Voices for Equality: Simone Hill
In Their Own Words:
“We are human beings. We are all just like you…walking the streets and other things. We come in all shapes and forms. Some of us are extreme; some of us are more conservative. But, we are human beings at the end of the day.”
Confronting entrenched homophobia often involves two avenues of action: changing societal attitudes towards LGBT individuals, and challenging discriminatory laws. Simone Hill, an activist in Belize, takes a creative approach to both tactics for advancing the human rights of the LGBT community.
Hill created Conversations, a program that raises awareness around the unique needs and challenges that LBT women face. The first step towards inclusion, she believes, is education: “Conversations…is to make the women in the community aware, empower them, and make them aware of what is actually happening in the laws of Belize. Because for the average person in Belize, we don’t know the laws.”
Hill is also a member of United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM), one of tiny number LGBT advocacy organizations in Belize. Caleb Orozco, another prominent UNIBAM member, is challenging the country’s anti-sodomy law in its supreme court. Another important legal challenge is before the Caribbean Court of Justice. Brought by Maurice Tomlinson, the case challenges a chapter of Belize’s immigration law that bans gay men from entering the country.
Hill and a group of LGBT human rights defenders from St. Lucia, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica recently met with leaders of the tourism industry to find new avenues to promote the human rights of the Caribbean LGBT community. The group aims to raise awareness around the vital role the LGBT community plays in the region’s economy and their countries’ future.
Attitudes are slowly changing in Belize. A small but growing number of people are becoming more accepting of LGBT individuals. A 2013 poll, conducted by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) found that 34% of respondents considered themselves to be accepting of homosexuals and another 34% declared themselves to be tolerant of homosexuals. This is one of the highest levels of acceptance in the Caribbean. Hopefully if the Belize’s homophobic laws are repealed, the country will set the standard for inclusion in the region.
Recommendations for Action
- The State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) should implement a strategy to support Belize in eradicating discriminatory laws and adding sexual orientation to existing nondiscrimination laws.
- The Department of Justice should strengthen U.S. training for police to increase their capacity to recognize, prevent, and respond to crimes motivated by anti-LGBT bias.
- The U.S. Embassy in Belize should continue its work to increase the ability of civil society and the LGBT movement to influence change.
- Consistent with President Obama’s Memorandum of December 6, 2011, on international initiatives to advance LGBT rights, USAID should review all of its programming in Belize to ensure it is inclusive of LGBT issues and coordinated with the LGBT community.
- Congress should raise the issue of human rights in Belize in oversight hearings and support U.S. leadership on human rights and LGBT rights, including through legislation.