BELIZE CITY, Belize — Until last week, I was an “un-apprehended felon” in my country. The law I broke — just by being myself — criminalized “carnal intercourse against the order of nature,” including anal sex, making it punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment.
Although I am an openly gay man, I was never prosecuted. Still, I was imprisoned all the same. Ever since 2010 when I decided to challenge the law, I’ve spent most of my time in my home, behind a security gate. Whenever I leave, I am insulted and threatened for being effeminate. I’ve also faced death threats and endured protests fueled by homophobic hatred. But not even these realities could dissuade me from pursuing my case.
On Aug. 10, all the hardships—which pale in comparison to what many other LGBTI people face—were validated when the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Belize ruled in my favor on every argument. I brought my sister to the courtroom for the decision. Like my mom, she’s been with me from the start, paying my bills when I had no job or money. She even helped me establish the United Belize Advocacy Movement, the oldest and only policy and advocacy group of its kind in Belize. In court, she sat beside me. When she whispered that she was anxious, I whispered back, “tell you what—if you stay calm, so will I.”
The preparations for my case began in 2007 at a meeting in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. I was there with University of the West Indies Rights Advocacy Representatives from the Faculty of Law (URAP) to talk about opportunities to pursue strategic litigation. We decided to file an application to challenge the constitutionality of Belize’s sodomy law, which is similar to laws in several other English-speaking Caribbean countries.
In his groundbreaking decision last week, the chief justice ruled that I had legal standing to bring a claim against Section 53 of the criminal code despite the fact that I had not actually been prosecuted under the law. The very existence of the statute, he wrote, made me and others like me “un-apprehended felons.”
We prevailed across the board. The chief justice held that Section 53 was inconsistent with the Constitution of Belize because it violates the right to human dignity, privacy, freedom of expression, non-discrimination, equality before the law, and equal protection of the law. He then made clear that Section 53 should exclude consensual sexual acts between adults in private.
The chief justice also ruled that the definition of “sex” in Section 16 (3) of the Constitution of Belize includes ‘sexual orientation,’ which is consistent with Belize’s international obligations.
This, in my mind, was the game changer. Extending the definition of sex sets a precedent for future cases in the Caribbean where hostile laws persist, particularly in Commonwealth countries where the LGBTI community continues to face the harshest penalties in the region.
After the ruling, I hugged the trans women and other supporters who came to the courthouse. Many of them were crying. I was elated and had never been so proud of Belize. But I was also tempered by the reality that reform requires monitoring, mobilization of resources, finding champions to enforce the ruling, and navigating the difficult political environment we still face.
My work—the work of all the allies who have supported me through this long journey — continues. We must ensure that substantive laws are updated to ensure they are inclusive, that human rights are observed, and that our social movement and visibility in the community are sustained. Dignity and rights are not just concepts — they are tangible things that affect our every day lives. Without them, I was a prisoner in my own home, an always-future felon. Now I am free.