By Thiyagaraja Waradas –
I and a few other representatives belonging to the LGBTIQ+ of Sri Lanka were invited by the JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna – Peoples Liberation Front) to participate at a public dialogue on the role of intellectuals in democracy in Sri Lanka yesterday (12th of November 2018). JVP has six MPs in the parliament and been part of two insurrections in the country. A party that is largely based on rural, educated Sinhalese vote base is on the move to include larger issues which are not championed by major parties such as the UNP and SLFP.
Recognizing LGBTIQ+ Community
This was 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 invitation came in a situation where LGBTIQ+ community has been demonised and deliberately ignored by the major political parties such as the SLFP and the UNP.
This stance of maintaining a studied silence and deliberately ignoring rights of sexual minorities in Sri Lanka was put in the spotlight with the recent success in decriminalization of non-heterosexual relations in India. The then Minister of Justice, Thalatha Athukorala, claimed in an interview of Ceylon Today news paper that they are yet to receive a formal request to decriminalize. However a subsequent request made by LGBTIQ+ community activists to meet the Minister of Justice and as well as the Chairwoman of the Parliamentary Sectoral Oversight Committee on Women and Gender Dr Thusitha Wijemanna to discuss these issues went completely ignored.
It is in this local context, the invitation to the LGBTIQ+ community by the JVP is of great significance, as it came in a situation where Sri Lankan LGBTIQ+ community was being publicly demonized by President Maithripala Sirisena of the SLFP during his speech in a mega rally on the 5th of November, 2018. President’s homophobic remarks were met with fierce criticism from diverse segments of the society. With the JVP’s progressive stance against discrimination of LGBTIQ+ community in contrast to the homophobic stance of SLFP and UNP, it is a good starting point for a party which attempts to address constituencies who have been historically oppressed.
Call for a broader democratic progressive alliance:
The event was organized by the JVP under the theme of ‘Intellectuals for Democracy’. The event was well attended by many of our colleagues from the universities, professionals such as doctors, lawyers, activists, public servants and the clergy. The entire hall at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute was full leaving only standing room for late attendees. The major call that echoed through all the speeches was to stand and join hands for a broader democratic coalition against authoritarian moves of President Sirisena. Such a broad platform would entails representation of different progressive rights and interests of the larger society. It has been highlighted that producing a counter narrative to overcome the dominant Sinhala Buddhist nationalism is a major challenge for mainstreaming and eventual victory of a political strategy based on democracy. Despite these challenges, party leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, invited all interested parties to join hands for democracy and highlighted the role of intellectuals in fulfilling that mandate.
JVP’s Position on LGBTIQ+ Community
At the discussion session of the event, a person raised the question of the official position of the JVP about discrimination against LGBTIQ+ community in Sri Lanka. In his reply to the question, Anura Kumara Dissanayake explicitly stated that the JVP stands for equal rights as every individuals are equal humans. His statement says,
“Sexual orientation is a private matter of an individual. We may have different divisions in our society, based on language, religion, culture. But as JVP we believe all of these communities including LGBTIQ+ communities have equal rights and equal recognition. Our position on LGBTIQ+ community is that. We are humans before any divisions based on our sexual orientation, sexual preferences, language, culture and religion. We approach all issues based on the idea that we are all humans. Therefore, we are a movement for equal rights.”
This is a remarkable statement coming from a major political party in the struggle against discrimination of LGBTIQ+ community in Sri Lanka. It was the first time in the political history of Sri Lanka that a party leader publicly expressed his party’s support for equal rights which would eliminate the discrimination against LGBTIQ+ community. The leaders’ remarks were welcomed with a big round of applause from the audience. I was stunned to hear and witness the historic momentum in our struggle for eliminating discrimination against LGBTIQ+ community in Sri Lanka.
A beginning of a Sri Lankan approach:
A party that was once subject to heavy criticism by civil society for homophobic remarks made by one of the MPs Dr Nalinda Jayatissa, has now become the only party in Sri Lanka that has openly come out with a position for eliminating discrimination against LGBTIQ+ community. It is a sign that a home grown and locally grounded path for LGBTIQ+ rights is finally taking shape. JVP is a party that is largely based on rural educated masses and now making inroads in to urban civil society voters with a centre-left political orientation indicates that ‘left’ political approach as the only viable path for Sri Lanka LGBTIQ+ community to win their rights. It is an approach not funded by foreign money but by commitment and passion of grass root activists engaged in progressive politics locally. It is an approach where class, language, caste, cultures and ethnicity intersect with LGBTIQ+ identities. This markedly contrasts with the studied silence and sometimes outright hostility towards LGBTIQ+ rights by other mainstream parties in Sri Lanka. Finally I left with the hope that that the democratic forum that was taking shape under the leadership of JVP could be a viable way forward for eliminating the discrimination against LGBTIQ+ community in Sri Lanka.
*Thiyagaraja Waradas is a LGTBIQ+ rights activist and a lecturer at the department of International relations of the University of Colombo. He is also a Commonwealth Scholar at the University of Bath, U.K.
Soorasena / November 13, 2018
What does LGBTQI stand for ?
Goraka / November 14, 2018
It’s LGBTIQ. You have transposed the last 02 letters IQ.
It means low IQ. I hope Queers can take a joke!
K.Pillai / November 14, 2018
Soorasena: What does LGBTQI stand for ?
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer-questioning, and Intersex.
google for more info
Eagle Eye / November 13, 2018
Even Rohana Wijeweera has tolerated gays in JVP.
Amila W / November 13, 2018
“ignoring rights of sexual minorities” – there is a new minority now, soon there will be a party
Ben Hurling / November 13, 2018
Way to go JVP! You are blazing the trail on this issue. Well done indeed!
Immoral morality hypocrites take note. Tide is starting to turn. Liberation for the long-abused LGBTIQ+ community in SL has started.
Hang yourself in shame Homophobic Opportunistic Hypocrite Sirisena et al!
Native Vedda / November 15, 2018
The old guards are still active in JVP.
Please wait until a few days, you may be surprised to hear a clarification on progressive liberal policies.
Bubbuladewi / November 13, 2018
But I myself have seen some videos where that Nalinda Jayathissa (MP JVp) has loudly opposed any LGBT rights in SL.
This contradicts with what AKD’s how come ?
I think no matter what it is, politics should FOCUS only on ENTIRE community.
None of the followings should be a matter to the politcians of the island; they should treat all of them with a same spoon:
Black or white
Tamil, muslims, burghers, plantation tamils or sinhalese
Good or bad
Drug addict or Aids infected
Alcoholic or non-alcoholic
Transexuals, hetero sexuals, Gay, Lesbian or others
Humanbeings of animals
Professionals or non-profs
Literate or illiterate
All these are srilankens – no matter what religion they worship, they should all be treated equally.
ENOUGH is enough – we fought a war against terrorists.
We must not create a war against Rjaakshes.
But we have to tame them by the law of the country.
No FAKE Primemenisters or Cabinet ministers be able to do what they think is right, but the law of the country (SC) should make it very clear and guide the stupid PRESIDENT Sirisena
JVP Fan / November 13, 2018
Wrong interpretation. The writer has misunderstood AKD’s Sinhala statement. It’s very general stance. Everyone is equal but it doesn’t mean AKD or JVP has sanctioned such a lifestyle. We love everyone including LGBTIQ, but we do not approve their lifestyle.
Anti-hypocrisy / November 13, 2018
JVP, since the 1960s has always had dubious standards on sex and sexual discipline within the group. While there was an order banning love affairs and marital alliances within the group, leaders Wijeweera and Lionel Bopage were the forst to start affairs and continue them to marriage. There were many closet gays too. So this is not surprising at all.
nuwan / November 14, 2018
@ Anti-hypocrisy. Since you are typing utter cock as shown by your comment and hidden your name even proves u don’t believe the rubbish you have commented on.
Goraka / November 13, 2018
No one will discriminate against anyone – if you keep your sex life confined to your bedroom!
You parade your dirty laundry in public and expect everyone to treat your weird behaviours as normal.
mailk / November 14, 2018
why a pervert like you can watch and like to watch?
Goraka / November 15, 2018
Malik, how can you call me pervert when you enjoy deviant sex even animals don’t approve!
So, you are the deviant pervert!
K.Anaga / November 13, 2018
‘ Equal rights for all’ is only a statement. It has to be put into practice may be included in the next constitution. The clause in this respect has to be carefully worded not only for the so called ‘intellectuals’ but for the laymen as well. The wordings should be in such a way that the need to go to the supreme court for interpretation will no arise- in all three languages.
Ajay / November 13, 2018
Only the JVP has the balls to take a firm stand on issues affecting vulnerable, marginalized communities in the country – people discriminated on the basis of their ethnicity, religion or sexuality. All other national parties pay only lip service to inclusiveness and the notion of forging an overarching Sri Lankan identity so that all people can live as equal citizens. Their real concern is to protect their vote banks, and thus tacitly go along with mainstream majoritarianism. They make sure they’re shown on TV on a regular basis genuflecting before the corrupt, racist clergy (that also includes Cardinal Ranjith) and mouthing platitudes about the greatness of “Sri Lankan Civilization.” Whereas, I think the JVP is the only progressive, forward-looking political party in the country today that can transcend this narrow, divisive, polarizing politics and work towards bringing relief to the poor and the suffering. I can observe more and more young people with a commitment to social justice rallying behind the JVP.. By the way, the writer is also an excellent speaker in both Sinhala and Tamil. Keep it up.
Medalankara de Choppe / November 14, 2018
Why are the confirmed homos in the monasteries silent. Recently in an article in the weekly “Aniddha” a lady writer described how the chief priest of a temple visited a young, recently ordained Samanera in his bed, in order drive the devils away and left some gummy stuff on the young samanera’s bed linen.
The easiest path to heaven.or was it heaven for the chief priest at that time of ej………
Prasad / November 14, 2018
Better late than never! That is if you want to capture about 5-7% of a voter base. While appluading the stand taken by JVP I would also like to mention that Dr. Wikramabahu Karunaratne of The New Left Front was and I believe still is a staunch supporter of queer rights in Srilanka. Infact Bahu has participated in many activities organised by Companions on a journey, the very first LGBT organisation in Srilanka. Also, Samajawaadi Samaanatha Pakshaya also publicly supported LGBT rights during a Presidential election Campaign. Compared to JVP or any othe major political parties their votebase or impact may be miniscule, but nevertheless they stood out with LGBT community to voice our concerns. It must be also mentioned that Late MP Neelan Thiruchelvam spoke in favour of Decriminalisation of same sex acts during a parliamentry debate on legal reforms way back in 1994. Just so we acknowledge the politicians who stood with us in our quest for equality!
K.Pillai / November 14, 2018
We have here a report on a public dialogue on the role of intellectuals in democracy in Sri Lanka yesterday (12 November 2018). JVP invited LGBTIQ+ led by Thiyagaraja Waradas, to participate.
Waradas says ~ “JVP Stands For Non-Discrimination Of LGBTIQ+ Persons”
Only recently western countries accepted that LGBTIQ+ issues are not abnormal. Lankans have never paid much attention. We never had a Oscar Wilde type criminal case. Arthur Clarke lived here because we were not bigoted as to his preferences.
We are in the midst of a very serious issue. At a meeting MS referred to butterflies. This brought out laughter and MS felt good – something he needed. Some felt disparaged – justifiably.
LGBTIQ+ attempted to make some mileage out of this and now JVP some mileage out of this mileage.
JVP must note that the rural population are worried about the next meal, bribes, police brutality and such. Right now they wonder as to the legality of the dissolution.
LGBTIQ+ please realise that copying western type teach-ins may be counter-productive.
Good luck to JVP and LGBTIQ+
Ranvir / November 14, 2018
The more I learn about AKD and the JVP the more I’m convinced that its time to ditch the two main parties who haven’t proven to be worthy of governance, and vote en masse for the JVP.
W M Fernando / November 14, 2018
We have destroyed the environment going behind western development thinking everything is for human beings. Men and women are for natural behavior and if not it is a deformation. Deformed things are not accepted and propagated for preservation of environment. Propagating of abnormal sexuality is also destruction of environment. It will be an irreparable damage to the world. Nonsense put forward by so called scholars will not there to rectify those disasters in the future.
sinhalese budhhist / November 14, 2018
Very heartening news. If the JVP can get the rural and middle class masses to support LGBTQI rights, then there will be a significant positive shift in public opinion and laws.
L: lesbian, B:bisexual; G: gay, T: transgender/sexual, Q: queer/questioning, I: inter-sex
RAJASINGHAM JAYADEVAN / November 15, 2018
Kumara Dissanayake. you took the just path.
Suranga Gunasekera / November 15, 2018
I totally agree and I will always stand against any kind of discrimination. That’s a basic human right.
This doesn’t mean I stand to give support to obtain legal rights for various sexual appetites.
There is a clear difference between the two.
People need to understand how we can be crippled as a nation, giving legal value to someone’s sexual orientation.
What ever people do behind closed doors shouldn’t matter to anyone. And no one should discriminate them for that. If our laws don’t permit this we should fight for it.
But if people are asking for marital rights, then I’m against it.
Marriage is what nations are built on. Children are our future.
As per psychology children have a process to become an adult.
1. Attraction to their parents
2. Attraction to the same sex
3. Attraction to the opposite sex
If there is no push from the society, more children will get stuck in the second stage.
It won’t be long before we become weaker minded people in the world.
Highly democratic countries will feel the pressure in a few decades, when more half baked cakes are getting produced.
Motherhood and fatherhood is very special. Please don’t let anyone tarnish the concept of marriage for there sexual greed.
Thiagarajah Venugopal / November 16, 2018
Thank you for sharing Mr Thiayagarajah. It is good to know you feel LGBTQ cause is now acknowledged by a party. In a Democracy parties do take on causes such as mentioned in this article is what democracy all about.
The mainstream parties been busy fire fighting far too many other issues and is a shame this has not received the attention due and is overdue indeed. Please ensure it is not a party political stunt and be heard in the Parliament discussions to come.
I would ask one think you suggest to the JVP is that they do not need to undermine other political parties to discuss the said cause. This where we wrong in the process of getting something right we have to always wrong someone need to be stopped. It is social issue as correctly pointed by so many other brilliant commenters tell you we are al with the same cause irrespective of the party politics as we as a Nation has a long way to go to evolve as we need to come out of this incorrect understanding of party politics altogether. We should encourage others to look for various issues too along with this to be taken on onboard by all parties eventually and discussed practically in public as to what is the issues? how they plan to address what regard to LGTBQ? What regulations are required and how this help your/our children cause?
Please this is missing in your article as well as the JVP speakers statements/discussions is what matters insted this sounds like my part of the world politics Tamil cause? National question?? Undemocratic activities to achive anything by any means INCLUDING USING THE DEAD? the JVP is also has the similar history. So to ensure you do not undermine the LGTBQ cause being highjacked for the wrong reasons? discuss exact issues? facts and figures will help to educate us all too.
clean slate / November 16, 2018
Now that JVP has spoken on this matter of LGBT etc… we expect from them to take up a favourable position in regard to occasional drinkers who find it promoting goodwill and understanding among people. We are fed up with successive governments imposing heavy taxes on liquor assuming liquor to be destructive in all cases.
in any case the governments’ stance is utterly hypocritical as they dont condemn toddy and its tapping which too is liquor.