|It's been reported in Belize and all over the world: Belize's sodomy laws are being challenged by UNIBAM, the United Belize Advocacy Movement. UNIBAM has taken it to the Supreme Court, and the trial is pending.
At the end of July, 7news Special Correspondent Janelle Chanona examined the many arguments for and against the taking sodomy off the law books in Belize.
That was part one of her story - and part two, which we present tonight, takes a different tack; it takes the argument from the organizations to the individuals.
Janelle spoke with two Belizean women: one who is unapologetically gay, and another who says that - with prayer - she turned away from her life as a lesbian.
Two different perspectives on a very divisive issue - and here's Janelle's report:
Janelle Chanona Reporting
Melissa Mossiah - Prayed Away Gay
"My name is Melissa Mossiah. I don't think I have to say my age right?"
Simone Hill - Not Ashamed of Being a Lesbian
"I am a person, a human being. I'm Simone Hill, born to two parents that loved me."
The two Belizean women you are about to meet have very different stories about their sexual identities.
"I know how I used to feel, how I used to think. You get me? And that is not like - I can't convince people of anything, but just stating the fact that I am not the same. It's just unique. This was something that happened between me and God."
Melissa Mossiah says she lived as lesbian for much of her teenaged and early adulthood years because of events that occurred in her childhood.
"I was a little girl that matured very fast, you know. And so, a man took advantage of me, and innocently, he raped me and I couldn't tell anybody. I couldn't say anything, I couldn't even tell my dad. I was always around my dad; we were very close with each other. But I couldn't tell anybody. I couldn't speak any at all, and the only reason why is because this guy threatened me. Right after that, another scenery unfold and that was with my dad who had an affair, and it was right there in the middle of that, I started having a hatred built up towards men. And so this thing, the desires for females started building up now, because I am going to take care of these females. I am going to risk my life that no men do them anything. That was my mind; that's was what I was thinking."
Mossiah says her beliefs in God clashed with her lesbian life and led to anger, depression and even thoughts of suicide. She found comfort in Bible-based counseling after she moved in with her pastor's family. Eight years later, the young woman says she is no longer a lesbian.
"The transformation in my mind reflects the transformation outside, okay, because I am so comfortable, Janelle. I got to my bed, and I don't have to be thinking of how to gratifying my flesh, how to feed me, because how I used to make this things, how I used to build upon these desires and these feelings, I watched pornography. Pornography was introduced to Burrell Boom, after those couple years. And so that's how I used to feed myself. But the thing is, afterwards it just makes you feel empty, it doesn't satisfy you. But not only that, I used to masturbate as well. So all this, I was trying to help - something- but it didn't work. When the process began it was a struggle because I still had the desires. I still had the thoughts but, like I said, when the word started getting into my mind, and my pastor was really down-to-earth person when it comes to the word, because he is going to nail it in. And so getting that word in, when I go home, I think upon it. I'm in the bathroom and I'm thinking upon it. And so, that word, Janelle, was what transformed my entire mind, that when I look at female, they are beautiful just like myself. And God created them just as how he created me."
"But you are not sexually attracted to her?"
"No, not anymore. I can't explain to you how God did what He did to me. I don't know how to explain that, but anytime you get connected with Him. That is what I wanted, a wanted a change"
"We were born into a family; we are just like the next person. If you cut us, we bleed."
We approached several members of the gay and lesbian community to participate in this documentary; all but one declined, saying they were afraid of how their families and friends would react; what their bosses would say or how their businesses would suffer.
Simone Hill shares many of those concerns but felt that by publicly sharing her story, she could put another human face to the public debate.
"I knew what I was feeling from I was ten years old, but I never explored these things, you understand me? I wanted to do things that would make my parents happy. I wanted to make them happy. So, I did what I believed what would have made them happy. I have a child, and I raised my child with the help of my family and I taught my child to love. I noticed that my friends that were lesbians and gays, their family behaved back in the early 90s, like at them like they could have turned their children, their little nieces and nephews. I was so sad to me, to see this. I thank God that my sisters didn't behave in that way. I babysat my nieces and nephews. I had my daughter and she was nothing like that. People say - I remember getting some ridiculous questions like, 'Aren't you afraid that she becomes like you?' Who is thinking that? You are just raising your child. There were questions that my daughter raised to me about Sodom and Gomorrah, and all those things. And I answered them to the best of my ability."
"What did you answer?"
"What did I answer? So long ago, Janelle, but nonetheless, my daughter is here. I believe that I raised her well. She's a good person and one wouldn't - because people put labels - If you look, and she was walking on the street, who would know that she has a mother that is a lesbian? Coming back to tie it all together, we are human beings. We are all just like you pops being the camera, walking the streets and other things. We come in all shapes, forms and other things. Some of us are extreme; some of us are more conservative. But, we are human beings at the end of the day. Some people won't like us because some of us are open, and we are true to ourselves."
Simone Hill hopes that one day she will be able to live as a lesbian without harassment and threats of violence, which is why she supports changing local laws to decriminalize sodomy.
Maria Roches - March 31st 2004
"Well I am fighting for my fundamental rights which were violated and abused and I want my job back."
The decriminalization of sodomy is not the first time that differences in religious beliefs and Constitutional rights have resulted in a court case. In 2004, school teacher Maria Roches was "released" from her post at a Roman Catholic institution after she became a single mother. The court later upheld legal arguments that Roches' dismissal was unconstitutional because it violated her right against discrimination based on sex.
Dean Barrow - Maria Roches' Attorney, March 31st 2004
"All of us have to respect the church and especially the Catholic Church but the Constitution our country is supreme. And whenever anything that is done is in conflict with the constitution, then citizens have a right to go to court and to have this declared to be so. In my view that is what is happening here."
Florence Goldson - Human Rights Advocate
"You have the right to your beliefs and there are so many different spiritual beliefs. So, but there are only one set of human rights, and human rights are guaranteed to every single person just by virtue of being born."
Human rights advocate Florence Goldson says all Belizeans should support efforts to change laws that discriminate, including those that decriminalize sodomy.
"This is a law that has the potentiality to affect all of us, because all of us - any person that's going to engage any sexual intercourse, and wants the right and freedom to decide on how they will be intimate, can be affected by this law. So then it saddens and angers me that we decide to isolate one group of people, and decide that it's okay to violate their rights, that we all have the right to protection, except for those people, and whoever else we decide are not worthy of protection. The silence, the fear, the intolerance are indicative of the law and what discriminating laws can bring about. So, as a nation, we should ensure that laws like this one, and other laws, because there are laws that discriminate against women, the laws that don't protect children. There are lots of laws that force us into silence, push people to live hidden lives."
"My greatest desire right now is to be able to share the truth. That if God can set me free, He can set you free. It doesn't matter what, how deep you are in it. He can set you free."
"I pray that the law gets change, and so that we can all live in harmony. That's what I pray for. So in the long term, I would like to see us whereby we have laws that protect not only homosexuals, but everybody. I hope that everybody's rights get protected and the laws respect that, and that people can respect these things."
In the end, this case is not just about arguing what's in the law books. This case is about Belizeans and their beliefs. If the laws stay the same, homosexuals will continue to feel discriminated against. If the laws are changed, the religious community will feel that Belize is on a slippery slope to damnation. Belizeans will have to determine whether we want to be a society that protects individual lifestyle choices or a society that clings strictly to religious ideals.
The trial has tentatively been set for December.
We'll keep following the story as it draws closer to a trial date...