The United Nations Secretary General’s Special Expert on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity/Expression and Sex Characteristics [SOGIESC] Victor Madrigal-Borloz will be visiting Sri Lanka on an evaluator and fact-finding mission in the coming months.
In advance of Mr Madrigal-Borloz’s imminent visit to Colombo, political analyst and SOGIESC rights advocate Dr Chamindra Weerawardhana met with the Special Expert at Te-Whanganui-a-Tara/Wellington, on 18th March 2019. Dr Weerawardhana is an advisor to the Community Welfare Development Fund [CWDF – a rapid-response fund that works with trans and queer people in urgent need] and a board member of Venasa, Sri Lanka’s oldest and only trans equality network that focuses on intersectional inclusion, a core focus on transmasculine, transfeminine and nonbinary citizens and the promotion of trans and queer leadership in public life. She is also a member of Chathra, a grassroots SOGIESC advocacy initiative which now has community groups in several parts of the island, and is rapidly expanding its work to build an all-island network composed of people from a diverse range of backgrounds. Dr Weerawardhana is also the Secretary to the Regional Steering Committee of the Bangkok-based Asia Pacific Transgender Network.
The meeting between Madrigal-Borloz and Weerawardhana took place in the context of 2019 world conference of the Geneva-based International Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, and Intersex Association [ILGA]. ILGA is a body that works with regional bodies [ILGA Asia, Oceania, Europe, Pan-Africa, North America and South America and the Caribbean]. It is a key global platform that brings together SOGIESC rights advocates, governmental and corporate sector representatives and many other concerned individuals from across the world.
At the ILGA World conference, CWDF, Venasa and Chathra are co-organising two events , one focusing on bringing in decolonial discourses to international LGBT+ rights advocacy and the other on decolonial perspectives on SOGIESC rights advocacy in the South and Southeast Asian region. On Sunday 17th March 2019, Dr Weerawardhana was the invitee of Lakhanda, a local Sinhala-language radio programme, where she cogently explained several key aspects of SOGIESC rights advocacy, the work done by committed activist and advocacy groups in Sri Lanka and on challenges facing Sri Lankan politics as we enter an election year.
Commenting on the work done on the ground in Sri Lanka and in terms of international advocacy, Thiyagaraja Waradas, Chathra founder and Director of CWDF, a Commonwealth Doctoral Scholar at the University of Bath and a Senior Lecturer at the University of Colombo, noted: “The meeting between Sri Lankan SOGEISC activists and the UN SOGIESC Special Expert might open new forms of opportunities for the Sri Lankan SOGEISC communities during his forthcoming visit to Sri Lanka. It is the time for Sri Lankan SOGIESC activism to contribute to the global struggle of eliminating discrimination against SOGIESC communities while retaining its local roots”.
“We need to introduce Sri Lankan SOGIESC work to the world, beyond a narrowly construed NGO-industrial framework with its racial, linguistic and exclusionary fault lines”, Waradas further added.
Commenting on the SOGIESC Special Expert’s Sri Lanka visit and Dr Weerawardhana’s advocacy, Uvindu Kurukulasuriya, Founder and Senior Editor of the Colombo Telegraph, observed “The Colombo Telegraph has consistently supported, and continues to extend its fullest support, to the Sri Lankan LGBTQIA+ community and to SOGIESC rights. Ours is a mission of changing people’s mindsets, challenging social conservatisms, and helping create a country where all our citizens can live in dignity and benefit from their non-negotiable fundamental rights. As a media outlet, our ethic is one of strong commitment to LGBTQI+ rights in Sri Lanka. Dr Weerawardhana’s international advocacy is commendable, and given her international profile, she is a great ambassador in the promotion of a locally grounded brand of Sri Lankan SOGIESC rights”.
Kurukulasuriya further noted “The Colombo Telegraph will be closely observing the UN SOGIESC Special Expert Victor Madrigal-Borloz’s forthcoming visit to Sri Lanka, and provide our readers worldwide with regular updates and consistent coverage”.
Representing Venasa, Chathra and CWDF, Dr Weerawardhana will also be speaking at Victoria University Wellington on Wednesday 20th March 2019, focusing on Queer South Asian and Indigenous solidarities. The event information can be viewed here. In addition, the three above-mentioned Sri Lankan organisations represented at ILGA World 2019 are also part of yet another initiative, “We the ancestars”, intended at connecting with Indigenous queer, especially Takatāpui activists, Indigenous elders and community leaders, and developing solidarities between decolonial-intersectional-feminist SOGIESC work in Sri Lanka and Indigenous advocacy in Aotearoa. (By Shamila Rathnayake)