September 29, 2016 at 6:00 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Belize ‘giving us a fighting chance’

Caleb Orozco, gay news, Washington Blade

Caleb Orozco speaks with the Washington Blade on Sept. 21, 2016. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

NEW YORK — The plaintiff in the lawsuit against Belize’s sodomy law remains hopeful his case will resonate throughout the English-speaking Caribbean.

“People are beginning to realize that it is possible to advance LGBT issues in the region,” Caleb Orozco told the Washington Blade during an interview at OutRight Action International’s offices in lower Manhattan on Sept. 21.

Orozco, who is a prominent LGBT rights activist in the Central American country that borders Mexico and Guatemala, and his group, the United Belize Advocacy Movement, filed a lawsuit against the colonial-era sodomy law in 2010. He spoke with the Blade less than six weeks after Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin of the Belize Supreme Court ruled the statute is unconstitutional.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada and Trinidad and Tobago.

Donnya Piggott, director of Barbados Gays and Lesbians Against Discrimination, told the Blade last month that sodomy laws will tumble “like dominoes in the Caribbean” because of the Belize ruling. The government of Antigua and Barbuda told a local newspaper a court would likely find the country’s law that criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct unconstitutional if were legally challenged.

“There’s a shift in political tone,” Orozco told the Blade.

Belize government to appeal portion of ruling

The Belizean government initially announced it would not appeal the ruling to the Caribbean Court of Justice, a regional court of which Belize is a part.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow announced earlier this month after a meeting with religious leaders that his government plans to appeal a portion of the ruling that says the definition of “sex” in the Belizean constitution includes sexual orientation. He also called for the creation of a so-called morality commission that would advise his administration on how to address policy concerns around the decision.

The commission would include religious leaders.

“It scared the hell out of us,” Orozco told the Blade. “We know that anything along those lines without our presence at the table usually means the formalization of the system of oppression that we already have in our country.”

The National Evangelical Association of Belize and the Belizean Catholic Church have announced they plan to appeal the ruling. A Belizean television station reported Scott Stirm, an evangelical pastor from the U.S. who is vice president of the National Evangelical Association of Belize, spoke about efforts to challenge the decision at a press conference that took place on Sept. 16.

“This is the day for us a church to be able to stand strong particularly for family protections,” he said. “I think that people have tried to wrongfully paint this as people trying to dictate what’s happening in the bedroom. For us it’s not about that at all, it’s about protecting the children.”

Orozco specifically criticized the National Evangelical Association of Belize in his speech at an event the U.N. LGBT Core Group, which includes more than 20 countries and the European Union, hosted on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 21. He described Stirm to the Blade as a “power hungry con artist” after his group announced plans to appeal the decision.

“They applied for permission to become an interested party to the court and we will wait to see if that will be granted,” said Orozco. “There is no reasoning with fanatical thinkers that are more interested in oppression as a solution in advancing social equality.”

The National Evangelical Association of Belize did not respond to the Blade’s request for comment on Orozco’s criticism of Stirm.

Orozco also used his speech to the U.N. LGBT Core Group to criticize the Belizean government over its decision to challenge a portion of the ruling. He nevertheless told the Blade that Barrow did not challenge it in its entirety proves he and other advocates have “managed to change the political tone” around LGBT rights.

“They’re giving us a fighting chance,” said Orozco.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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