Two year wait for justice in case challenging Belize's law banning LGBT relationships

Caleb Orozco, an out gay man and an advocate for LGBT acceptance in Belize, is waiting on judgement in his case challenging Section 53 of the Belize criminal code that sentences a person to 10 years in prison for being in a relationship with a person of the same sex. After a week-long trial for his case in 2013, Orozco continues to wait for a decision to be made more than a lengthy two years later.

Orozco legal challenge states Section 53 violates the Belize Constitution, "which grants freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, and the right to non-discrimination to all citizens," according to the Pulitzer Center.

The case was heard by Belize's Supreme Court in May 2013, but is still awaiting a delayed ruling from Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin. The Supreme Court does not have a time limit for decisions to be made, yet Orozco has been waiting for an unusually extended period. If the court does not rule in Orozco's favor, the case could be even further prolonged by going to the Caribbean Court of Justice, the highest court in the Caribbean that works with human rights cases.

At GLAAD's international board meeting in London, Orozco met with GLAAD staff as part of GLAAD's newly expanded Global Voices initiative, which seeks to accelerate acceptance for LGBT people around the world. GLAAD heard his story and recognized the global implications of the story. We are committed to spreading Caleb's story while he waits for judgement, and especially after the ruling comes down.

As a Commonwealth nation, Belize has several laws on its books traced back to British colonization. Section 53 is a remnant of the British colonial penal system, and can be traced back to the Criminal Code written in 1888. According to the blog Erasing 76 Crimes, 11 Caribbean nations have laws criminalizing LGBT people, many also holdovers from British colonialism. In 1967, England and Wales decriminalized LGBT relationships. Scotland followed suit in 1980, and Northern Ireland in 1982. Marriage equality has been the law in England, Whales, and Scotland since 2014.

Orozco was initially motivated to challenge the discriminatory law after a conversation with two lawyers during a conference about HIV, as described in New York Times Magazine. The case was They agreed that, due to Belize's protective policies for privacy and equality, a challenge to the criminalization of being in a same-sex relationship was not only necessary, but achievable. Lawyers also believe that a ruling in favor of decriminalization could have a positive ripple effect across the Caribbean.

The University of the West Indies Rights Advocacy Project (URAP) initiated and continues to lead the case. Arguments in the case were led by Chris Hamel-Smith in 2013. Lisa Shoman, a prominent Belizean senator, former Ambassador to the US, and foreign minister, did the local filing and is the lead local senior counsel. Human Dignity Trust was admitted as Interested Parties to argue in support of Mr Orozco’s case. Read more details about Caleb's case at their web site. 

Since initially challenging Section 53, Orozco has continued his advocacy. Orozco co-founded United Belize Advocacy Movement (UniBAM), the only public health advocacy organization in Belize focusing on the LGBT community. Read more of his reflections on his work at UniBAM's blog. 

Because the LGBT community in Belize does not have strong visibility or representation, garnering widespread support for and attention to the issue proved its own challenge.  In April 2014, Orozco filed another motion to be legally protect the LGBT community from hate crimes and hate speech. 

As international attention mounts on Belize, GLAAD is working with Orozco and the lawyers litigating his case. Orozco is a friendly and energetic advocate, who has a compelling personal story. He has become the figure for LGBT advocacy in Belize, with many supporters and detractors. GLAAD calls on international outlets to give thoughtful attention to Caleb, the criminalization of LGBT people in Belize, and the international implications of his case.