American anti-gay groups have turned their attention away from politics at home and are now focused on restricting the rights of the LGBT community in smaller countries like Belize, a new report finds.
A new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center found that the Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based anti-gay religious group, has spent three years advocating to keep a section of the Central American nation's criminal code that "can lead to imprisonment for private sexual acts between consenting adults of the same sex."
Section 53, the statute in the criminal code, recommends a sentence of 10 years for Belizians who engage in private homosexual acts. The country also bans lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender immigrants -- along with immigrants with physical or mental disabilities -- and is a cultural nightmare for openly gay people, the report says. The ADF, formerly known as the Alliance Defense Fund, has joined a handful of other far-right groups to maintain those restrictions.
Both the SPLC, and Caleb Orozco, an LGBT activist in Belize whose life has been threatened because of his advocacy, say an American-born pastor named Scott Stirm is the impetus of anti-gay sentiment in the country.
Stirm leads a group named Belize Action, which boasts of assistance it has received from American groups to preserve Section 53. Stirm's group singled out Orozco, one of the plaintiffs in a legal challenge to Section 53, as supporting "a broad HOMOSEXUAL AGENDA of what's called 'GENDER MAINSTREAMING,' making the gay & lesbian lifestyle accepted in our society and culture," on the Belize Action website.
Stirm has never called for violence, Orozco said in a press call, but the rhetoric has led to a climate that makes Orozco fear for his safety in public places and in his home. Stirm has labeled the case "an orchestrated plan of demonic darkness."
"What's missing in this conversation is knowing that Scott Stirm has many layers of missionary groups coming into this country," Orozco said in the call. "It is their education which is cultivating the permission of violence."
Heidi Beirich, the leader of the SPLC office that published the report, said anti-gay groups began to form alliances, reported in countries like Uganda and Saudi Arabia, after 2003's Lawrence v. Texas ruling struck down anti-sodomy laws nationwide. Beirich said the spread of gay rights in the United States has motivated Christian-led groups worldwide to create unlikely alliances with Islamic religious groups.
"Words have consequences, and at this point, they have them internationally as well," Beirich said.
UPDATE: Aug. 6 -- In a press release on its website, Stirm's Belize Action disputed aspects of the SPLC report and said that they "strongly condemn any & all acts of violence & hate propagated against any person for anything, as well as death penalty efforts for homosexual acts in other nations."