demonstration, Menzies’ SUV carried a coffin on top which said, “Gender Policy 2013 dead on arrival.” At the rally, he told demonstrators to throw dust on the coffin to help bury it – which many did.

We asked him to explain his banner and coffin: “What that is saying is, ‘We don’t want it!’ It’s dead. From the time we looked at it, it was full of enough trash.

“I refuse to eat a meal that costs $500 at the most expensive restaurant and it’s laced with rat poison. That’s what this is. Beautiful, lots of wonderful things in there – lots of great things in there – but it’s full of poison and it will destroy this and future generations. Unacceptable!” Menzies said.

Pastor Louis Wade, Jr., who is also the man behind Belmopan’s Plus TV and the Rise and Shine Morning Show, made a similar analogy:

“If you love your children, you will not feed them mostly food and a little bit of poison… Once there is poison in the food, you have to take it back,” he said.

Although he accepted that there is need for equity in places where men are way ahead of women or women way ahead of men, “…there is something that is happening all over the world, where homosexuals have jumped on the HIV and AIDS bandwagon; they have also jumped on the equality between men and women issue; they have now jumped on the human rights issue—they have tried to jump on every possible issue that they can and they are hijacking genuine issues and bringing a deadly agenda to the world,” said Wade.

“We love you; we cry with you…”

During his onstage presentation, Wade pointed out that there was a person there taking photos and recording video footage for UNIBAM – that person was Brent Toombs, a well-known videographer in Belize.

Toombs has posted a video on his YouTube channel in which Rev. Papouloute of the Methodist Church praised the Gender Policy 2013, saying that “it emphasizes respect for diversity and human rights,” “speaks against all forms of discrimination,” “encourages us as a nation to attaining to the needs of our people…” and “calls upon us to embrace love and to share it with the marginalized, the disadvantaged, the less fortunate and even the sinners…”

Amid allegations that the churches are promoting hate and phobia of homosexuals and people of other- than-customary sexual orientations, Wade said, “We do not agree with what you are doing with your body; you are destroying the temple of the [Set-apart] Spirit…. We love you. We cry with you about the HIV and AIDS rate. And we want to join the HIV and AIDS Commission, but your activists have blocked us out of the AIDS Commission.”

The TB, HIV/AIDS & other STIs Programme Report, released earlier this month by the Ministry of Health, said that the Human Immuno-Deficiency Virus (HIV) has become “a concentrated epidemic” within the male homosexual community. Citing a Behavioral Surveillance Survey of 2012 for two at-risk populations: “female sex workers” and “men who have sex with other men,” the report said that whereas the HIV prevalence rate among prostitutes was documented at 0.91%, or less than 1 in 100 persons, the prevalence rate reported for male homosexuals was 13.85%, or roughly 14 out of every 100 persons from that group.

LGBT backed by Barack Obama

Several of the organizers have called out US President Barack Obama as one of the persons they believe to be behind the agenda to promote LGBT rights in Belize.

Last month was LGBT Pride Month in the US, and a video posted on the whitehouse.gov website showed two girls delivering a short speech in which they said that one of the things they had asked the president for is his support for gay marriage: “We have two moms and they are just as good as other parents and they love us a lot…,” they said.

Obama mentioned Madison, 14, son of two lesbians, who told them that someday he would become president to make it legal for his moms to get married. According to Obama, the parents went on to add that, “Now… I don’t think we’re going to have to wait that long.”

He agreed because, “From Minnesota to Maryland, from the United States Senate to the NBA, it’s clear we’re reaching a turning point. We’re becoming not just more accepting, we’ve become more loving as a country. Hearts and minds change with time; laws do too…”

Among the legislative changes Obama mentioned were the Hate Crimes Bill, the first national HIV/AIDS Strategy, amendments to the Violence Against Women Act to protect LGBT victims, mandates for hospitals that receive Medicare to treat LGBT patients just like everybody else; and starting next year, they will stop insurance companies from denying coverage to people just for being LGBT. Obama said that they will put in place new policies to treat transgender persons with dignity and respect.

The US President said that he will continue to support marriage equality and states’ attempts to legalize it, including his home state of Illinois.

At today’s rally, Menzies of Belize Can said he believes the LGBT agenda is driven by powers in Europe and the US, and he urged Obama to “…keep your trash in the White House!”

New US Ambassador supports LGBT agenda

Wade also noted the impending deployment of a new US Ambassador to Belize: “We know you have your policies, but we understand that the person you want to send to Belize [Carlos Moreno] is an activist judge for the homosexual community in the United States. Please do not bring that to Belize,” Wade said. He noted, in speaking with us before the rally, that the incoming Ambassador was opposed to Proposition 8 in California.

The Judicial Council of California, in a statement dated May 2009, detailed Moreno’s rationale for his singularly dissenting court opinion on same-sex marriages. He said that, “[t]he rule the majority crafts today not only allows same-sex couples to be stripped of the right to marry that this court recognized in the Marriage Cases: it places at risk the state constitutional rights of all disfavored minorities.”

Draft legislation in the woodwork?

Pastor Scott Stirm of Belize Action, who Brackett said represents more than 400 religious leaders, told the gathering at the Memorial Park rally today that they have been battling with Government over this issue for more than two years.

He said that they have been told that policy is the last step before law.

“When you see a policy in place, drafters of legislation have already begun working,” Stirm said.

“The UNIBAM lawsuit is a challenge to our laws. It’s a challenge to our culture, but the Gender Policy is approved by Cabinet already. The Gender Policy was approved by Cabinet on March 19th – before the UNIBAM lawsuit came. The UNIBAM lawsuit came on May 7th. The case finished on May 10th and on May 16th they introduced the new Gender Policy,” said Stirm.

The Gender Policy 2013 can now be downloaded from this web link: http://www.nationalwomenscommission.org/Publications/NGP_final.pdf

Document denied

The group tried to get a copy of the policy, but initially, authorities denied them access, said Stirm.

“The first week after, because the news said it included sexual orientation in the gender policy, for a whole week we tried to get our hands on the document and we could not find one anywhere – not online, not in government offices!” said Stirm.

He said that women they sent to the National Women’s Commission and to the Women Issues Network to get a copy were also told that they could not release the policy – although it had already been approved by Cabinet and so ought to have been a public document. A week later, when they finally got the policy, within minutes of scanning the policy, they were shocked, he said.

Back off, or go home!

Maria Zabaneh of the Roman Catholic Church was one of those who initially raised concerns. She said at the rally that Belize is a Christian democracy, with 85% of the population belonging to the Christian faith, and the Belize Constitution reflects Christian values, which, she said, are also the values of the Jews and the Muslims – the other two dominant faiths. She called on the international community to respect the sovereignty of these 8,867 square miles.

We asked Menzies: What after today? What if government says it won’t retract?

“Then the Government is in trouble. That’s all I will say,” he replied.

“We are saying back off. Listen to the people and follow your mandate to submit your request or your direction of the Government to the people of Belize… I will challenge the Cabinet to look at Egypt. Do you want Belize to be Egypt #2? Back off, or go home!” said Menzies.

The next demonstration is to be held in Belmopan in a few weeks, organizers said.

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