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Report criticizes U.S. religious groups’ support of Belize sodomy law

Southern Poverty Law Center said organizations further inflame homophobia in country

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Belize, gay news, Washington Blade

Belize (Photo by Greg Westfall via Wikimedia Commons)

A report the Southern Poverty Law Center released on Thursday criticizes U.S. religious groups for supporting the campaign to defend Belize’s anti-sodomy law.

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 groups’ support of Belize’s 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 “confuse, conflate” and “intensify whatever prejudices that already exist to create a culture of fear and hate.” The editor of a leading Belizean newspaper wrote in a column before the country’s highest court heard UNIBAM’s case that “homosexuals pray on children and boys.”

A participant of a demonstration in southern Belize on July 5 carried a hanging effigy with UNIBAM written onto it.

“The involvement of these American groups is adding fuel to the fire in that country,” Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, said. “To inject these ideas into a country like Belize is beyond irresponsible.”

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 “extremely concerning and even frightening” 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 government’s 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 “Christian churches of Belize are third parties in the sodomy case” that appears to have been written in May 2011.

“Powerful advocacy and international organizations have made the poor country of Belize a target in the international fight for homosexuality,” it reads.

The Alliance Defending Freedom did not return the Washington Blade’s request for comment.

Belize Action, which posted a statement on its website against the UNIBAM effigy, defended its efforts in support of the country’s sodomy law in an e-mail to the Blade on Thursday.

The group said the statute that “Orozco wants to change” has “never been used to prosecute any person for a consensual act, not once.” Belize Action said more than 80 percent of prosecutions under the country’s anti-sodomy law have been for “sexual abuse against children.”

“We say it’s a good law, leave it as is,” the organization told the Blade. “It’s not stopping gays from doing what they want to do.”

Belize Action sought to further discredit Orozco.

“Orozco says this is an issue of loving who they want to love, but in truth this is not about the bedroom. It’s about the classroom,” the group said, noting Belizean men who have sex with men have the country’s highest HIV/AIDS rate. “They want their lifestyle legitimized so they can have it in kids’ curriculums as ‘normal, natural, healthy and productive’ when it’s not.”

Orozco maintained the sodomy statute is “not a good law” as he responded to Belize Action’s claims.

“It does not separate consensual sex from forced sex and mixes sexual practices with bestiality,” he told the Blade. “It serves only to sanction current attitudes of extreme Christian right leaders like the Belize Action representative.”

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.

“U.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,” the official said. “The 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.”

Supreme Court of the Judicature of Belize is expected to issue its first ruling in UNIBAM’s case later this month or in August.

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Africa

LGBTQ, intersex Ghanaians in limbo as lawmakers consider harsh ‘family values’ bill

Soldiers earlier this month raided gay party in Accra

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Ghanaian flag (Public domain photo by Jorono from Pixabay)

Ghana’s LGBTQ and intersex community is currently in limbo over whether the government will impose more harsh penalties upon those who identify as LGBTQ or intersex.

Parliamentarians in 2021 introduced the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill that would fully criminalize LGBTQ and intersex people, along with advocacy groups and anyone who comes out in support of them.

The measure would criminalize cross-dressing, public affection between two people of the same sex, marriage among same-sex couples or the intent to marry someone who is the same sex. The bill would also prohibit corrective therapy or surgery for intersex people.

Any person or group seen as promoting identities or prohibited acts in the bill or campaigning in support of LGBTQ and intersex people would face up to 10 years in prison. Any person who does not report consensual same-sex sexual acts could also face charges.

A parliamentary committee is currently reviewing the measure, but LGBTQ and intersex Ghanaians continue to be victimized and assaulted under existing law that criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual relations.

Ghanaian soldiers earlier this month stormed a gay party in Accra, the Ghanaian capital, and assaulted two people who were attending it.

“Military men stormed and disrupted a birthday party of alleged gay men in James Town, Accra. According to reports, some of the partygoers were injured and bled, following the military attack on the alleged LGBTQ+ persons at the party,” said Rightify Ghana, an LGBTQ and intersex rights group, in a statement. “We urge the authorities to investigate these incidents and hold those responsible accountable for their actions. The use of excessive force against civilians is never justifiable and only serves to create further division and mistrust.

“We stand in solidarity with the victims of these attacks and call on all Ghanaians to come together in support of peace and tolerance,” added Rightify Ghana. “Discrimination and violence have no place in our society, and we must all work together to create a safe and inclusive environment for all.” 

Kwame Afrifa, CEO of Reflex Ghana, another LGBTQ and intersex rights group, said the Accra raid was not the first time such an event has happened. Afrifa said making the country’s armed forces more sensitive to LGBTQ and intersex rights would help curtal such incidents. 

“There have been a few cases I have heard of this year and in previous years such as the closing of the LGBT+ Rights Ghana safe space, the destroying of billboards belonging to LGBT+ Rights Ghana, the arrest of human rights activists which also happened somewhere last year amongst others I haven’t come across,” said Afrifa. “Nevertheless, sensitizing LGBT+ issues would help in abating the victimization as most people are ignorant of the laws of the land and try to abuse the rights of queer persons.”

Rightify Ghana said categorizing the existence of LGBTQ and intersex people and labeling consensual intimacy between people of the same sex as deviant is a legacy of colonialism.

“The Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill, 2021 will continue to be a pattern of dehumanizing and silencing LGBTQ+ people, isolating them from support networks. It will also minimize, and even cover up, human rights violations,” said Rightify Ghana. “We therefore, recommend that the Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs recommend that the Parliament of Ghana reject the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill in its entirety.”  

Ghana is among the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

The country is one of the 10 non-permanent U.N. Security Council members. A representative from Ghana on Monday during a meeting that U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield hosted said the Security Council is not an appropriate venue to discuss LGBTQ and intersex rights.

Daniel Itai is the Washington Blade’s Africa Correspondent.

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District of Columbia

Bowser’s highest-level adviser resigns after sexual harassment allegation

Female staffer accuses John Falcicchio of longstanding abuse

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John Falcicchio (Screen capture via WUSA9)

Lawyers representing a D.C. government employee shook up the city’s political establishment on Monday when they announced that the employee filed a sexual harassment complaint against John Falcicchio, the now former D.C. Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development and Mayor Muriel Bowser’s longtime chief of staff.

The attorneys, Debra Katz and Kayla Morin, did not identify the city employee. 

The announcement by Katz and Morin in a press release came shortly after Mayor Bowser issued her own announcement at a news conference on the same day. The mayor confirmed that Falcicchio’s sudden resignation last Friday, March 17, followed her decision to launch an investigation into allegations against Falcicchio.    

But Bowser said issues surrounding her longtime adviser’s departure amounted to “a sensitive matter that includes privacy concerns” that prevented her from disclosing why she initiated the investigation and why Falcicchio abruptly resigned. 

She said the investigation was being conducted by the city’s Office of Legal Counsel, which is “following established policies and procedures” and that all relevant D.C. government staff members were fully cooperating with the investigation.

“I can also tell you that this investigation does not involve any allegations of improprieties related to business transactions,” Bowser told reporters attending the news conference, which was initially called to celebrate the completion of the city’s 9th Street, N.W. protected bike lane project and to discuss updates on the Capital Bikeshare program.

“I have every confidence in my new chief of staff, Lindsey Parker, and in our new Interim Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, Keith Anderson,” Bowser said at the news conference. “And I have immense confidence in the 37,000 employees of the D.C. government who will keep us moving forward,” she said.

Parker has served as the city’s chief technology officer since 2019 and as assistant city administrator since 2022. Anderson has served as director of the D.C. Department of General Services, which oversees the city’s buildings and properties.  

“We represent an employee of the District of Columbia who came forward to report serious allegations of sexual harassment by former Chief of Staff and Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development John Falcicchio,” the statement released by attorneys Katz and Morin says.

“It is our understanding that this behavior is longstanding, and our client is cooperating fully with the investigation, which Mayor Bowser initiated immediately,” the statement continues. “Our client is courageous. She came forward to ensure accountability and protect other women,” it says. “Given the gravity of our client’s allegations – which involve unwelcome advances and sexual contact – we ask the media to respect her privacy,” the statement says.

It concludes by encouraging “everyone affected” to contact Maia Ellis, the Associate Director of the Mayor’s Office of Legal Counsel, who’s leading the investigation, at [email protected].

Katz is a founding partner and Morin is an associate of the D.C. law firm Katz Banks Kumin, which specializes in sexual harassment law, whistleblower law, and employment law, according to a write-up on its website.

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Maryland

Md. Senate approves transgender rights bill

Maryland House of Delegates passed similar measure on Saturday

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Md. state Sen. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City) speaks at a press conference for the Trans Health Equity Act on Feb. 14, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Linus Berggren)

The Maryland Senate on Monday approved a bill that would require the state’s Medicaid program to cover gender-affirming treatment for transgender people.

Senate Bill 460 or the Trans Health Equity Act passed by a 31-15 vote margin. 

“Requiring, beginning on Jan. 1, 2023, the Maryland Medical Assistance Program to provide gender-affirming treatment in a nondiscriminatory manner; requiring that the gender-affirming treatment be assessed according to nondiscriminatory criteria that are consistent with current clinical standards; prohibiting the issuance of an adverse benefit determination related to gender-affirming treatment unless a certain experienced health care provider has reviewed and confirmed the appropriateness of the determination; etc,” reads a summary of the bill.

The Maryland House of Delegates on Saturday passed a similar measure.

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