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US religious groups send legal teams to defend anti-gay laws in Belize

American presence exacerbates violence and homophobia in Belize, says Southern Poverty Law Centre

Belize on the map

US religious groups have sent legal teams to help defend anti-gay laws in Belize, according to a report from the Southern Poverty Law Centre. Organizations such as the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute are trying to defend Belize’s Section 53, which punishes gay sex with a 10 year prison term.

“Many of these American religious-right groups know they have lost the battle against LGBT rights in the United States, and they’re now aiding and abetting anti-LGBT forces in countries where anti-gay violence is prevalent,” says report author Heidi Beirich. “These groups are pouring fuel on an exceedingly volatile fire.”

The SPLC says that the American presence has exacerbated violence and homophobia in Belize, where gay people already live under constant threat. Caleb Orozco, who is challenging Section 53 in court, says people in Belize used to have a live-and-let-live attitude, but the American groups “gave people permission” to vent their anger at gay people.

Since the controversy over section 53, several high-profile gay people have been murdered in Belize, including an openly gay doctor and the gay brother of a politician.

“Because they are losing ground in the West, our opponents are increasingly moving their resources (and their rhetoric and their hate) to more fertile grounds in developing countries. American Evangelical Churches are abandoning the fight against equality at home, in favour of supporting homophobic laws abroad. Why fight a losing battle against social liberalism in America or Europe, where you are increasingly ignored and ridiculed, when in Uganda, Belize or Nigeria you are welcomed with open arms,” warns Alistair Stewart, assistant director of Kaleidoscope Trust, a UK based charity that works to uphold human rights of LGBT people internationally.