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HIV Hero: Caleb Orozco Is a Warrior Fighting (and Winning) for Belize’

HIV Hero: Caleb Orozco Is a Warrior Fighting (and Winning) for Belize’

Caleb Orozco

After securing a monumental victory, this trailblazing LGBTQ+ and HIV advocate is not resting on his laurels.

It takes a special kind of person to take on an unjust system.  But that’s exactly what Caleb Orozco did — and continues to do — in Belize. With his unwavering support and advocacy, Orozco has shattered stigma and changed the lives of thousands of LGBTQ+ Belizeans and people living with HIV. 

It wasn’t until he was in his early 30s that Orozco first became politically active. He attended a workshop in Belize City for gay men and people living with HIV and found his calling. Orozco would go on to co-found the United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM) in 2006, the oldest and sole LGBTQ+ policy and advocacy organization in the nation, where he worked on behalf of sexual minorities and helping to strengthen their government protections and health outcomes.  

But it was four years later that he took his most important action — filing a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of Section 53 of the nation’s Criminal Code, which imposed up to a decade in prison for same-sex consensual sexual relations. 

Orozco was ultimately victorious in court which has given him a unique perspective into the limitations of Belize’s government to combat stigma and improve outcomes for people living with HIV. “One of the things I learned is the State doesn’t really evaluate biases, (that) it doesn’t have any mechanism to evaluate…the impact of attitude and perception (towards people living with HIV)” said Orozco. He continued that the State should be more concerned with supporting the needs of those living with HIV in “things like human rights and economic livelihood” rather than being “busy supporting systems” and being “purely biomedical in its response.”  

“LGBT people (in Belize) don't have any social safety net,” Orozco said. “They cannot depend on the State for things like job protection, against discrimination in housing. They get the message that they're not welcomed on the streets. They're not welcome in their jobs. They're not welcomed at the hospitals.” 

There is cause for hope, however. Orozco’s action and ultimate court victory in 2016 sparked others in Belize to stand up against discrimination in housing, the workplace, or in legislation and Orozco observes that there has been momentum ever since.  

“More gay people who are HIV-positive are speaking about prevention work and speaking about treatment,” says Orozco. “There is a slow or gradual move towards asserting their needs… health rights… economic needs… and ensuring that we have a mechanism that enforces and protects the dignity and rights of those individuals … there’s cause for hope.”

Learn more about Caleb Orozco's story and others in the newest episode of HIV Heroes.

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