17th May, 2015
IDAHOT is not a single day, but a daily reminder how Young Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender resist threats, beating, murder, accusations, the lack of legal protection and political indifference in not giving up on their lives. It is a story of victimhood and we in Belize must acknowledge the pain of our Y.L.B.G.T. A pain that crosses a generational divide where the older generation have sought to self-medicate in binge drinking and smoking to help to sustain personal calm, in an atmosphere of hostility and self-guarded socialisation. To the media, he was 18 year old Joseph Sanchez, cross-dresser, murdered victim who died in January,2014 in women’s clothing. To the police, ASP Calbert Flowers he was simply a person, who experienced an attempted robbery and was murdered as a result. Flowers said in a channel 5 interview, “The investigation reveals that this person was walking on Elston
Kerr Street when he was attacked by two persons. The investigation
revealed that these two male persons that attacked this person tried to
rob him. During that robbery a struggle ensued and this person was
stabbed once to the chest. The investigation is ongoing and we have
what we think is enough evidence to show that it was an attempt
To the LGBT community, she was a friend, a brother and a son to a mother. He was not just a murdered victim,not just a person or a cross-dresser found in women’s clothing. She was a Youth, who’s experience, remain undocumented, who lost her life in a senseless killing, who lived under constant threat for her gender expression and identity. She was Cenida Ramos, a trans youth. The lost of her life was symbolic of a system of social, legal, cultural oppression the community lives under that remains invisible to the wider public and the political directorate, who’s response has been mimimal in recognizing that there is need to uphold concerns of dignity and rights. This was Cenida Ramos as she was, alive and in burial. Sadly, I learned that some of the same people who harassed, mocked,
insulted her, attended her wake looking for rum. One person in
particular, on the day of the funeral shared his experience of hearing, on the bus,
while going to the cemetery,someone, making a homophobic remark and he had to put him in his place. Nevertheless,the people who showed up was not three persons, but many at her final resting place and showed nothing but respect.
We celebrate Cenida Ramos life as a symbol of resistance, as she lived in an area where violence, harassment, threats, mockery was the norm, not the exception. I say this because of my personal experience of driving in the area to deliver community donations, after she died to her moms house. A child, no more than 12, decided it was his right to stone my car. In addition, a separate experience prior to her death occurred where persons told me, “..no come back on this street, again” took pride in shaking up my car, just before, I was able to drive off. This incident happened not more than 100 yards from where she was murdered. Personally, I am surprise, she lasted that long in the area.With low conviction rates, we don’t have any expectations that justice will be found.
As we explored the murder of Cenida Ramos, it is important to remember that the general youth population lives a complicated life affected by violence in homes and streets, poverty and unemployment. When sexuality, psychological maturity and inadequate access to sexual health education is added, life skills for the most hardy, can be tested to the extreme, affecting, life decisions that add to the struggle of navigating all the cant do’s and clouding the path to the can do’s. In this regard, family becomes crucially important as a social safety net to ground individuals, but for transgendered persons for any youth who belong to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender population, there is no guarantee of such a safety net. The result is perpetuated violence, not by strangers, but by blood. We came across one 15 year old story, in October, 2014 who wrote,”They took me in a pick-up truck out on land….and they beat me with stick and they kick me while I was lying on the ground trying to cover my face and head. I could hear my pa said that you spare the rod and spoil the child so he was kicking me to save me from hell.” Like most, no state services will ever document such a case, and so family abuse for young LGBT persons will remain invisible, for such experiences are almost never reported in Belize.
With the April 9th, 2014 mob attack of 19 years old Vanessa Champagne Paris on Central American Boulevard, we discovered, how transgendered youth are on the frontline of violence, it is not just effeminate gay men. While many will ask what was she doing on Vernon street looking like a woman. The no one asked, what her family life was like, about her school experience as a child where she lived, if she was employed or skilled to be employed and why she did not finish her education. What we got were news reports of stealing women’s clothing, burglary and other accusations.Vanessa story, is a case of contradiction. A case that showed the effects of how social and cultural oppression can impact a youth psychology and socio-economic standing in Belize, while showing that not all LGBT persons are able to to make healthy-judgements to survive in an atmosphere of psychological and potential physical violence. It is a story, of poor-judgement and unwritten social background and living a self-prophecy that invites instability and social isolation.
On 21st, January, 2015, the body of a 26 year old was found in a decomposed state, in the roaring creek area. While the story speaks in generic terms, it also was implies that even in death, injustice is going to be norm in any criminal investigation as the Belize justice system is challenged by its evidence collection process, trained personnel, inadequate data structures and a wall of social silence.
We know that 13.85% of men who have sex with men were found to have HIV prevalence rates that disproportionately affect men. What we have not seen is the quite erosion of dignity that impacts health. The system often touts the need to do more test, to do more prevention work. It never ask how discrimination impacts the health of young persons. Here are two, one that have already died because family support was not possible. While we got him connected to his family weeks before he died. It was clear that advance HIV had ravaged his body.The 2nd person is still alive, I place cream on his shingles years ago, but he is still struggling with recognizing his worth as a gay man. These pictures were taken years apart, but they hold true, still today. That the violation of an individual dignity and worth has lasting effects that is years in the making.
Despite, the silent, dark, invisible experiences, our community have shown that we are willing to resist, mockery, threats, insults and physical violence and so create social spaces of every kind to remind ourselves. Allies share in the vision of reminding us about our humanity and in celebrating life. Allies provides hope to the future an amplify our voices in government, business, among friends and family.
We see the struggle is not just an LGBT issues, but every citizen, as Civil, Social, Economic and Cultural, Political rights can be violated everyday, for anyone. The United Belize Advocacy Movement calls on all citizens to act shamelessly to uphold the rights of all citizens, but especially, young Lesbian Gay Bisexual and transgender persons and show the right to personal security, expression, association, education and dignity upheld, in social practice, in policy, in institutional mechanism that promote tolerance. The recent UNAIDS launch of a poll which said 68% of Belizean’s are tolerant or accepting, is important, for it shows we are a society of extremism, that families still matter. In the end, ff blood is before church and politics, let families lead this day, of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia to act and support our youth, in improving their quality of life and in the upholding of their human dignity.The Special Envoy for women and children leads the way in her actions. Can we see other Belizean’s move from the role as fence sitters, to champions?
A look at the possible motive of Joseph Sanchez murder
Accused of stealing Female Clothing
Transgendered woman robbed
Special Envoy statement on IDAHOT 205