Consultations on the Equal Opportunities Bill have been taking place countrywide. It was held on Wednesday night at the Toledo District where over twenty-five denominations expressed their views on the proposed bill.
The vast majority of the estimated 2,000 toledo inhabitants who publicly opposed the bill President of Southern Region Pastors Association, Pastor Vic Hernandez had major concerns.
Vic Hernandez, President, Southern Region Pastors Association: “I believe that you can see tonight that the consensus of over two thousand people that showed up tonight at this event they are saying no to this bill. We have a lot of concerns about this bill. One of the main concerns is that this bill has seventy five pages and it was not given to us until the same day the consultations started and then now they come tonight with a four page overview of this bill that tells us all the good things that we agree with on this bill but the topics that we do not agree with they avoid. So one of the things we are telling this panel was that we cannot agree with this bill the way it is set. We definitely need to look at it again and sit down again and go back to the drafting table and look at this bill because us as people of faith we cannot agree with it. One of the things we actually have a big problem with is found on page 18 where it says that this bill supersedes all other bills or all other laws except the constitution. Our thing with the marriage act is a law so if this law supersedes all laws then the marriage act is superseded and so these are some of the things we’re looking for answers. So even one of the things where they’ve changed the definition of gender has changed; from time eternal we have known gender to mean male and female now the definition of gender for this bill is completely changed so there are several things in this bill that we agree with but at the same time there are more things in that we cannot agree with. So the consensus of not only the Southern Region Pastors Association but the over forty buses of people that came from every village in Toledo representing twenty five different denominations they said no to this bill. So we pray that this panel will take that message back to Cabinet and say ‘Listen the people in Toledo do not support this bill.’
Panelist: “‘We prefer to have a seven persons commission and we want two persons from the religious body tell us how to make the bill better so don’t let us not say “We reject the bill in totality.” when we hear that there are some good things in bill that can work.”
Last night the panel made presentations to a full house at the SJC Gymnasium in Belize City. The location saw a massive representation of the Christian community who were very vocal on their views in having the Bill protecting the rights of the LGBTQ community as well as sex workers.
Voice 1: “Belize is a small country, we have a lot of problems already but it causes more problems for everyone and I know my time is coming up but the confidentiality of HIV do you not think that that is spreading the HIV more ? A sex worker, how is being a sex worker being productive to society ? We should allow our people to express their dreams. Everybody has dreams but a sex worker is not one of them, it is not a profession and we all know that this is a vehicle to promote the homosexual and the LGBT community. It’s not about AIDS, it’s not about disability, it’s about them ,it’s not about us.”
Voice 2: “The mere fact is it boils down to identity. I see seven things in relation to this thing that conflicts with your identity and in order for you to know your identity you have to know Christ. Because if you don’t know Christ then you are confused and then you tolerate deception. So the thing is tell me based on your definition according tot the preamble like what the man said, what is the identity of a man ? What is the identity of a woman and line it up with scripture. If you cannot define it it means you have an imbalance and where there is an imbalance there is confusion and every work of evil.”
Present at last night’s consultation was the Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Human Development, Judith Alpuche. As has been the case in the last week, members of the head table have been going around the country explaining the purpose of the Bill and how it works. According to Alpuche, the focus is not for the gay community but rather for minority groups in general.
Judith Alpuche, CEO, Ministry of Human Development: “You know what there are many other groups and many other people with certain characteristics that are experiencing discrimination in Belize and I really do have to include people with disabilities because they are definitely a very vulnerable group who are not accessing all their rights. So that is what the bill is trying to do, put in place a mechanism through a commission and a tribunal that will not only investigate and so forth but also be proactive in trying to set down some standards in educating people about what discrimination means, help businesses to develop policies and entities to develop anti discrimination policies etc. There is a lot of fear around that this bill is going to allow gay marriage, the bill does not treat with the marriage act t all and it is the marriage act that governs marriage and it still says marriage is between a man and a woman. This bill speaks extensively about protecting religious freedoms in terms of not interfering with the church doing it’s work. There’s a lot of fear around hate speech etcetera. Hate speech is not addressed at all, what is addressed is hate crimes and all it looks at is if you commit a crime; murder, aggravated assault that is already in the criminal code and you do so because you’re targeting someone because of one of the protected characteristics because they are a woman, because they are gay, because they have a disability then in sentencing when they find you guilty of that crime then in sentencing the judge can take that into consideration so that’s all the amendment and that amendment will be to the criminal code. So we’ve gone around the country, we have two more consultations to do. We are listening very keenly to the concerns of people and we realize that with something like this when it is new it causes anxiety, people are worried etc so we are listening very keenly.”