Ann-Marie Williams is a member of the Belizean Mission to the United Nations. As the Executive Director of the Nation Women’s Commission, Ms. Williams holds a prominent position. From their website: “The National Women’s Commission of Belize (NWC) serves as an advisory body to the Government on issues relating to women.” The most prominent work the NWC has done was the passage, in secret, of a Revised National Gender Policy in Belize in March 2013. It was this secretive and underhanded document which Ann-Marie spoke about with me on the morning of St. Patrick’s Day, outside the United Nations.
The Policy was funded by the UN and released by the National Women’s Commission two months after the Cabinet had already approved it. The public was not consulted on the language. Neither were religious leaders or activists.
She noted the inclusion of the phrase ‘sexual orientation’ in the Policy caused a considerable backlash. “We included ‘sexual orientation’ in the document and the Catholic Church went crazy, so did the Evangelicals,” she said. Catholics make up 40% of the population in Belize. Ms. Ann-Marie Williams identifies herself as “Methodist.”
Do Catholics and Evangelicals have reason to be concerned about the one mention of ‘sexual orientation’ in the Revised National Gender Policy? Yes. The importance of the phrase ‘sexual orientation’ is expressed on the webpage of the United Belize Advocacy Movement, under ‘Belizean LGBT Rights Violations’:
One of the principles in the gender policy is that it recognize respect for diversity and does not shy away from using the term sexual orientation. It spoke to eliminating “gender base discrimination at all levels of the education system” that the Belize government will ‘ take special legal and infrastructure measures to safeguard the rights of vulnerable groups…(men who have sex with men..).
Ann-Marie Williams was even more explicit in her appraisal of the importance of ‘sexual orientation’ in the Revised Policy. She spoke of not only working to prevent HIV/AIDS among gay men, but of changing the societal conception of sexuality and the family, in spite of religious concerns.
“I don’t know if you are familiar with our HHS Mandate,” I began, “but the Catholic Church and Evangelicals, like in your country, have been concerned about the effect these kinds of policies and laws will have on them. Have they offered concessions or points of compromise on the policy?”
“Yes,” she responded.
“Are you working with those concessions?”
“No, we have to move forward.”
I asked her about the Church’s concerns. “They worry we will force the Church to give gay weddings, but the Church doesn’t even marry divorced people, so how could we force them to marry gay people?” She was further baffled that anyone could even raise an objection to the topic of homosexuality. “Its like Ahmadinejad coming to the UN and saying ‘There are no gay people in Iran.’ We know there are gay people in Belize.’” While I have no doubt that there are people who live a homosexual lifestyle in Belize, the comparison of the Catholic and Evangelical population to a raving, totalitarian thug reveals that not only is Ms. Williams dismissive in practice of Catholic and Evangelical concerns, she is openly hostile in her attitude and her speech.
“These people (who disapproved of the inclusion of ‘sexual orientation’) just don’t understand the importance of these issues. Gay men are a vulnerable population.” Ann-Marie Williams insisted that there were health initiatives but she was also optimistic about the altered norms which were put forward in the document.
“Family life lies at the core of creating a healthy, productive and well functioning society” says the Revised Policy. But ‘family’ is left undefined. Further the Policy intends to “act as a basis for transforming gender relations within the family and the community, and across all levels of public and private institutions.” Further, the document praises “the reintroduction of contraceptives” by the Ministry of Health.
The Policy ties Belize to “international commitments” not international law. The distinction is important. There is no right to abortion in international law. But abortion has been inserted through creative language into various international commitments, such as the Beijing Platform for Action, which did not explicitly provide a right for abortion but was still problematic enough to make the Holy See take a general reservation on the whole section about sexuality. But, by tying Belize to “international commitments,” the government of Belize has shoehorned their citizens into a view of human sexuality and gender proposed and promoted by the delegates and activists who hang around the UN. Looking around me, this is not by any stretch of the imagination a representative sampling of the populations or the ideas of actual people around the globe. Should the citizens prove difficult to coerce into compliance with the new Policy, the government is committed to “implementation, monitoring and evaluation as well as the alignment of policies and programmes with national and international commitments.” If the mention of monitoring sounds a bit Orwellian, your intuitions are correct. Since the Policy is a little over a year old, we are now entering the monitoring phase.
While exchanging pleasantries with Ms. Williams, I learned she was familiar with Minnesota, my home state. “Its very queer there isn’t it?” she asked. When informed that Minnesota had legalized gay marriage but that the state was still divided largely on the nature of marriage between the urban population and the rural population. “It is the same way in the Belize,” she said. This is a double shot of cultural imperialism. First, Ms. Williams and her National Women’s Commission import International (read European) sexual values into the Revised Policy and once those ideas settle in the urban centers of Belize, they are then imposed upon on the rural population. That is how it is now possible for the United Nations, at the behest of Sweden or Norway or Belgium, to include language alluding to abortion, gay marriage or infanticide and a few months or years later a farmer in the countryside of Belize is arrested for refusal to agree to or comply to those standards.
This policy in Belize passed with little or no attention given by the other nations on the North American Continent, let alone the world. Ann-Marie Williams insisted that she was not content with the policy staying in Belize, but in spreading to other nations in the Caribbean. Jamaica was singled out by Ms. Williams for being “very homophobic.” It was clear from her comments that the Catholic and Evangelical population in her own country would also fall under that category.
When pressed about the religious concerns of a plurality of the citizens of Belize, Ms. Williams offered a reversal of the old tactic employed by Planned Parenthood concerning the relationship of the laity and the Catholic Hierarchy. The old line was that Catholics in the pews disagree with the bishops and are far more progressive than the official teachings of the Church would suggest. Ann-Marie Williams pined: “This new Pope is trying to take things in a more progressive direction, but the Catholics in Belize are still quoting Pope John Paul.” Come the Synod on the Family and Marriage in October, we’ll see how “progressive” the Pope really is.