January 20, 2014 at 2:12 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
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.

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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