A new year often dawns with new resolves and wishes, and this especially appears to be the case with the LGBTQI+ community in Sri Lanka. As dialogue on a sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI)-related equality clause in the proposed new constitution continues, an absolute priority is that of raising awareness on SOGI-related fundamental rights among policymakers, senior government officials, the judiciary and law enforcement officials. This is due to an extremely worrying lack of awareness and understanding that pervades government circles. The attitudes of many policymakers and officials towards SOGI issues are shaped by prejudices and colonially imposed Victorian [im]moralities, which, contrary to what many of us assume, are also deeply ingrained in what could be described as the ‘Sinhala-Buddhist establishment’. In a land nurtured by Buddhist philosophy along the logic of Sabbé satta bavantu sukhi thattha, ensuring the protection of the basic human rights of all citizens fall well within Sri Lankan, if not Sri Lankan-Buddhist traditions of tolerance and acceptance. Indeed, this reading categorically contrasts with the Temperance Movement-instigated appropriation of Victorian moralities and values that many of us blindly assume as ‘Sinhala-Buddhist’, which, in reality, have very little ‘Sinhala’ and next to no ‘Buddhist’ within. The latter Buddhist establishment remains highly patriarchal, harbouring an extremely discriminatory attitude towards gender equality within the clergy and beyond. This situation has resulted in a climate in which those who present themselves as the yellow-robe-clad custodians of ‘national’, if not ‘traditional’ values are in fact perpetrators of gender and sexuality-related oppressive conservatisms imposed upon us under Western colonial rule.
Hypocrisy in the LGBTQI+ political class?
Concerning the political class, this writer cannot avoid highlighting the staggering level of hypocrisy among senior politicians. In a country where LGB people occupy posts as high as Head of Government and several key cabinet ministerial portfolios including Law and Order, External Affairs and Education, one seldom comes across a politician prepared to openly affirm ‘we stand unequivocally for the fundamental rights of all citizens irrespective of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity’. This silence can be explained in their fear of a possible backlash that would be politically disadvantageous. However, the high-level power that the aforementioned politicians wield provides them with clear leverage to articulate SOGI-related fundamental rights and freedoms within a broader and water-tight emphasis on human rights and gender justice. Although the yahapalana government circles include several supportive MPs and specialists (such as the spouse of the Head of Government, a Gender Studies professor of international fame), its attitude to gender politics (including SOGI-related issues) continues to remain somewhat ‘hush-hush’, to say the least. A more forthright approach on fundamental rights would indeed be a welcome gesture in 2017.
Gender justice as interlinked to external affairs priorities?
SOGI-related human rights are inherently linked to overall objectives of gender justice. SOGI issues cannot be separated from issues of violence against [cis and trans] women, the socioeconomic violence suffered by [cis and trans] women from ethnic minorities and lower echelons of caste and class structures. If equality (and especially gender equality) is to be included in educational syllabi, it imperatively requires a strong SOGI-related emphasis. Similarly, reconciliation initiatives are incomplete in the absence of SOGI-related protections. Their omission from the statute book, action plans and strategic goals implies a low, if not insincere grasp of the welfare of citizens affected by deep-seated ethnonational (or should I say ethno-patriarchal) violence. Here again, Sri Lanka has the human resources and expertise to formulate forerunner legislation that could provide an example not only to the rest of the subcontinent, but also to the world at large. If Sri Lanka is negatively perceived at UN and other international human rights platforms, and if some powers are keen to push Sri Lanka against the wall in the name of human rights and pursue their own agendas (such as regime change operations), the myopia of the Sri Lankan political establishment to tactfully adopt a discourse on fundamental rights to ALL citizens (and a well-formulated and intersectional policy approach on gender justice) is primarily to be blamed.
LGBTQI+ Rights: a quintessentially ‘local’ issue
Most importantly, it is crucial that all LGBTQI+ activists in Sri Lanka work collectively to get one key message across – that LGBTQI+ rights are not a Western, if not white people’s imposition. Instead, LGBTQI+ rights are about the most basic and inalienable rights of ‘our own’ fellow citizens. These are a set of rights that directly concern each and every Sri Lankan citizen, especially the generations to come. To a very large extent, the opposition to the fundamental rights of LGBTQI+ citizens stem from a socially conservative patriarchal mindset, which has been strengthened by cycles of external colonisation and oppression. If we are to move forward as a people, we need to find our path towards ‘decolonising’ the collective Sri Lankan psyche. This involves critically questioning, reviewing and challenging positions many of us take for granted on a range of issues, including gender justice, sexual orientation and gender identity/ies. The consolidation of constitutionally enshrined protections for LGBTQI+ citizens, and the proliferation of a discourse of anti-discrimination, acceptance and respect are integral first steps of this process of collective decolonizing.
2017 and haters who live in Victorian times
As 2017 dawns, those Sri Lankans who are blinded by homophobia, transphobia and intersex-phobia, and consequently prefer to live under Victorian era British colonial laws and social conservatisms, ought to be reminded that ensuring LGBTQI+ equality and justice does not take away a single right or privilege of cisgender and heterosexual people. As reiterated above, those following Buddhist philosophy have absolutely nothing to fear of marginalised people (on the basis of gender identity, sexual orientation, social class, ethnicity or any other dividing factor) securing their rights – these rights being perfectly on a par with Buddhist teachings of respect and tolerance. Raising awareness of this salient reality will indeed be a decisive concern for LGBTQI+ rights advocates in Sri Lanka in 2017.
*Dr Chamindra Weerawardhana (@fremancourt) is a Research Fellow at Queen’s University Belfast and a board member of Sibéal, the Irish Feminist Network.
Subra / January 1, 2017
Very good initiative.
Sri Lanka must seize the liberal opportunity and recognize legally the rights of the LGBTQI community.
Their interests have already been included in the new constitution.
Ahamad / January 1, 2017
Dr. Chaminda Weerawardhana if you don’t have female organs and plenty of female hormone (oestrogen), you are not a woman,so SNAP OUT OF IT.
Can you explain why in the name of love anyone wants to romance the waste product outlet? Who wants to get the waste pumped back in and up, remixing them with blood stream, damaging the tissues? Aren’t you aware of these and more severe health risks?
Love anyone you want, love anything you want but don’t justify the abnormalities as normal. Don’t blame others for your miserable life.
Few reasons why some people choose the life of unnatural, unscientific and abnormal are: they come from a broken family, father is absent, no male role model, someone abused them as they are youngsters, grew up surrounding many women, having elder sisters and playing girly things with them . In short, a child growing up in a bad surrounding make them LGBT.
Al-faqurlah / January 2, 2017
For your information Arabs the custodians of pristine Islam are the worst sodomists in the world. They are also exponents in the art of bestiality using camels and goats.
Nugera / January 1, 2017
This topic is a very sensitive one. You mentioned buddhist values and indeed such values require understanding and tolerance. But the Christians and Muslims also are bigoted. So don’t just attack so called buddhists. Also now with Trump becoming the world’s most powerful msn, Keshap will be in big trouble if he poses for photo opportunities with the LGBT community in SL. His vice president Pence abhors and hates homosexual behavior. So do moat evangelical christians in the US. So Mangala Samaraweera will have a tough time making friends in thenew Whitehouse Issueslike this will not be discussed or promoted. In fact one of the reasons Hillary lost is the “gaylash” anger against gay marriage laws. This was inevitable. The silent majority of conservatives who don’t usually vote came out.
The radical social changes you seek cannot be forced by US liberal agendas. It needs to be discussed and you cannot drown out the conservative viewson this by insulting sinhala Buddhists etc. Christians and Muslims are far worse in their hate of gay and lesbians. And while people need more science to recognize if genes play a role in some of these cross dressing Tranny types or TG types science is already clear that most Gays and lesbians are born that way genetically. Some choose it, if for instance a boy is raised by a man hating mother or a promiscuous abusive mother. I support gay and lesbians rights but you can’t push your western values with in your face insults and trying to get people to change overnight on this. After all, the west considered homosexuality a psychiatrict disorder until the 1970s.
Does unprotected anal sex lead to higher chances of catching HIV? If so, why not spread awareness of promiscuity leading to higher incidents of HIV in Sri Lanka now please both in the Gay community and in the sex worker community. Why are HIV and AIDS rates still much higher in gay men, iv drug users and sex workers in SriLanka?
Tripti / January 1, 2017
Oh Lord. The following words are accusatory and slanderous.
In a country where LGB people occupy posts as high as Head of Government and several key cabinet ministerial portfolios including Law and Order, External Affairs and Education, one seldom comes across a politician prepared to openly affirm ‘we stand unequivocally for the fundamental rights of all citizens irrespective of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity’.
What proof do you have of these? So what if a VVVVIP is Gay or in a marriage of convenience with a lesbian? Why should he out himself and destroy his career? he was put in charge to save SL from corruption and economic ruin. He is honest and intellectually superior to anyone in the MR regime. What about economic development and his secret? Why are you out to ruin them?
So why do you want him to change his life to suit your western liberal agenda of in your face sexuality? Why can’t he remain in the closet with Law and Order maintained in Ceylon ? Externally looking internally at least a couple of them are open about their lifestyle but in Sri Lanka he too cannot say “I love men and I love anal sex” and go on and marry someone. This is not USA is it? This is Ceylon. That too will destroy his career and reputation.
If they choose to be in the closet that is their sacred right to protect their private in a nation of hate-filled buddhist or christian people who will stop at nothing to destroy people. Instead of attacking good people for their preferences stick to your own thoughts please.
Why not go after men who are married and have sex with servant boys and also go to places like Thailand to have sex with hookers and trannies and bring back AIDs? Look at the high rates of STDs and HIV now in Sri Lanka with so many respectable men including Basnayake Nilame types going for paid sex even with Russian hookers in Ceylon and also in Bangkok and Singapore and bringing back STDs to their hapless boring asexual wives. Let these VVIPs and ministers be! They are good decent honest people of good families.
I rather see a homosexual who wants to be private in his life or a lesbian who is private in her life doing good for the nation rather than a corrupt whore mongering, womanizing macho man who pretends to be a buddhist with lots of amulets. Let them be. Why are you trying to expose them?
AJ / January 2, 2017
I wish one day you can get into Sri Lankan politics to change things for good. Currently the country is dominated by extremism instead of inclusion. We need intelligent personnel to get involved in the policy making platform, to change the country towards Buddhas teaching of tolerance.
sinhalese buddhist / January 2, 2017
It seems that many Sri Lankans think it’s ok for homosexual people to live their lives in private, but not be open and honest about their attraction and lives in public.
SO it would be important to discuss the importance of being open in public for all people.
Is our sexuality only about what type of sexual activities we participate in? If so, there’s really not much difference between homo and heterosex. Even heterosexuals engage in anal and oral sex – thus they carry the same risk factors of passing on microbes such as HIV.
Obviously one’s sexual orientation is more than one’s sex life. It is about the relationships one forms with another human being that has components of sex for sure, but is much more than that. It’s about love, commitment, trust, empathy and understanding.
There are many Sri Lankans who are homosexual who have raised children in loving relationships. There would be many more is we accept their right to do so legally and openly.
I believe the onus on changing the status of homosexuals in Sri Lanka, is on the homosexuals themselves. They need to open up to their closest family members and friends. Once open, people who love them would see how the various laws and social stigma impede the lives of gay people, and how unfair that is. They would also see that it’s not all about sex!
Rich people, like the ministers you talk of, have always had the privilege of living any lifestyle they want, because they can buy the protection from abuse. But middle-class and the poor do not have the same level of immunity against society’s unfair treatment of gay people. They are the ones who need our help most. I don’t think the politicians you cite are the ones to pin your hopes on.
Reach out to the regular person. Tell them how the lives of gays are negatively affected by society’s attitudes and the laws. Give them an insight to the stress a gay teenager has to manage in growing up and asserting their due place in society. Only then will society start to change, leading to changes in law to reflect a just society.
I think some muslim women are doing this very thing right now, trying to repeal unjust laws against them. They are trying to highlight the negative impact of outdated laws on the lives of muslim women and their families.
Gays should follow their example – better yet gays should work with these women, because the system they are fighting is one and the same.
Food for thought…
Salahuddin / January 2, 2017
One’s sexual orientation is not limited to sexual preference is it? Yet it continues to be a heated debate. There is far too much hypocrisy in nations like Sri Lanka based on the Victorian double standards of the English. Indeed yes, what we have are archaic laws from those days governing sexual conduct. Being Gay means love more than just physical love attractions be you gay or lesbian.
Chaminda but can you enlighten me to the Q and I part now? That came into the LGBT lexicon only about 2 years ago. Q stands for Queer so it is males who are effeminate and want to live effeminately as men? What does I stand for? 90% of Gays and Lesbians are born that way. In Sri Lanka, like in India many gay men effeminate or not pretend to be straight by being in marriages of convenience for political considerations and the family pressures by dominant mothers etc.
These attacks on anal sex are silly. Lot of Heterosexual partners engage in anal sex with their wives and girlfriends; in fact some girls prefer anal because they have better orgasms if it is combined with good cunnilingus and also because it does not make them pregnant. As long as condoms and good disinfectant are used it is enjoyable. Men like prostate massages with finger stimulus of the anal canal prostate area leading to better arousal and better ejaculations too. Gosh some Thai massages provide that extreme pleasure for Heterosexual males. So it depends on whether you have a tightlaced uptight unadventurous sex is only for procreation boring wife or girlfriend or not. As long as condoms are mandated for anal sex it will be a good fun exercise.
nosey parker / January 3, 2017
The fact that we have had more than one homosexual head of state and several ministers and politicians all elected by popular vote since independence clearly shows that Sri Lankan people are generally not in the least bothered by one’s sexual orientation . Irrespective of race or religion , our people are in the main happy to accept so called differences. There is certainly no need to indulge in Buddhist bashing , or denigrate other religions.
In my opinion it is when people like yourself living 1000’s of miles away start this sort of aggressive campaign, that the shit hits the fan .
Proud Eelam Tamil / January 3, 2017
Those homophobic genocidal barbarians who have scorned this lady, i must remain you, that our great leader himself was sodomised before his martyrdom. Does that make our leader any different? does Lord Jesus become any low because he was crucified? Because Jesus was crucified, millions of faithfuls subject themselves to ritualistic crucification. Like that We Eelam Tamils should remember the sacrifice of our leader.Long live Tamil National Leader in the heart of EelamTamils
Goraka / January 4, 2017
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Goraka / January 4, 2017
And he or she call us haters. In fact, he (or she) hates hetro-sexuals. They wanted us to pro-create and bring up children, and the sexual deviants loves with their deviant behaviours and forces us to treat them as normal humans.
God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.
Gopinath / January 6, 2017
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Tassimo / January 6, 2017
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