Colombo International School and its principal have come under fire for mistreating a child
A pupil at Colombo International School, founded by veteran educator Elizabeth Moir, and one of Sri Lanka’s leading international schools, is currently undergoing the most problematic violation of their fundamental rights.
The pupil [in line with our journalistic ethics, The Colombo Telegraph refrains from mentioning the name of the underage child, also in an effort to respect the privacy of the child and their family] had expressed an interest in using a rainbow flag as part of their outfit for a fashion show. The principal, Sarah Philipps, a British woman, had then told the pupil that this was not allowed. The child had then complied by wearing the rainbow flag as a simple tie and dye cape. She had then come to school covering her bag in a rainbow flag.
The letter written by the principal, Sarah Philipps, to the child’s parents [which we produce in full here with the child’s name redacted], is a letter of the utmost shame. The principal, in 2018, and in a school in the South Asian region where the regional superpower’s top-most Court repealed anti-LGBT+ legislation imposed by the British during the Victorian era, continues to impose Victorian British values on a brown-skinned Sri Lankan child.
The behaviour of Philipps is highly unethical, and involves a violation of the fundamental rights of the child.
“In which century does the CIS Principal live?” Asked Uvindu Kurukulasuriya, the Editor-in-Chief of the Colombo Telegraph. “This is highly unethical and patronising. The rainbow flag is a flag that the world has recognised as one that symbolises fundamental rights and equality. Sri Lanka is not a British colony anymore. It totally baffles me to see that a British woman still assumes that she can live and work in Sri Lanka and violate the fundamental rights of a Sri Lankan LGBT+ child. It is all the more surprising because LGBT+ child-friendly policies are followed in many schools across the UK today. The child had every right to have the rainbow flag included in whatever way they wished in their fashion show outfit, or in covering their schoolbag. The Colombo Telegraph is happy to provide our fullest support to the child and their family in their efforts to ensure that justice prevails in the child’s favour,” Kurukulasuriya further added.
Many Sri Lankan nationals, especially human rights advocates, expressed great dismay at the way the child had been treated at one of Colombo’s leading international schools.
Thiagaraja Warathas, a lecturer in International Politics at the University of Colombo, the co-founder of Chathra, a leading LGBT+ rights advocacy group in Colombo, a co-founder of the Community Welfare Development Fund, noted:
“The actions taken by the school principal is highly homophobic. Altogether, costume of a fashion design contest is at the discretion of the contestant or the designer which cannot be censored by the principal. On the other hand Cooperatives too use rainbow flag. So do we expect principal to ban everything related to rainbows?
The most derogatory and inhuman actions taken by the principal is deducting marks and excluding student from all the activities which for me is violation of fundamental rights of the student.”
Warathas, who is also a leading educator and currently completing his PhD at the University of Bath, where he is a Commonwealth Scholar, further added “I would never ever send my kids to a homophobic school. This Principal should be held accountable for her actions and a proper official level inquiry should be called against principal for violating the rights of expression and right to education of the student”.
“This is beyond pathetic”, noted academic, author and international LGBT+ rights advocate Dr Chamindra Weerawardhana, who delivered Sri Lanka’s first-ever inaugural annual Pride Speech in Colombo in May 2018.
“The child should never have been treated in this way. This child did something important, by taking a symbol of equality, justice, tolerance and love to their school. The principal and staff should have been happy of what the child did. They should have stood resolutely with the child and their rights. Across the developed world, child-friendly guidelines are being put in place, with the objective of ensuring the rights of children across the broadly-defined LGBT+ spectrum. As a non-cisnormative and non-heteronormative woman and a mother of two young children, I constantly deal with a school, where neither me nor my children, nor other LGBT+ children face this kind of treatment. And this, I reiterate is in the United Kingdom. The principal, a British woman with degrees from the University of Bath, should have known better. The decent thing for Ms Philipps to do is to apologise to the child and their parents, allow the child to bring the rainbow flag to school, and launch an awareness raising programme on – to use the United Nations abbreviation – Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity/Expression, and Sex-Characteristics [SOGIESC]-related issues in the school. As an experienced educator, I will be personally prepared to help out in rolling out such an initiative if needed,” Dr Weerawardhana further added.
“The LGBT+ community of Sri Lanka includes many senior politicians, judges, outstanding lawyers, journalists and diplomats. In the current climate of mobilisation for fundamental rights in the aftermath of the Indian Supreme Court’s decision to repeal Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, our LGBT+ community and lawyers are unlikely to leave Ms Philipps and the CIS management alone unless they take prompt action in the right direction,” Dr Weerawardhana cautioned.
A broad dialogue is currently developing in Sri Lanka in favour of the rights of LGBT+ Sri Lankans. This involves efforts to call upon authorities to repeal sections 365 and 365a of the Penal Code, which are used by law enforcement to violate the fundamental rights of Sri Lankan citizens on the basis of their sexual orientation. This conversation also imperatively requires a focus on children and young people in the LGBT+ spectrum. Schools need to be issued child-friendly and fundamental rights-focused guidelines on ensuring equality to all pupils. (By Shamila Rathnayake)