PUNTA GORDA — A pastor in Belize recently delivered an impassioned speech in opposition to a proposed bill that, while seeking to protect those who identify as homosexual or transgender, would actually discriminate against Christians in the public square. The pastor’s words were met with great enthusiasm by those gathered, as they often broke into cheers and applause.
Victor Hernandez, president of the Southern Region Pastor’s Association and pastor of Toledo Faith Outreach Christian Center, was one of the many members of the public who attended the Jan. 15 public hearing in Punta Gorda, Toledo District.
The proposed Equal Opportunities legislation is stated to be backed by the Nаtіоnаl АІDЅ Соmmіѕѕіоn (NАС); thе Міnіѕtrу оf Нumаn Dеvеlорmеnt, Ѕосіаl Тrаnѕfоrmаtіоn аnd Роvеrtу Аllеvіаtіоn; аnd thе offісе оf thе Ѕресіаl Еnvоу fоr Wоmеn аnd Сhіldrеn.
Public hearings, known as consultations, are being held in various cities in an effort to obtain citizen input, and private meetings with organizations — including the Belize Council of Churches and the National Evangelical Association of Belize — have also been conducted.
Enrique Romero, executive director of the NAC, was among those who explained the proposed measure to Toledo District residents last week. He stated that the bill is meant, in part, to address the issue of HIV and AIDS in the country as there are an estimated 5,000 people in Belize living with HIV, with approximately half unaware that they have the virus.
He asserted that the bill is “not about a man marrying a man” — a statement that Hernandez later refuted.
Two attorneys — Randall Sheppard and Rashad Braithwaite — also spoke to the people, explaining that the legislation is modeled after the Caribbean Community’s (CARICOM)’s anti-discrimination ordinance, and providing examples of “direct” and “indirect” discrimination.
Braithwaite further outlined that the proposal provides protections to those who identify as transgender, those who co-habitate and those who engage in homosexuality or bisexuality. Its provisions include non-discrimination in employment, public accommodation of goods and services, education, entrance into sports programs and other offerings, and treatment under the law by the government.
The bill would also result in the enactment of hate crime legislation, he said, to heighten existing criminal penalties if there is evidence of an “aggravating factor” in the commission of a crime, namely the victim’s protected characteristic.
Sheppard stated that the bill provides exceptions for religious organizations, such as that it does not apply to the selection of ministers or other affairs of the Church. It also seeks accommodations for people of faith, such as those who would seek a day off from work for the Sabbath.
However, as the public comment period was opened after the first hour of the presentation, among those who came to the microphone was Victor Hernandez, who stated that while the bill sounds nice on the surface, many residents may not realize that they are being “poisoned.”
Holding a printout of the 75-page legislation in his hand, he told those gathered that the authors inserted “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in the bill alongside items such as race and gender. Hernandez found the legislation to actually be about homosexuality and transgenderism, opining that the bill is unnecessary since there is no problem of discrimination based on race, gender or religion in Belize.
“You knew that if you came and said this was a LGBT equal opportunity [bill] it would be rejected by the people, so you came and you called it the Equal Opportunity bill and you put in a lot of other things,” he declared. “We have no problem with them. We have no problem with HIV people. … We have no problem with male and female. We don’t discriminate against them.”
“I believe that if we see through this conduct, we are looking at the poison that this bill is to advance the LGBT agenda,” Hernandez declared, generating applause.
He proceeded to read aloud the definition of gender identity as outlined the bill, which said that it is “without regard to that person’s designated sex at birth.”
“So, now all of a sudden now we become God when God in the very beginning created male and female,” Hernandez proclaimed to cheers. “We sit down and draft up a bill that gender doesn’t mean male and female, that gender means anything else. Something is wrong!”
“That’s why God created an order that when you’re born you know when its a boy and you know when it’s a girl. You know when it’s a male and you know when it’s a female,” he continued, the crowd again cheering enthusiastically.
Hernandez noted that even the preamble to the Constitution of Belize acknowledges that there is a God.
“The other night, I was listening to you, Mr. Consultant, and you said, ‘Which God?’ It’s the Judeo-Christian God,” he declared. “We don’t have no problem with that.”
Pushing back against the assertion that the bill has nothing to do with same-sex “marriage,” Hernandez pointed to text in the legislation that states that if any conflict arises between the act and any other law, the provisions of Equal Opportunity Act will prevail. This, he opined, could pose a threat to the Belize Marriage Act.
“I pray to God that this is a consultation where you will listen to the people,” he said. “That you are not going to take this back to Cabernet and say that the people in Toledo love this bill. Tell the truth. We don’t want this bill!”
“The bill has a lot of good things in it, a lot things that we can support. But, at the same time, you know what this bill is doing to the Church?” Hernandez asked. “It’s doing exactly what it said that you’re trying for it not to do. You are discriminating against the Church because you’re telling us, ‘Keep your religion in your building.’ Our faith causes us to want to go out and propagate this gospel, so we need to go out.”
If churches were to rent a public building, he said, and a man comes in the building dressed like a woman and seeks to use the ladies’ restroom, Hernandez — as pastor — would not allow it. But the bill could result in Hernandez being brought before a tribunal to prove that he did not discriminate against the man attempting to use the ladies’ restroom.
“So what you’re telling me [is], ‘Keep your religion in your church building and not bring it out here,'” he stated. “We have a serious problem.”
Hernandez also gave the example of a woman who rents out rooms at her house. What would happen if she would not allow two men to sleep together there because of her Christian faith? Would she be brought before a tribunal as well?
In closing his speech, the pastor asked those who are opposed to the bill to stand to their feet, and most of the room arose and cheered loudly.
View Hernandez’ remarks in full below at approximately one hour into the recording.
Other pastors also spoke at the gathering, and according to Breaking News Belize, some residents held signs on which they had written Scripture.