Transgender woman is stoned and beaten by an angry mob
On Tuesday evening, a transgender woman was badly beaten in Belize City. She goes by the name of Vanessa Champagne Paris and was walking on Vernon Street when she was first targeted. Dressed in women’s clothing, Vanessa’s attackers followed her and by the time she got to Mayflower Street, the group morphed into an angry mob. The violence against the gay community came up recently when a long list of complaints was presented in a hearing before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights of the O.A.S. in Washington. The United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM) and the Belize Youth Empowerment for Change petitioned the hearing seeking measures by the government to protect the LGBT community. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.
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Isani Cayetano, Reporting
Discrimination, in various forms, against members of the LGBT community persists in Belizean society. Despite efforts to raise awareness by promoting civil and human rights, Belizeans are chiefly a homophobic lot. The recent physical assault of a transgendered woman in Belize City brings into sharp focus, yet again, the plight of this particular social group. On Tuesday, Vanessa, as she prefers to be called, was walking along Vernon Street when she became the victim of a vicious attack.
“While walking down Vernon Street [uhm] nearly close to the end dehn have a ball field pan yo right hand side, coming if yo gwein to Central American Boulevard. When I approach deh, when I reach da specific part, walking on the left hand side of the road dehn mi have a lotta young bwai weh mi di play football and soh. While passing one ah dehn look pan mi and seh, “You know dat dah wa [bleep] man!” Soh di otha one seh, “Cho, dat dah wah man?” Soh ih sehe, “Yes, dah wah [bleep] faggot!” Den he mi deh eena di middle ah di field di play ball, he run fahn eena di field and he come to di [uhm] to di sidewalk and dehn he staat seh, “You [bleep] battyman, you [bleep] punk, [bleep] how you wahn walk dis street and den he staat pick up some broken pieces a cement and staat stone afta me.”
Soon enough Vanessa’s attacker would be joined by several others who began pursuing her down the street, all the way continuing to throw stones and hurl insults at her. Upon reaching the intersection with Mayflower Street, Ghost Town, as it is colloquially known, the number grew into a mob of riotous men armed with sticks and stones.
“When I nearly reach dehn, I sih dehn come closer like eena di middle a di street fi like look pan me more closely and so when dehn look pan me, I just sih dehn, mussi like three man, four, ‘cause da mi bout fifteen bwai deh deh but four ah dehn get up, pick big rocks up, cement and just start stone afta me. And so I seh hmm, well I haffi really get outta dis place fi true and so I staat run with all, di fastest I coulda mi run and when dehn sih dat I mi really wahn escape or get weh from dem, one ah di bwai from di same corner ah di street, he mi done deh close to me soh he just staat chase afta me too, and I mi have on wahn long black dress and I couldn’t really run fast enough and soh he ketch up to me, he grab me by di back ah my dress and he pull me back. When he pull me back I try fight ahn fi get weh but I couldn’t really get weh and he hold me back and he punch me eena my face eena di right corner ah my face. Di adda rest meet up to me and only four bwai, only four bwai come and dehn staat beat me up.”
Vanessa’s harrowing ordeal, a first for her outside of the southern community she is from, comes on the heels of a recent presentation before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an autonomous organ of the O.A.S. The forum saw the participation of the United Belize Advocacy Movement, UNIBAM, and the Belize Youth Empowerment for Change. Both parties spoke on the many instances of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment against the gay community.
Steven Diaz, Belize Youth Empowerment for Change
“We remain concerned that the state retains legislation criminalizing same-sex sexual conduct, the provision exacerbates discrimination, violence against and general marginalization of sexual minorities in Belizean society. We remain concerned that the state has not implemented any public policies or legislation that would rectify the extreme public stigma against LGBT individuals in Belizean society or counter the homophobic speech or misinformation spread by proponents of the criminalization of same-sex conduct.”
In this case, Vanessa was simply returning from an appointment at the Vital Statistics Unit, where she had just received her birth certificate and other documents that would afford her to start a new life when she was assailed.
“I came to get my new papers because I have to get mi birth paper fi change mi name, mi social security card and afta I done get that then seeking employment.”
The unsolicited attack underscores recent concerns shared by UNIBAM’s Executive Director Caleb Orozco on the issue of stigma and discrimination against the community.
Caleb Orozco, Executive Director, UNIBAM
“The concerns about perceived stigma found in a 2012 study found that forty percent has suffered some level of discrimination, whether verbal or physical, both being the more common forms. Concerns about violence is interconnected to hate speech that is further perpetuated in parts of the Belize Media.”
For Vanessa, the vitriol, as well as the physical abuse, began during her childhood.
Voice of: Vanessa Champagne Paris
“My own cousins dehn gaan eena my house and they personally took me out of the house, brought a knife, machete and even beat me up fi mek I come outta di house and my father allowed it. He personally tek a knife and stabbed me and tell me mek I come out.”
While there is a charge being made that government isn’t doing much to safeguard the rights and freedoms of the gay community, Belize’s ambassador to the O.A.S., Nestor Mendez, in addressing the gathering, says that the Barrow administration remains committed to upholding the tenets of the constitution, despite raging cultural and legal war.
Ambassador Nestor Mendez, O.A.S.
“Belize is a constitutional democracy in which the constitution is the supreme law and it is the sovereign and democratic state of Central America in the Caribbean region. It is a state that respects the fundamental rights of all Belizean nationals. This general principle was buttressed by the Honorable Prime Minister of Belize when he delivered his 2013 Independence Day speech and declared, I open quotes, “Recently however, a most unsettling phenomenon has arisen, a version of wars has come to our country and it is souring the harmony and disrupting the rhythm of Belizean life. The golden knot that ties us all together is in danger of coming loose.”
Regrettably, that golden knot has long since become a hangman’s noose which is being used at will to lynch members of the LGBT community. It is a sad reality that, like others, Vanessa and Caleb are forced to live with.
“I didn’t imagine the impact it would have on me psychologically and you only realize the impact after you’re in your room quiet, with nobody around, that’s when your anxieties roll up inside of you.”
Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.
To protect her from further violence, Vanessa asked that her identity be kept unknown.