At a meeting of the National Intellectual Organisation [NIO] held in November 2018, JVP leader Anura Dissanayake affirmed in public that his party, [the primary contender to present itself as a third alternative in Sri Lankan politics], recognises and respects LGBT+ rights [සමරිසි ප්රජාව]. The NIO National Policy Document, launched at the national convention of the NIO held in Colombo on 19th February 2019, contains a section on LGBT+ rights. Pages 104-105 read as follows:
LGBT+ community leaders were invited to both above-mentioned events, and in drafting the manifesto, NIO was keen to gain first-hand insights from LGBT+ rights advocates of the left.
Indeed, these are highly significant developments. This is the first time that representatives of LGBTIQ+ communities in Sri Lanka have been invited by a political party to join a high level public political dialogue. This is also the first time when an organisation affiliated to a national-level political party has included a comprehensive section on LGBT+ rights in their primary policy document.
Speaking to Colombo Telegraph, political analyst, educator and author Dr Chamindra Weerawardhana, who delivered Sri Lanka’s inaugural annual Pride Speech last May in Colombo, noted:
“These are very commendable developments. The JVP and the NIO have been receptive to the LGBT+ community, and their willingness to interact with non-heteronormative Sri Lankans is a very important move. I also appreciate the fact that they focus on the issue of sexual orientation, as in “සමරිසි”. This is very important, because it is non-heteronormative citizens whose rights are being criminalised. They face very high levels of stigma. A senior MP who is supportive of SOGIESC rights once said to me that efforts develop a parliamentary dialogue on the rights related to gender identity/expression and sex characteristics were somewhat easier than a similar effort on sexual orientation-related matters. So the NIO and JVP definitely should be appreciated for focusing on the සමරිසි ප්රජාව”.
Dr Weerawardhana further noted that despite this development and many other positive elements in the NIO policy document,
“The NIO is yet to make progress on a very important matter, gender equality and parity. Very few women have so far been given key positions and responsibilities. At the National Convention, we saw only a few women taking the floor. If you are a serious political advocacy body of the left that intends to impact a polity in 2019, it is very important to focus on 50:50 parity. In the Sri Lankan context, this would set a tremendous precedent. Some people seem to assume, even within the left, that we do not need to focus on gender parity in this way, or that Sri Lanka is ‘not ready’ for such a development. All I have to say to them is to look at the power of Sri Lankan women from all backgrounds, levels of education and identities, and take stock of the importance of ensuring full parity. The equality and justice-related elements in the NIO programme of action would not be fruitful in the absence of a proper parity policy. To me, as a queer woman, full gender parity, robust gender equality/justice policies and the rights of the සමරිසි ප්රජාව go hand-in-hand”.
Speaking to Colombo Telegraph, Thiagaraja Warathas, a political activist, Senior Lecturer at the University of Colombo and Commonwealth doctoral scholar at the University of Bath, noted
“I think this is a very significant moment for the LGBT+ community in Sri Lanka, where a multi-front body like the NIO, that is known to be aligned with a political party that represents parliament and has a rural and semi-urban voting bank, has agreed to accept LGBTQI+ rights as something that should be enhanced and protected. No other political party representing parliament has ever initiated such an endeavour in Sri Lankan history.”
“And this change did not come overnight. There have been a number of discussions and fostering processes, which have culminated in such a positive policy transformation. And this should be enhanced and further strengthened based on mutually beneficial political dialogue between the political parties and the LGBT+ community. Instead of demanding the full pie all at once, certain elements of the Sri Lankan LGBT+ community must also realise that the consolidation of political recognition is a gradual and incremental process”, Warathas further said.
Uvindu Kurukulasuriya, the founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Colombo Telegraph, noted: “This is indeed very good news. Since its inception, the Colombo Telegraph has resolutely stood for the rights of all minorities in Sri Lanka, including the LGBT+ community and for SOGIESC rights. I commend the NIO for this step, and fervently hope that they would keep strengthening their policies on equality and justice as they develop as an organisation.
“The NIO-JVP supporting LGBT+ rights in an election year shows us where the NIO and JVP leaderships are showing us the way forward for a progressive Sri Lanka”, Kurukulasuriya further commented. (By Shamila Rathnayake)