25th February 2008 – PinkNews
Sri Lankan gays protest at newspaper stereotyping
by Gavin Lambert
Gay activists have launched a campaign to obtain a rebuttal of a story printed by the Sri Lankan newspaper The Island that portrays homosexuality as a psychological disorder. Equal Ground, an LGBT rights organisation based in Sri Lanka, has joined forces with the Sri Lankan society of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) to express "their deep regret and shock" at the article entitled Treating alternative forms of sexual expression. The article gives pointers in how to identify homosexuals, claiming that "most homosexuals tend to be alike in certain behaviours and they generally choose certain occupations like hairdressing, fashion designing and modelling.
"In Sri Lankan culture, homosexual behaviour is not an expected normal behaviour and most parents of adolescents who suspect their children of having homosexual relationships refer them to a physician or psychologist for remedial therapy." Dr Perera, a key ‘expert’ used by the paper says treatment should include: "counselling, cognitive therapy and behaviour modification therapy."
In response to the article, Equal Ground has sent a letter to the editor of The Island pointing out the inaccuracies of the article as well as the deeply offensive and potentially dangerous claims that it makes. "Uninformed articles such as these are extremely damaging to the dignity and well-being of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals in our community," the group wrote. It is of paramount importance that medical professionals, psychologists and mental health workers keep themselves up to
date on the constant developments in their field. As this specific article illustrates, the inability to do so may actually lead to greater suffering and trauma for many."
In a separate letter Aritha Wickramasinghe of the Sri Lankan society at the LSE said: "The Society affirms its finding of the article as seriously discriminatory and dangerous to public peace."
Last year another Sri Lankan newspaper, Divaina, was accused of similar inaccuracies and using scare tactics when they published an article talking about homosexuality and effeminate men in Sri Lanka and the problems they face as they get older. It also made claims about the number of homosexuals in Sri Lanka who become involved in commercial sex work to make a living. Divaina, a Sinhala language newspaper is a sister title of the English language The Island. Homosexual acts between men, regardless of age, are prohibited in Sri Lanka, with a penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment. The law is not enforced and there have been no prosecutions for 50 years, but in a largely Buddhist country homosexuality is seen as a sin.
Further details can be found on the Equal Ground website.
Homosexuality in Sri Lanka Past and Present
by Allen Carr
From 1992 onwards I spent ten years in Sri Lanka and took advantage of the great deal of free time I had to explore the country’s homosexual sub-culture. I discovered that despite homosexuality being quite prevalent in the country that almost nothing has been written on the subject, either by locals or others. What I learned intrigued and fascinated me and in the two years before I left I draw up a series of questions and presented them to 45 people I had come to know or met through these friends, then recorded and correlated their answers. I present my impressions I gained, the material I gathered and the results of the survey I conducted, hoping that they might make some contribution to cross-cultural studies of homosexuality.
Sri Lanka is a small island off the south-eastern tip of India and has a civilization going back to the 5th century BC. In 2002 the population was 18 million. The first thing the visitor to Sri Lanka notices is how many young people there and in fact 42% of the population is under 25. The second thing the visitor will notice, at least if his is gay, is how attractive the men are. It almost seems that every second or third person is a languid, doe-eyed youth with fine features, beautiful golden or chocolate complexion and a dazzling smile. Those who head for any of the many beach resorts in the country will often sees young men, sometimes even boys in their early teens, accompanying older European tourists.
On at least 20 occasions while walking around Colombo and Kandy I was approached by young men who wanted to have sex with me. However, I suspect that most if not all these males are heterosexuals and prostitutes serving only foreign tourists and thus while they tell us something about the country’s sex industry they tell us little about Sri Lankan homosexuals.
There was no word for homosexuality in classical Sinhala until the middle of the 20th century whenthe term ekalingika samsarga (same-gender sex) was coined. In the Kama Sutra, which was known in medieval Sri Lanka , there is a perfectly adequate term, tritiya prakriti (the third nature), but for some reason this never made its way into the Sinhala language. The slang and derogatory word pornya, refers to obviously effeminate males although it is also used loosely for any homosexual. I have been unable to find the origins of this word. The common word for the homosexual act is galkapanava meaning literally ‘rock breaking’.
Why this word is used requires some explanation. In Sri Lanka as throughout much of non-Muslim Asia , homosexuality is associated, not with anal sex, but with intercuural sex, that is, rubbing the penis between the thighs or the buttocks or on the abdomen. When stone masons are breaking rocks for construction purposes they hammer a long chisel-ended iron bar on the rock until it makes a hole in which gunpowder is later put. In common imagination this action is suggestive of intercrural sex and hence the term ‘rock breaking.’ Sri Lankan homosexuals are beginning to use the English word ‘gay’ to describe themselves and for at least half a century they have used the word ‘enjoy’ for sex, whether they are speaking in English or in Sinhala.For example they will say, ‘Do you want to enjoy?’ or ‘I enjoyed him.’
Buddhism and Homosexuality
Theravada Buddhism is the religion of 75% of Sri Lanka and has had a profound influence on the country’s culture.Virtually the only references to homosexuality in Sri Lankan literature until modern times is to be found in the Buddhist scriptures and their commentaries. The Buddhist scriptures are of India origin and date from before the 2nd century BC. The commentaries were composed in Sri Lanka before the 2nd century AD but reached their present form three hundred years later. The main references to homosexuality in the scriptures are found in the Vinaya, the rules for monks. Because monks must be celibate and because breaking this rule entails expulsion from the monastic Order sexual behavior is dealt with in great detail in the Vinaya. Some sections of it are so explicit and detailed, especially those dealing with masturbation, that when it was first translated in 1938 by the Pali scholar I.B. Horner, she left parts in the original language.
Amongst the different types of homosexual behavior discussed are anal sex, mutual masturbation, genital fondling, fellatio and intercrural intercourse. There are even examples of curious types of auto-homoerotisim – a story of a monk with a particularly long penis and flexible back who could fellate himself and another about a monk whose abnormally long and curved penis allowed him to sodomize himself. According to the Vinaya a monk who intentionally inserts his penis into any bodily orifice of any living being whether or not he ejaculates must be expelled from the Order. Other types of sex – mutual masturbation, intercrural sex etc – while serious offences do not entail expulsion.
Another rule of the Order is that a type of person called a pandaka cannot be ordained as a monk. The etymology of this word is unclear but is probably from apa and anda, ‘without eggs’, that is, ‘without balls.’ Pandaka is routinely translated in English as eunuch but as castration was rare in ancient India this translation seems implausible. A story in the Vinaya gives some idea of what a pandaka is. Once a monk who was a pandaka went to different groups of men asking each of them to ‘defile’ him. All of them refused and dismissed him with contempt except the mahouts and grooms in the elephant stables who were happy to oblige, although after they had satisfied themselves they ‘grumbled and became annoyed and critical.’
Clearly a pandaka is a homosexual or at least some kind of homosexual. However, there are several other stories in the Vinaya about monks having sex with each other but they are never called pandakas so it seems that this word was not a blanket word for homosexuals as such but only for obviously effeminate and promiscuous homosexuals. By the time the commentaries on the scriptures reached their final form in 5th century AD pandaka had come to be used for a variety of sexually ambiguous males including eunuchs, transvestites, hermaphrodites and transsexuals. Other than a few learned monks, I met no Sri Lankans who knew anything of the stories, ideas or terminology about homosexuality in the Vinaya and I suspect that they have had no influence in molding popular notions on the subject.
As the clergy of Theravada Buddhism is supposed to be celibate the question of homosexuality within the Order is a revenant one. The anthropologist H. L.Seneviratne speaks of an alleged ‘rampancy of homosexual abuse of the young in monasteries’ and claims that this is ‘generally taken for granted, with no notice of it being taken by either the monks or the laity.’ He goes on to say, ‘During my fieldwork I came across two painful letters addresses by young monks to a high official in the Ministry of Buddhist Affairs, asking the official to rescue them from homosexual abuse.’
While it is true that Senevitatne is generally highly critical of the clergy I found his claims widely shared by the young Sinhalese men I spoke to whether they were homosexual or not. One of my informants told me that when young he had been seduced by a monk while at Sunday school and three reported that he had had a brief liaison with monks. Homosexuality is probably more pronounced inmonasteries than in ordinary society but I see no reason why it should be ‘rampant.’ I talked to three Westerners who had been monks, for three, eight and nine years, and all said they had seen little evidence of homosexuality in the Order.
But all this relates to the clergy.
Would a lay person who was homosexual be infringing Buddhist teachings? Lay Buddhists are supposed to follow the Five Precepts, the third of which is a promise to avoid sexual misconduct. Roughly two thirds of my informants told me that they considered themselves to be practicing Buddhists so I asked some of them how they reconciled their homosexuality with their religion. I got a variety of answers. Many told me that the third Precept was about avoiding adultery and therefore did not pertain to homosexuality.
Others thought it did but felt that while homosexuality was against the Precept it was not a very serious infringement of it and produced only little bad kamma. Others told me that homosexuality is paw(immoral) but they did not have the strength to resist their desires and were resigned to suffering the negative consequences of their behavior. This was usually said with what appeared to be very little conviction or concern. The two most sophisticated answers I got were these. Buddhism teaches that we must give up all worldly attachments. Husbands and wives have to deal with two types of attachments – that towards each other and their children and that towards sex.
Homosexuals only have attachment towards sex and thus it will be easier for them to eventually be free from all attachment. Another informant who was well-read in Buddhist doctrine and regularly attended talks on Buddhism told me that whether homosexuality was bad or not depended entirely on one’s intentions. He said that he was always kind, generous and affectionate towards the young men he has relationships with and that such things far outweighed the negativity of his desire, which anyway was no different from that which a husband and wife have towards each other. This idea corresponds closely with orthodox Buddhist doctrine. Generally however, I got the impression that most of my informants had never really given much thought to any possible conflicts between their religion and their sexual life.
According to A. L. de Silva it is not the gender of one’s sexual partner that determines the ethical value of a sexual act but the intention. Sexual behavior motivated by love, tenderness, the desire to please, etc, would be acceptable whether it was between a man and a woman or between two men. And the opposite would also be true (‘Homosexuality in Theravada Buddhism,’The Buddhist’s Encyclopedia of Buddhism, 2001). Buddhist scholar Peter Harvey makes a similar point. (An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics, 2000, pp.411-434). However, it should be pointed out that these ideas are derived from of a critical scholarly examination of the Buddhist scriptures – the average Sinhalese, including probably the average monk, is likely to be much more influenced by the traditions, superstitions and biases of his or her culture.
Homosexuality in Sri Lankan History
Other than in the commentaries to the Buddhist scriptures I have been unable to find any mention of homosexuality in ancient Sri Lankan literature, inscriptions or other historical records. Even in places where one would expect to find it mentioned – law books, medical text and religious works dealing with ethics – there is almost nothing. The Upasakajanalankara, a lay person’s guide to the religious life composed in 12th century, discusses all types of sexual misconduct but is silent about homosexuality. Dimbuagala Kassapa’s code of monastic conduct drawn up after the reform of the Buddhist Order in the 12th century says that a monk must never put his hand around a temple boy to console him.
This prohibition might have been meant to prevent homoerotic feelings being aroused but was more likely to discourage the display of any emotions in public; something that was considered inappropriate for monks. There is ample evidence in Sri Lankan history of deep and enduring friendships between men which could suggest homoeroticism although this is never anything more than implied. One of the most interesting such ‘David and Jonathan’ relationships was that between Prince Manavamma and the Tamil King Narasiha. Manavamma was of royal birth but politics forced him to flees to India where he found employment at the court of Narasiha. Gradually a friendship grew up between the two men.
Once the king showed Manavamma the highest mark of honor and affection by drinking from a coconut and then passing it to him. Manavamma took a sip and then handed it back to the king who drunk the rest. After this the friendship and affection between the two men deepened. When Narasiha’s kingdom was invaded by a neighbor his first thought was for his friend. If Manavamma joined the fighting and was killed, ‘all that we have planned together would be without result’, and so he bid Manavamma to stay in the capital while he marched off to battle. But Manavamma thought, ‘If the king dies while I am alive what is my life to me? I would betray his trust in me if I did so. He has made me his equal and therefore it behooves me to go with him to the battlefield. It is my happiness to either live or die with him.’ Thinking this Manavamma rode off to join Narasiha. When the king saw that his friend had come to join him he wasoverjoyed and the two of them led their troops into battle and defeated the enemy.
After the victory the king ‘embraced Manavamma lovingly’ says as he did so, ‘It is you who have given me victory’. Out of gratitude for his devotion Narasiha gave Manavamma an army so he could invade Sri Lanka and try to win the crown. Manavamma’s army marched on Anuradhapura and king Dathopatissa fled. But at this crucial juncture word reached the troops that Narasiha was seriously ill and they decided to return to India . Emboldened by this turn of events Dathopatissa rallied his forces and Manavamma had to flee back to India also. He waited at Narasiha’s court ‘through the reign of four kings’ serving his friend and biding his time. Eventually the king thought, ‘With his pride unbroken and honor as his wealth, my friend serves me for the sake of royal dignity and he will become old and gray thereby. When I see this how can I exercise dominion. If I cannot send him with an army to gain a kingdom what is my life to me’. So another army was assembled,
Narasiha gave his own armor to Manavamma and he invaded Lanka and made himself king (Culavamsa XLVII,1-58) Robert Knox, an English Puritan who spent 19 years in Sri Lanka in the 17th century noticed that the then king, Rajasingha II, surrounded himself with handsome youths. Knox wrote, ‘Most of his Attendants are Boyes, and Young Men, that are well favored, and of good Parentage. For the supplying himself with there, he gives order to his Dissava’s or Governors of the countreys to pick and choose out Boyes, that are comely and of good Descent, and send them to the Court. These boyes go bare-headed with long hair hanging down their backs. Not that he is guilty of Sodomy, nor did I ever hear the Sin so much as mentioned among them.’ The last part of Knox’s final sentence is undoubtedly the reason why there are so few references to homosexuality in Sri Lankan history – it was simply never talked about.
It is only from the late 19th century onwards that we begin getting the first odd mentions of love between men and most of these concern Sri Lankans of part-European decent (Burgers and Anglo-Sinhalese) or European expatriates. The English Theosophist C. W. Leadbeater who was headmaster of the boy’s school Ananda Collage in Colombo was a notorious homosexual. One of my informants told me that in the 1940’s he had known a man who had been at Ananda Collage when Leadbeater was headmaster. According to this man, good looking well-built boys were always being called to Leadbeater’s room for ‘special instruction.’
Letters exist in which Leadbeater encourages the boys he is corresponding with to masturbate or at least not feel anxious about masturbating. Leadbeater was ostracized by Colombo ’s English community but the city’s Sinhalese elite whose sons were being educated at Ananda Collage said not a word against him. In 1901 the great military hero Sir Hector Macdonald was dismissed from his post as commander of British forces in Ceylon for supposedly having sexual relations with his young native servants. After these accusations became public Macdonald committed suicide. Some of the members of the influential ‘43 Group’ were fairly openly homosexual, particularly David Paynter and Lionel Wendt. Many of Wendt’s photos and Paynter’s sketches and paintings are of naked or scantily clad youths. Towards the end of his life Paynter retired to a home for orphan boys in Nuwara Eliya which had been founded by his family.
Directly after the Second World War a former RAF officer named R. Raven-Hart settled in Sri Lanka and become well-known for the numerous books he wrote and the articles on Sri Lankan history which he contributed to learned journals. Raven-Hart’s writings contain frequent oblique hints to his interest in teenage boys. In the engaging account he wrote of his journey to places of Buddhist pilgrimage in India in 1956 he referred to the ‘superb young manhood naked above the waist; boys with the irreducible minimum of clothing’ that he encountered in villages. ‘Sweets were sold on the train by small Sikh boys, many of them as delectable as their wares were not.’ He mentioned that ‘head and body massage is a great institution in India , and excellent some of those young rubbers are…
You should try it; if you are of doing so in public, the room ‘boy’ at any hotel will get a lad to come there, which will incidentally allow him to work more efficiently, in privacy and unhampered by your clothes…’ At Bodh Gaya Raven-Hart took a village boy with him on his hikes around the countryside. ‘(W)e found a lonely island-sandbank, and had a swim and lay in the sun to dry. I regretted that I had no camera since the lad was a beautifully-made fourteen or fifteen, with square, flat pectorals, and the abdominal muscles clearly defined right down to the just-growing pubic hair.’
It is indicative of Sinhalese naiveté about homosexuality and also somewhat amusing that Raven-Hart’s book is still widely used by Sinhalese pilgrims going to India and no one seems to notice its numerous homoerotic passages. One of Raven-Hart’s former ‘servants’ told me that the old man would have several young boys from remote villages working for him as servants, gardeners and watchers. He would pay for their education or to learn a trade and when they were 18 or19 send them back to their homes with enough money to get started in life.Perhaps Sri Lanka ’s most interesting non-Sinhalese homosexual was Bevis Bhava, older brother of the renowned architect Jeffery Bava, who was himself homosexual. Bava had been aid de camp to the last two British governors of Ceylon and spent much of his life laying out an extensive and bucolic garden at Bentota. There he lived with his beautiful young servants and entertained his numerous guests.
During the 40’s and 50’s celebrities traveling ‘East of Suez’ would stay with or at least visit Bava and his famous house and garden. One of his long-term guests was the Australian painter Donald Friend who stayed from 1957 to 1961 and visited several times subsequently. Robin Maugham wrote about Bhava in his book Search for Nirvana (1975). The most high profile Sinhalese homosexual of the 20th century was the raffish and popular politician Vijayananda Dahanayake who served briefly as Prime Minister in 1959. Dahanayake’s penchant for teenage boys was a source of much good-natured humor by those of his constituents and fellow parliamentarians who were in the know.
His house in Galle was adjacent a school and the joke was that any boy who went into his garden to retrieve a ball would take time returning and when he did he would usually have a sheepish look on his face and 5 Rupee in his pocket. Today at least two senior politicians are homosexual, as is a famous cricketer, several popular actors and numerous people prominent in Sri Lanka ’s arts scene. In 1999 Shyam Selvadurai’s book ‘Funny Boy’ was published to wide acclaim and is, I think, the only literary work written by a Sri Lankan which discusses homosexuality. Perhaps it is significant that Selvadurai is Tamil and now lives outside Sri Lanka .
I met only one transvestite during my stay in Sri Lanka and heard of only one other incident of it. In 1994 a report appeared in the English press concerning a woman who had been awarded the president’s prize of Woman Entrepreneur of the Year. Some days after receiving the prize a relative of the recipient informed the authorities that the women was in fact a man and there was discussion about whether the prize should be withdrawn. I watched the press for the outcome of this interesting and unusual case but no follow-up report appeared. While in Kandya friend introduced me to a slim slightly effeminate youth of 19 who invited me to his family home in a small village near Matale.
The young man’s family greeted me hospitably and while I was sitting drinking the tea they had offered I noticed two wedding photos on the wall and asked to see them. My friend’s mother showed me the first photo which was of a bride in a Western style wedding gown and her groom in a suit and told me it was of her daughter and son-in-law. The second photo showed a woman in an identical wedding gown and was, the woman said, of her youngest son, my friend. At first I thought I had misunderstood the woman but looking more carefully at the photo I saw that it was indeed my friend. He cheerfully told me that after his sister had had her photo taken he had donned her gown and had his photo taken too. He showed no embarrassment at telling me this in the presence of his mother and several siblings and they showed none either. I asked my friend why he had posed in his sister’s gown and he simply said, ‘Because it was so beautiful.’ I asked many of my informants if they knew any transvestites and none of them did.
Until recently there was only one place in the whole country where people could meet and be open about their homosexuality; the bar at the Lionel Wendt Theater in Colombo . This venue was open on a regular basis to groups of friends and acquaintances although it was only known to and available for a small circle of the Colombo Anglicized elite. Since the 1980’s several public toilets around Colombo have become pick up places – those at the Colombo Bus Station, the Colombo Public Library, Maradana railway station, the YMBA at Borella, the YMCA in Fort and at the library at Colombo University . However, these places are extremely dirty and odorous and anyway, the Sri Lankans prefer their pick up places to be outdoors.
Galle Face Green in Colombo and the bund of the lake at Kandy have long been pick up places and much more so since the 1980’s. Evidence suggests that Galle Face Green has been frequented by homosexuals for more than a century. In an account of a visit to Sri Lanka published in 1882 the English author mentions walking on Galle Face in the early evening and being approached by ‘a very pretty Ceylonese youth who made an extremely improper suggestion to me.’ The beach from Bambalapitiya railway station to beyond Wellawatta railway station is another such place but because of the dark at night it can also be dangerous. One of the very few pick up places outside Colombo is the ramparts on the land side of the old fort at Galle . Of my informants it was mainly the young ones who visited these places. The older ones (over 30) had for the most part evolved ingenious ways of getting sexual partners without having to go cruising.
The most common way seemed to be meeting someone at bus stops, while shopping, on the street, etc, befriending them, making arrangements to meet them at a certain place and them seducing them. One informant had the keys to the office where he worked and where the kept a collection of pornographic magazines. When he met a youth he desired he would tell them about these magazines and invite them to come and see them. He told me that this technique never failed. I also found it common for one friend to pass the men they met on to their friends. Most of my informants told me that they find it easy to ‘chat up’ potential straight sexual partners and my encounters with Sinhalese convinced me that they were right.
The Sinhalese are a noticeably open and friendly people. It is not considered at all untoward for one male to smile at another, approach him and then begin talking to him. The first words usually spoken on meeting a friend or even a stranger are ‘Koyheda yane?’ (Where are you going?). An older male will address a younger one, even a stranger, as mali (younger brother), one the same age as machang (cousin) and an older one as ayya (older brother). Such etiquette, combined with the guilelessness and curiosity characteristic of many Sinhalese, especially rural people, makes it very easy to initiate friendship.
My inquiries convinced me that young heterosexual men entering into sexual relationships with older or more powerful men is very common in Sri Lanka and probably hoary as well. Whether or not this can be called prostitution is problematic. Rather, it seems to be consistent with the patronage culture in Sri Lankan society and the noticeable dependency mentality of the Sinhalese. Sinhalese learn very quickly that they are unlikely to get ahead in life unless they have a powerful patron and they have few qualms in doing what is needed to acquire this patronage. Far from being an aberration, this is normal, expected even.
Since the late 1970’s when Sri Lanka embarked on economic reforms and tourism started becoming economically important he country has become a major destination for gay tourists. Male prostitution, with all its associated problems, had burgeoned. In the 1990’s this phenomena was often highlighted in the press and some observers started wondering whether the profits earned from mass tourism were worth the cost. One news report claims that up to 100,000 boys and young men were working as prostitutes at various beach resorts, although this number has never been verified and is almost certainly an exaggeration. These young prostitutes are usually called ‘beach boys’. In the media male prostitution is often discussed together with pedophilia, AIDS and drug abuse and this has caused some consternation amongst local homosexuals.
One of my informants summed up the feelings of many of them. ‘Here we are doing our own thing and not being disturbed, then they (the tourists) come along and the whole thing gets pushed into the papers. Now everyone is talking about gays and thinking we are all prostitutes’. Another said, ‘You used to be able to get a boy for a (disposable cigarette) lighter and a few rupees. Now they expect a pair of Nikes and 500 Rupees. And you don’t know who has AIDS either’. In the late 1990’s parliament reiterated the illegality of homosexuality and increased penalties for it. These moves seemed aimed mainly at foreign tourists but they have worried local homosexuals too.
Why Sri Lanka ?
The usual explanation for the high incidence of male prostitution in Sri Lanka is the economic one – that a combination of wealthy tourists and poor locals is causing it. However, while the economic disparity between visitors and locals is obviously a factor I do not think it is the only one or even the main one. After all, poverty has not led to a noticeable increase in the number of female prostitutes. Also, India , Burma and Nepal are all poorer than Sri Lanka and some of them have large tourist industries and yet they have not become major gays destinations. I will offer another explanation.
Sinhalese will express disapprove of homosexuality (and other ‘vices’ like theft, drinking, lying, corruption etc) but this disapproval seems very shallow or even sometimes just for ‘public consumption.’ As soon as a personal advantage is perceived in some behavior inhibitions and scruples will be quickly put aside. ‘Face’ and public ridicule or disapproval will certainly inhibit how Sinhalese behave but religious teachings and the moral sense much less so. In the 17th century Robert Knox noted with astonishment that Sinhalese parents were happy to let their daughters sleep with the sons of the aristocracy if they thought it might bring them some material advantage.
‘(N)or doth it displease the Parent if young men of as good quality as themselves become acquainted with their daughters but rather like well of it; Knowing that their daughters by this means can command the young men to help and assist them in any work or business that they may have occasion to use them in. And they look upon it so far distant from a disgrace that they will among their consorts brag of it, that they have the young men thus at their command… They do not matter or regard whether their Wives at the first Marriage be Maids or not. And for a small reward the Mother will bring her Daughter being a Maiden unto those that do desire her.’
Visitors to Sri Lanka have long remarked on what they have perceived to be the feminine-like beauty and behavior of Sinhalese males. This perception was extenuated by the dress and accoutrements that low-country males wore until the early 20th century. Edward Carpenter, a connoisseur of male beauty wrote, ‘Their large eyes and tortoise-shell combs and long hair give them a very womanly aspect; and many of the boys and youths have very girlish features and expressions. They have nearly always grace and dignity of manner, the better types decidedly handsome…’ After his visit to Sri Lanka in 1897 Mark Twain wrote, ‘January 14. Hotel Bristol. Servant Brompy. Alert, gentle, smiling, winning young brown creature as ever was. Beautiful shining black hair combed back like a woman’s and knotted at the back of his head –tortoise-shell comb in it, sign that he is Singhalese; slender, shapely form; jacket; under it is a beltless and flowing white cotton gown – from neck straight to heel; he and his outfit quite unmasculine. It was an embarrassment to undress before him.’ Thirty years later Frances Keys too was struck by the effeminate dress and demeanor of the men. ‘
For one startled moment, I was not sure whether I was looking at a man or a woman; and though of course I soon learned that this is the typical headdress of the male low-country Sinhalese… (T)he flowing robes and the long hair adopted by both sexes, combined with the slight figures and somewhat effeminate faces often seen among the men, often arouse a similar uncertainty until their wearers are close at hand’. Even today it is not unusual for youths to paint one of their finger nails or all their toe nails with finger nail polish. Men often hold hands, put their arms around each other or lounge in each others arms.
Despite often being well built and muscular, the fine features, flawless complexions and gentleness of many young men gives them a distinctly feminine or perhaps better, non-macho, presence that many foreign homosexuals would find very appealing. I believe that a combination of the willingness of Sinhalese males to participate in homosexual activity for gain, their physical attractiveness, the general openness of Sinhalese society and the prevalence of English attracts foreign homosexuals to Sri Lanka .
Over a two year period I interviewed 45 homosexual men ranging in age from 17 to 66. All were Sinhalese Buddhists except one who was Catholic and two who were Tamil, one a Catholic and the other a Hindu. This predominance of Sinhalese Buddhists was not by choice, it just happened that way. Roughly half my informants spoke good English, 11 spoke none at all and the rest spoke it with various degrees of competence. All my informants were living and working in either Colombo , Kandy , Galle , Kurunagala or Anuradhapura and two thirds were born in urban centers and one third in villages. Sixteen were married or had been married Initiation into Sex Twelve of my informants had their first sexual experience with a school teacher, ten with a relative, six with a servant and five with family friends. The rest were initiated into sex by school mates, strangers and in one case a monk. Of the 45 the youngest first had sex at 11 and the oldest at 26, the average being 17.
Only five informants said they enjoyed sodomizing their partners although they said it was difficult to find those who would allow this to be done to them. Another six said they enjoyed being sodomized. Nearly all the others said that they had never engaged in anal intercourse and expressed revulsion towards the practice. The general opinion was that it is painful and dirty. The most common sexual practices were intercurial intercourse, fellatio, mutual masturbation and one partner lying on top of the other and rubbing themselves until orgasm. Except for one informant who had studied in the USA and another who had once seen a magazine on the subject, none had ever heard of leather or other fetishes or sadomasochism.
Nearly all my informants told me that the greatest problem they had as homosexuals was the absence of a convenient place where they could have sex. Trying to find somewhere which was clean, comfortable, where they could have a wash afterwards and enjoy themselves without the fear of being interrupted was mentioned as a constant frustration. Even the six informants who had a homes to themselves said that they often refrained from bringing partners home for fear of being discovered and gossiped about.
Those who had access to a home, spare room or even office empty at night were always being contacted by gay friends pleading to be able to use the place. Another problem frequently mentioned was anxiety that their family or non-gay friends would come to know about their homosexuality. Another common complaint was that Sinhalese men are unresponsive and unimaginative concerning sex. One put it this way. ‘They can’t imagine anything beyond starting, finishing and getting away as quickly as possible’.
I put it to this informant that this might be because most of the men he had sex with were heterosexual and did not really enjoy sex with males. He replied, ‘Look! I know quite a few married men and they all say the same thing about their wives – they just lie there like a bag of paddy. I have had men who have been married for years and their wives have never given them oral sex and until they knew me they had never even heard of it. Our people no nothing about sex’.
Nearly all the 45 males I spoke to told me that they found Westerners sexually desirable and would be interested in having sex with them. Twelve had already been able to do this, several when they visited or were studying in the West and the others with Westerners they had met in Sri Lanka . All the 12 said they found Westerners more sensual and sexually adept than Sinhalese.
Sexual attraction crossed the Sinhalese-Tamil divide. None of the Sinhalese said they had any objections to having sex with Tamils and some had close gay Tamil friends or acquaintances. The situation was different with Muslims though. Except for one informant who found circumcised penises highly attractive the majority expressed dislike for Muslims and did not like them as friends or sexual partners. This is despite the widespread belief that Muslims have very strong libidos because of all the meat they eat.
Of the nine informants who had been to the West four said that while they liked Westerners as sexual partners they preferred Sinhalese who they considered to be the most beautiful men in the world. One told me that several of his siblings living in Australia had offered to help him immigrate but that he was not interested in doing so because he believed that he had much more opportunities to have close relationships in Sri Lanka and because he liked Sinhalese males more.
Although most of my informants liked their partners to be young this did not seem to be an imperative, they were happy to have sex with anyone even if they were much older than themselves. One informant, a soldier in his early 20’s, positively preferred men in their 50’s and 60’s and several of my informants in that age group said they occasionally met young men who were attracted to them specifically because of their age. Perhaps the high regard for the elderly in Sri Lankan society can explain this interesting phenomena.
HIV-AIDS and STD
All my informants had heard of AIDS but except for seven of the older and better educated ones most had either a vague or a confused idea about what it is and how it is transmitted. Many thought that they weremore likely to get AIDS from a Westerner than from a Sri Lankan and few of them seemed too concerned about getting the disease. None had ever used a condom despite them being widely and easily available. The general attitude was that AIDS is something that would happen to someone else. Only one informant had known or even heard of someone who had died of the disease. Only one had ever contracted a sexually transmitted disease. The man, in his 30’s, only discovered that he had syphilis when he went to have a blood test for some other complaint. I discussed STD with about a dozen of my informants and the understanding and attitude was similar to that towards AIDS.
March 18, 2008 – The Gay Recluse
Arthur C. Clarke, Premier Science Fiction Writer, Dies at 90
by Gerald Jonas and The Gay Recluse
Arthur C. Clarke, a writer and long-time closet case whose seamless blend of scientific expertise and poetic imagination helped usher in the space age, died early Wednesday in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where he had lived since 1956. He was 90. Rohan de Silva, an aide to Mr. Clarke, said the author died after experiencing breathing problems, The Associated Press reported. Mr. Clarke had post-polio syndrome for the last two decades and used a wheelchair.
From his detailed forecast of telecommunications satellites in 1945, more than a decade before the first orbital rocket flight, to his co-creation, with the director Stanley Kubrick, of the classic science fiction film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Mr. Clarke was both prophet and promoter of the idea that humanity’s destiny lay beyond the confines of Earth. Sadly, however, he never owned up to being gay. Other early advocates of a space program argued that it would pay for itself by jump-starting new technology. Mr. Clarke set his sights higher. Paraphrasing William James, he suggested that exploring the solar system could serve as the “moral equivalent” of war, giving an outlet to energies that might otherwise lead to nuclear holocaust.
Mr. Clarke’s influence on public attitudes toward space was acknowledged by American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts, by scientists like the astronomer Carl Sagan and by movie and television producers. Gene Roddenberry credited Mr. Clarke’s writings with giving him courage to pursue his “Star Trek” project in the face of indifference, even ridicule, from television executives. In his later years, after settling in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) — where he famously hosted orgies for young Sri Lankan men — Mr. Clarke continued to bask in worldwide acclaim as both a scientific sage and the pre-eminent science fiction writer of the 20th century. In 1998, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.
He played down his success in foretelling a globe-spanning network of communication satellites. “No one can predict the future,” he always maintained. But as a science fiction writer, he couldn’t resist drawing up timelines for what he called “possible futures,” none of which, however, included any gay people some of which apparently featured bisexual or gay characters, which — whatever – did not lead Mr. Clarke to come out. Far from displaying uncanny prescience, these conjectures mainly demonstrated his lifelong, and often disappointed, optimism about the peaceful uses of technology — from his calculation in 1945 that atomic-fueled rockets could be no more than 20 years away to his conviction in 1999 that “clean, safe power” from “cold fusion” would be commercially available in the first years of the new millennium. It was often noted that he had his head in the clouds in more ways than one.
Mr. Clarke was well aware of the importance of his role as science spokesman to the general population: “Most technological achievements were preceded by people writing and imagining them,” he noted. “I’m sure we would not have had men on the Moon,” he added, if it had not been for H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. “I’m rather proud of the fact that I know several astronauts who became astronauts through reading my books.” That said, he never admitted to liking men, and so did a disservice to untold numbers of young gay writers throughout the world who admired his work.
Arthur Charles Clarke was born on Dec. 16, 1917, in the seaside town of Minehead, Somerset, England. His father was a farmer; his mother a post office telegrapher. The eldest of four children, he was educated as a scholarship student at a secondary school in the nearby town of Taunton. He remembered a number of incidents in early childhood that awakened his imagination: exploratory rambles along the Somerset shoreline, with its “wonderland of rock pools;” a card from a pack of cigarettes that his father showed him, with a picture of a dinosaur; the gift of a Meccano set, a British construction toy similar to the Erector sets sold in the United States; the time he witnessed two men fucking down by the abandoned railway line. He also spent time “mapping the Moon” through a telescope he constructed himself out of “a cardboard tube and a couple of lenses.” But the formative event of his childhood was his discovery, at age 13 — the year his father died — of a copy of “Astounding Stories of Super-Science,” then the leading American science fiction magazine. He found its mix of boyish adventure and far-out (sometimes bogus) science almost as intoxicating as his same-sex fantasies.
While still in school, Mr. Clarke joined the newly formed British Interplanetary Society, a small band of sci-fi enthusiasts who held the controversial view that space travel was not only possible but could be achieved in the not-so-distant future. In 1937, a year after he moved to London to take a civil service job, he began writing his first science fiction novel, a story of the far, far future that was later published as “Against the Fall of Night” (1953). Mr. Clarke spent World War II as an officer in the Royal Air Force. In 1943 he was assigned to work with a team of American scientist-engineers who had developed the first radar-controlled system for landing airplanes in bad weather. That experience led to Mr. Clarke’s only non-science fiction novel, “Glide Path” (1963). More important, it led in 1945 to a technical paper, published in the British journal “Wireless World,” establishing the feasibility of artificial satellites as relay stations for Earth-based communications.
The “meat” of the paper was a series of diagrams and equations showing that “space stations” parked in a circular orbit roughly 22,240 miles above the equator would exactly match the Earth’s rotation period of 24 hours. In such an orbit, a satellite would remain above the same spot on the ground, providing a “stationary” target for transmitted signals, which could then be retransmitted to wide swaths of territory below. This so-called geostationary orbit has been officially designated the Clarke Orbit by the International Astronomical Union. Decades later, Mr. Clarke called his “Wireless World” paper “the most important thing I ever wrote.” In a wry piece entitled, “A Short Pre-History of Comsats, Or: How I Lost a Billion Dollars in My Spare Time,” he claimed that a lawyer had dissuaded him from applying for a patent. The lawyer, he said, thought the notion of relaying signals from space was too far-fetched to be taken seriously. But Mr. Clarke also acknowledged that nothing in his paper — from the notion of artificial satellites to the mathematics of the geostationary orbit — was new. His chief contribution was to clarify and publicize an idea whose time had almost come — a feat of consciousness-raising that was in marked contrast to his views on homosexuality, but one at which he would continue to excel at throughout his career.
The year 1945 also saw the launch of Mr. Clarke’s career as a fiction writer. He sold a short story called “Rescue Party” to the same magazine — now re-titled Astounding Science Fiction — that had captured his imagination 15 years earlier. For the next two years, Mr. Clarke attended Kings College, London, on the British equivalent of a G.I. Bill scholarship, graduating in 1948 with first-class honors in physics and mathematics. But he continued to write and sell stories, and after a stint as assistant editor at the scientific journal Physics Abstracts, he decided he could support himself as a freelance writer. Success came quickly. His primer on space flight, “The Exploration of Space,” was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection in 1951
Over the next two decades, he wrote a series of nonfiction bestsellers as well as his best-known novels, including “Childhood’s End” (1953) and “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968). For a scientifically trained writer whose optimism about technology seemed boundless, Mr. Clarke delighted in confronting his characters with obstacles they could not overcome without help from forces beyond their comprehension. In “Childhood’s End,” a race of aliens who happen to look like devils imposes peace on an Earth torn by cold war tensions. But the aliens’ real mission is to prepare humanity for the next stage of evolution. In an ending that is both heartbreakingly poignant and literally earth-shattering, the self-hating Mr. Clarke suggests that mankind can escape its suicidal tendencies only by ceasing to be human.
“There was nothing left of Earth,” he wrote. “It had nourished them, through the fierce moments of their inconceivable metamorphosis, as the food stored in a grain of wheat feeds the infant plant while it climbs toward the Sun.”
The cold war also forms the backdrop for “2001.” Its genesis was a short story called “The Sentinel,” first published in a science fiction magazine in 1951. It tells of an alien artifact found on the Moon, a little crystalline pyramid that explorers from Earth destroy while trying to open. One explorer realizes that the artifact was a kind of fail-safe beacon; in silencing it, human beings have signaled their existence to its far-off creators. In the spring of 1964, Stanley Kubrick, fresh from his triumph with “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” met Mr. Clarke in New York, and the two agreed to make the “proverbial really good science fiction movie” based on “The Sentinel.” This led to a four-year collaboration; Mr. Clarke wrote the novel while Mr. Kubrick produced and directed the film; they are jointly credited with the screenplay.
Reviewers at the time were puzzled by the film, especially the final scene in which an astronaut who has been transformed by aliens returns to orbit the Earth as a “Star-Child.” In the book he demonstrates his new-found powers by harmlessly detonating from space the entire arsenal of Soviet and American nuclear weapons. Like much of the plot, this denouement is not clear in the film, from which Mr. Kubrick cut most of the expository material. As a fiction writer, Mr. Clarke was — no surprise — often criticized for failing to create fully realized characters. HAL, the mutinous computer in “2001,” is probably his most “human” creation: a self-satisfied know-it-all with a touching but misguided faith in its own infallibility.
If Mr. Clarke’s heroes are less than memorable, it is also true that there are no out-and-out villains in his work; his characters are generally too busy struggling to make sense of an implacable universe to engage in petty schemes of dominance or revenge. Mr. Clarke’s own relationship with machines — as with women — was somewhat ambivalent. Although he held a driver’s license as a young man, he never drove a car. Yet he stayed in touch with the rest of the world from his home in Sri Lanka through an ever-expanding collection of up-to-date computers and communications accessories. And until his health declined, he was an expert scuba diver in the waters around Sri Lanka. He first became interested in diving in the early 1950s, when he realized that he could find underwater “something very close to weightlessness” of outer space. He settled permanently in Colombo, the capital of what was then Ceylon, in 1956. With a business partner, he established a guided diving service for tourists and wrote vividly about his diving experiences in a number of books, beginning with “The Coast of Coral” (1956).
All told, he wrote or collaborated on close to 100 books, some of which, like “Childhood’s End,” have been in print continuously. His works have been translated into some 40 languages, and worldwide sales have been estimated at more than $25 million. In 1962 he suffered a severe attack of poliomyelitis. His apparently complete recovery was marked by a return to top form at his favorite sport, table tennis. But in 1984 he developed post-polio syndrome, a progressive condition characterized by muscle weakness and extreme fatigue. He spent the last years of his life in a wheelchair.
Among his legacies are Clarke’s Four Laws, provocative observations on science, science fiction and society that were published in his “Profiles of the Future” (1962):
“When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”
“The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.”
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
“Never come out of the closet, even if you have nothing to lose.”
Along with Verne and Wells, Mr. Clarke said his greatest influences as a writer were Lord Dunsany, a British fantasist noted for his lyrical, if sometimes overblown, prose; Otto Stapledon, a British philosopher who wrote vast speculative narratives that projected human evolution to the furthest reaches of space and time; and the completely gay Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick.” While sharing his passions for space and the sea with a worldwide readership, Mr. Clarke tried but failed to keep his “emotional life” private. Most absurdly, he was briefly married in 1953 to an American diving enthusiast named Marilyn Mayfield; they separated after a few months and were divorced in 1964. One of his closest relationships was with Leslie Ekanayake, a fellow man-diver in Sri Lanka, who died in a motorcycle accident in 1977. In addition to numerous young “man servants,” Mr. Clarke shared his home in Colombo with Leslie’s brother, Hector, his partner in the diving business, Hector’s wife Valerie; and their three daughters.
Mr. Clarke’s stupid answer when journalists asked him outright if he was gay was, “No, merely mildly cheerful.”
Like many closet cases, Mr. Clarke reveled in his fame. One whole room in his house — which he referred to as the Ego Chamber — was filled with photos and other memorabilia of his career, including pictures of him with Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, and Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. Regrettably he never came out. While this lack of courage will always be tied to his legacy, Mr. Clarke’s reputation as a prophet of the space age rests on more than a few accurate predictions. His visions helped bring about the future he longed to see. His contributions to the space program were lauded by Charles Kohlhase, who planned NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn: “When you dream what is possible, and add a knowledge of physics, you make it happen.”
March, 2008 – himalmag.com
With broader human-rights issues in Sri Lanka being eclipsed by the ethnic conflict, sexuality-rights activists have a hard time being heard.
by Marini Fernando
As in many Southasian countries, sexual minorities in Sri Lanka grapple with a harsh and discriminatory law that proscribes “gross indecency”, a term that is never actually defined. Up until 1995, this legislation applied to men only, but a movement to raise awareness on the need to reform the law led to it being made gender neutral. Now, women too come under the ambit of the law, and for the past 13 years, consensual sex between two women in private has been criminalised. This type of discriminatory law was introduced in all the British colonies – save Hong Kong – and continued to remain in the statute books long after colonial rule ended. In Sri Lanka, this act has been in effect since 1883, having now enjoyed a life of 125 years. The original inspiration for this type of legislation, however, has long since dissipated. In 1967, England passed the Sexual Offences Act, which decriminalised consensual, private homosexual acts between people over the age of 21. In 2004, the United Kingdom even announced the passage of the Civil Partnership Act, and the first same-sex couple there was registered in November 2005. Though same-sex partners in the UK cannot opt to have their registration ceremony in places reserved for religious rituals, those registered under this act can now enjoy rights similar to those of heterosexual married couples. Beginning with inheritance tax, social security and pension benefits, a same-sex partner in the UK is now also able to enjoy full parental responsibility of their current partner’s children, as well as responsibility for reasonable maintenance of one’s partner and their children. A partner is entitled to full tenancy rights, life-insurance recognition, and will be recognised as next of kin in hospitals. There is even provision for the dissolving of such a union through a process similar to divorce.
Why is it that Sri Lanka, along with much of the rest of Southasia, is still forced to conform to a law bestowed by England, when the English themselves have done away with the very same law, one that legitimises violence against members of sexual minorities? A local Sri Lankan group, named Companions on a Journey, has claimed that when it was first set up in 1995, its members were subject to ridicule, with some even being stoned and many receiving death threats. In addition to being subject to sexual violence, the general stigma associated with being lesbian and gay in Sri Lanka often leads members of sexual minorities to emotional and mental trauma. Back in July 1999, the Women’s Support Group, an organisation that works in the field of queer rights, announced its intention of holding a conference for lesbians, and was soon met with fierce public opposition. One of these protests came in the form of a letter to the editor of a local newspaper, which went so far as to advocate the rape of women attending the conference by a team of convicted rapists. The filing of a complaint against the newspaper instead led to the Press Council of Sri Lanka condemning lesbianism as “sadistic and salacious”. Attitudes towards sexual minorities have not changed much since then.
Despite suffering from threats of violence, Companions on a Journey currently boasts more than 2000 members, with more than 15 members visiting their drop-in centre every day. The Women’s Support Group likewise has a significant member base. But neither of these groups can openly disclose their location, for fear of harm. The contributions from these groups in terms of awareness-raising on issues of sexuality, sexual health and HIV/AIDS has nonetheless been immense, considering that they were begun with the aim of providing only peer support. Though these two organisations have been successful in making tremendous progress in developing a supportive community, and in advocating for the rights of those with alternative sexualities, their progress in winning legal recognition has been negligible. Aside from the aforementioned elements of the Sri Lanka Penal Code, a particularly vague regulation called the Vagrants Ordinance continues to remain in the law books. This gives authorities the power to detain people who are considered ‘idle’ in public, including when it is determined that such a ‘vagrant’ could solicit someone in the area for sexual intercourse. Such legal vagaries have led the police many times to misinterpret the intentions of bystanders, and they have wrongly detained countless people. And, of course, in most of these cases it is those of lower socio-economic status who prove most vulnerable to such detention. In order to win their freedom, such detainees are often forced to resort to bribes for offences not committed.
The attitude of government officials hardly helps matters. In August 2007, the Sri Lankan government hosted the eighth International Conference on AIDS in the Asia-Pacific (ICAAP). With many sessions focusing on sexuality and rights, it was heartening that Colombo officials seemed positive about working with sexual minorities. At the end of the conference, ICAAP Rapporteur-General Jeff O’Malley made a comment about the unavailability of condoms at the conference venue for participants who have wished to have sex. But then Minister of Health Nimal Siripala de Silva made a quick rebuttal that shocked most of those gathered at the conference. “I don’t want people to think I brought all of these people here to promote lesbianism and homosexuality,” de Silva said. “There are many nice women and handsome men in Sri Lanka. People in Southeast [sic] Asia practice good sexual behaviour with single partners. When the Western world was living in the jungles, we were leading a civilised life.”
Whether the minister was being clueless, homophobic or judgemental, it was hard to imagine that he was holding the highest portfolio in the country for work on health-related issues. His clear message was for the continuation of the stigmatisation of sexual minorities and of those living with HIV/AIDS. Perhaps it was expressed attitudes such as this from people in high positions that contributed to the subsequent mistreatment of a Nigerian participant at the ICAAP conference. This individual, Jude Munaonye, later said that he was refused treatment at multiple hospitals, and that the officials would not even look him in the eye as they carted him from location to location. Munaonye said that the common view towards HIV in Sri Lanka seemed even worse than in many countries in Africa. All the while, Sri Lanka is commonly referred to as a low-prevalence country with regards to HIV/AIDS, but the worry now is that this stigmatisation, which seems to be far more widespread than had previously been thought, could lead many to conceal the possibility that they are infected. Meanwhile, studies on sexuality in Sri Lanka are currently in their infancy, due mostly to fears of hostility. Thus, heterosexuality remains widely perceived as the norm, a state of affairs that looks set to remain in place for many years to come. An advice columnist in a national newspaper (who happens to be a psychologist) recently wrote that homosexuality is the most common sexual “disturbance” in the country. He went on to state authoritatively that male homosexuality stands at around six percent in Sri Lanka, while lesbians make up around two percent of the country’s population. The article also made such sweeping statements as, “Often transvestite practices lead to masturbation or sexual intercourse.” One way or another, the article placed homosexuality and transvestism on the same level as voyeurism, exhibitionism, fetishism and paedophilia. Naturally, in such a context, homosexuality can easily be referred to as a disorder, and the course of ‘treatment’ recommended can only be some form of behavioural-modification therapy.
Against this backdrop, human-rights activists in Sri Lanka have found it next to impossible to advocate for real change. Despite the adoption of the groundbreaking Yogyakarta Principles of 2006, which established the basic standards for how governments should treat people whose sexuality-related rights are often denied, it remains doubtful as to whether a government such as the one in Colombo will actually comply with these international standards. Following her visit to Sri Lanka in mid-January, High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour pointed out that several broader human-rights issues on the island are often eclipsed by issues related to the ongoing ethnic conflict. She placed particular emphasis on issues of discrimination and exclusion, gender inequalities, and the low participation of women in public and political life. Arbour concluded that these challenges will remain after any peace settlement, and that they deserve greater and more focused attention. As things currently stand, the Sri Lankan state has not prioritised effective human-rights protection to sexual minorities as one among its foremost responsibilities. Despite the recommendations of United Nations experts, and efforts made to integrate consideration of human-rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity into their relevant mandates, unless there is political will on the part of the government, these efforts will remain on paper alone
June 09, 2008 – The Jakarta Post
Asian gay, transgender groups fight for their rights
by Irawaty Wardany, Denpasar
(Bali) Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) groups in Asia have agreed to develop an international network to advocate protection of their rights in their respective countries and at the regional level. Bali hosted a conference of the groups from June 2 to 6 in the tourism enclave Nusa Dua. The conference was attended by 21 participants from eight countries — Indonesia, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, China and Thailand. "We agreed to make some kind of international network to advocate protection of LGBT rights in our countries," Rido Triawan, head of Arus Pelangi, an Indonesian non-governmental organization that fights for LGBT rights, told The Jakarta Post on Saturday. He said it would be like an open communication channel connecting LGBY communities in different countries, so that when there was a problem in one country the communities could work in unison to apply political pressure on the government in question.
Generally, Rido said, LGBT communities in Asia faced similar problems. "We are all at this time suffering from stigmatization, discrimination, persecution from religious groups and discriminative government regulations," he said. "For example, the 2004 regional regulation in Palembang, South Sumatra, categorizes LGBT as a form of prostitution," Rido said.
He said religious-based persecution was the most difficult problem LGBT groups faced in Indonesia. "Those religious doctrines are then being integrated into the formal education curriculum. Naturally, the curriculum educates the students that the only ‘normal’ and accepted sexual orientation is heterosexuality," he said. Consequently, other sexual orientations are considered as not "normal" and unacceptable. This has resulted in students and communities discriminating against members of the homosexual and transgender community. "There are many cases of discrimination experienced by members of the LGBT community. One example involved a man who openly acknowledged his sexual orientation of being gay. Suddenly, his company fired him for no apparent reason," Rido said.
He said other gay workers faced varying levels of hostility from co-workers. "They suddenly keep a distance or, even worse, socially isolate him just because he is gay," he said. He said upholding the rights of the LGBT community was a significant issue since sexual orientation was also part of human rights. Rido said the LGBT community in Indonesia just wanted to be acknowledged and treated the same as the other Indonesian citizens, who enjoyed the right to education, health, work and all the other basic human rights. "It is still very hard for people to accept the fact that LGBT are also human beings, who should be treated humanely," said Arus Pelangi secretary general, Yuli Rustinawati.
A Sri Lankan LGBT activist, Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, said the situation in Sri Lanka was worse than in Indonesia. "Being part of LGBT communities in Sri Lanka is similar to committing a criminal offense. That’s the reason why people with LGBT sexual orientation prefer to be invisible," she said. She said members of the LGBT community in her country who fell victim to criminal acts often didn’t report their cases to the police, because the treatment they would receive could be worse than the perpetrators of the criminal acts. She said she participated in LGBT conferences and seminars around the world to learn about human rights instruments that could be used to advance the struggle in her country.
July 10, 2008 – equalground.wordpress.com
Colombo PRIDE 2008 concludes on a HIGH note!
Colombo PRIDE 2008 concluded on a high note on Sunday 6th July with the Rainbow Kite Festival on the beach in Mt. Lavinia. Beginning with the spectacular Drag show I have a Dream held at the Lionel Wendt Theatre in the heart of Colombo, and ending with a multicoloured fiesta – the Rainbow Kite Festival on Mt.Lavinia Beach, Colombo PRIDE 2008 hit new heights as several hundred people thronged the festivities held throughout the week.
The first ever LGBT Art & Photo Exhibition was a resounding success, with many, many people browsing the gallery and appreciating the exhibits on display at the Barefoot Gallery. The LGBT film Festival added much needed character and excitement with documentary movies such as For the Bible tells me so and Jihad for love being screened to packed houses each night.
The Annual PRIDE party was a riot of colour and people as Colombo celebrated in true ‘gay’ abandon at Club Nuovo. Over 300 people packed the venue and celebrated PRIDE till 5am the next morning! Sunday morning 6th July, was clear and bright for the start of the Rainbow Kite Festival at 12noon. Although a dark cloud spewed rain for 20 minutes it did not dampen the festivities or the spirits of the attendees! The Kite Festival rocked till 8pm in the evening and a good time was had by all!
Courtesy Equal Ground website
July 21, 2008 – PinkNews
Bishop calls on church to embrace gays at "make or break" conference
by Tony Grew
The Bishop of Colombo has called on the Anglican Communion to be inclusive of gay and lesbian people. Duleep de Chickera was giving the sermon at yesterday’s Eucharist attended by the 650 bishops and archbishops assembled for the Lambeth Conference, their spouses and ecumenical participants. "Here my dear sisters and brothers is an insight of what the Church is called to be: an inclusive communion, where there is space equally for everyone and anyone, regardless of colour, gender, ability, sexual orientation," he told the church leaders assembled in Canterbury Cathedral. Unity in diversity is a cherished Anglican tradition – a spirituality if you like, which we must reinforce in all humility for the sake of Christ and Christ’s Gospel."
Bishop de Chickera stressed the social justice responsibilities of the Church and their duty to the poor. "The Anglican Communion must speak on their behalf – whether it is the crisis in Sri Lanka, whether it is the crisis in Zimbabwe, or Sudan, or Afghanistan or Iraq. The voiceless must be given a voice through the leadership of the Anglican Communion. The second strand that goes with a voice for the voiceless, is the calling into accountability of those who abuse power:authoritarian regimes who oppress and suppress the people. The prophetic voice will ask poignant, relevant questions: "why", and sometimes, "how dare you?""
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, spoke frankly to his fellow bishops, describing the Anglican Communion as "wounded" and the fact that nearly a quarter of bishops did not attend as "an indication all is not well." "We need to get beyond the reciprocal impatience that shows itself in the ways in which both liberals and traditionalists are ready – almost eager at times, it appears – to assume that the other is not actually listening to Jesus," he said. "We also know that how we think about that unity is itself affected by the urgency of the calls on our compassion and imagination; some sorts of division undoubtedly will seem a luxury in the face of certain challenges, as many Christians in Germany found when confronted by Hitler. We have to think and pray hard about what the essentials really are."
The Lambeth Conference’s series of study and discussion sessions starts today with Celebrating Common Ground: the bishop and Anglican Identity. The only openly gay bishop in the Anglican Communion, Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, has not been invited to Lambeth, while 260 fundamentalist bishops have declined invitations because they are unhappy with the Church’s stance on gay issues. 300 bishops gathered at the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) last month. They approved the formation of a new global network to fight against the preaching of "false gospels" of homosexuality and other "immoral" sexual behaviour. The group claims to represent 35 million of the 77 million Anglicans worldwide and rejects the acceptance of gay relationships and the ordination of gay clergy and formed the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FOCA).
Critics have called the new group a "church within a church." Though the majority of dissenting clergy are from the developing world, some traditionalist English, Australian and American Anglicans have joined the fellowship. The provinces of Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Nigeria are not attending, but some bishops have broken ranks and are in Canterbury for the conference. Earlier this week The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, said that fundamentalists are damaging Anglican unity.
"There used to be a generosity of spirit and diversity in the Anglican Communion," he said. "There should be a backlash against this fundamentalism that has been thrust upon us. It is contrary to the ministry of Jesus and damaging that in the Church, we’re still fighting battles that have already been won in society."
Although not invited to the Lambeth Conference, Bishop Gene Robinson is in Canterbury.
EQUAL GROUND is very pleased and proud to have assisted in yet another successful Asylum
Colombo, Sri Lanka – EQUAL GROUND is very pleased and proud to have assisted in yet another successful Asylum case in the US. ‘NP’, a young man from rural Sri Lanka, first contacted EQUAL GROUND early this year, through his lawyer in California. We were able to provide crucial information to aid him with his case. We congratulate NP and his team on a successful application and wish him all the very best for his new future in the US.
EQUAL GROUND has had a hand in many Asylum cases thus far and we are proud to say that all of them, save one, have had successful outcomes. The organisation is happy to be able to provide assistance to members of the LGBTIQ community of Sri Lanka who are persecuted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and seek asylum in other countries so they can live a life of freedom and dignity.
"Equality for all Sexual Orientations and Gender Identities: Human Rights for everyone"
July 2009 – The Sunday Times
Gay rights activists get hope from across the Palk Strait
by Feizal Samath
The recent landmark court ruling in India where Delhi’s High Court said the law outlawing homosexual acts was discriminatory and a "violation of fundamental rights", has brought new strength and cheer to Sri Lanka’s small gay and lesbian community. “It was a fantastic judgment. I shouted, ran, screamed in the office (when it happened on July 2) – this was what we have been fighting for,” said Sherman de Rose, Founder of Companions on a Journey (CoJ), Sri Lanka’s first homosexual rights group.
“The ruling marked a historic day for gay and lesbian groups in the region and all over the world,” he said. Sex between people of the same gender has been illegal in India and most of South Asia, including Sri Lanka, under a British colonial era law issued in the 1860s classifying it as "against the order of nature”. According to the law, gay sex in India is punishable by 10 years in prison while in Sri Lanka it is 12 years in jail although no one has been jailed for such an offence.
Mr. de Rose, the first gay person to openly state his sexual preference in a society that frowns on such behaviour, said they are planning a new consultation in coming weeks in Colombo bringing together gay and lesbian persons from across the country in an interaction with stakeholders like judges, parliamentarians, religious leaders and decision-makers.
“We hope to attract the participation of about 200 people from all over the country. Indian experts are also attending,” he said, adding that they plan to re-examine the Sri Lankan issue in the light of the Indian judgment. “I have found Sri Lankan leaders supportive of our rights to live the way we want but that is their individual view. That view is not common on an organized scale,” he said, noting that same-sex persons are always worried about public opinion and want to “run away abroad”.
Under section 365 (A) of the Criminal Procedure Code, homosexual acts are banned and liable to a 12-year jail term if found guilty. “Even in Britain, this law has been off the books. Why then should it exist for citizens of our land, after we got independence from British rule?” Mr. de Rose asked, noting that “We are not criminals and have a right to live in dignity and peace.” CoJ has been in the forefront of the rights for homosexuals activism and in the 1990s along with the Centre for Policy Alternatives prepared a discussion paper on this issue, the first-ever in the region.
Mr. de Rose says there is much more acceptance from society over their rights compared to when he launched the organization in 1995. More homosexuals from South Asia including Afghanistan want to come into the regional grouping of associations while groups in Iran are also keen to join, he said, adding that the regional movement has grown since the 1990s. Between 8 to 10% of a country’s population in the world is considered to be gay and lesbians, according to Mr. de Rose. The CoJ has three drop-in centres for their community in Kandy, Chilaw and Anuradhapura in addition to the main centre in Colombo.
December 2009 – msmandhiv.org
First Sri Lanka National Consultation Meeting on MSM, HIV and Sexual Health
Sri Lanka’s first national consultation meeting on MSM, HIV and sexual health was held in Negombo, Sri Lanka between the 19th to 21st November 2009. Organised by Companions on a Journey (CoJ) and Naz Foundation International (NFI), with support from UNAIDS, UNDP and APCOM, this important meeting comes at a time when, despite the low HIV prevalence among the general community, evidence is beginning to show much higher rates of HIV among MSM.
With over 75 participants, the three-day meeting focused on the issues, needs and concerns of MSM and transgenders in Sri Lanka through a working group process and the active engagement of all the participants, supported by facilitators trained by NFI.
A range of recommendations were developed which included:
Developing a national MSM and transgender network
Implementing a rapid scaling up of MSM and transgender HIV services
A reading down of the law against same sex behaviour to allow consensual adult sex
Addressing stigma, discrimination and social exclusion with law enforcement agencies, the judiciary, and other key stakeholders.
A report of this meeting has been produced and is available HERE
20 June 2010 – The Daily Mirror
Lankan gays want rights
Sri Lanka’s gay community today demanded equal rights and urged the authorities to emulate India which had last year lifted restrictions on the gay community in New Delhi. Executive Director of Equal Grounds, Rozanne Flemar Caldera, speaking at a fashion show in Colombo this evening organized by Sri Lanka’s gay community said that people must be treated equally be they gay or straight.
Equal Grounds represents the gay community in Sri Lanka and the fashion show held at the Galadari hotel saw both gay and straight people taking to the stage to portray equality. Several prominent personalities, diplomats and others attended the event. (ER)
Rights of Sexual Minorities Still Locked in the Closet
by Sutirtho Patranobis, Colombo
Closets are for clothes. That was the thinking behind the "Rainbow Runway” fashion show where members of the lesbian, gay and bisexual communities — along with heterosexual models — participated in a fashion parade on Sunday in Colombo, a rare event of its kind. The situation of gays and lesbians in Sri Lanka is similar to those in India. Same gender sex is illegal — Delhi High Court of course read down and decriminalised homosexuality on July 2, 2009 — but there’s hardly been a case where charges have been brought against them; the law is more often used to harass and extort.
The British bequeathed the Lankan Penal Code in 1883 and Section 365 in it outlawed homosexuality. What "unnatural sex” is under section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, "gross indecency” is under the code here, punishable with a maximum imprisonment of 12 years and a fine. In 1995, an amendment made 365A gender neutral — sex between women was made punishable. Apparently, the government had moved to decriminalise homosexuality but after groans of disapproval from the powerful Buddhist clergy, women were roped in as well.
" Until 1995 this law applied to men alone. But when the penal code was reformed in 1995, ostensibly under the guise of making the law less discriminatory towards men… women were added to the list of those criminally liable under the provision,” a website dealing with women’s issues pointed out.Rosanna Flamer-Caldera from Equal Ground, an NGO which organised the show, said it’s not been easy to work in an atmosphere of prejudice. "We have had to change office, two trustees resigned following threats from a religious community and we get phone and email threats,” she said.
In 2000, Lanka’s Press Council, according to AFP, even held lesbianism as an "act of sadism" and that a newspaper article calling convicted rapists to be unleashed on lesbians was in the larger interest of the community. A Constitutional amendment is required here to change provisions of the criminal code. There’s little chance of that happening any time soon. But more than the law, it’s how the society responds to sexual minorities that needs to be altered. Till then, many gays and lesbians will remain in closets.
25 June 2010 – AussieIndoLanka
Lanka for dialogue with gays
The Sri Lankan government says it is open for dialogue with Sri Lanka’s gay community, who had this week urged equal rights, but will not take any decision which could hurt the culture of the country. Prime Minister D.M Jayaratna, when contacted by Daily Mirror online, over the demands made by the Sri Lankan gay community at a public function this week, said the government must first identify what sort of "equal rights" the gay community in Sri Lanka want.
He noted that while matters concerning gay people including gay marriage is acceptable in some western countries the gay community in Sri Lanka will have to define the rights they seek in order for it to be even given consideration. "It is not wrong for them to seek rights. But we must know what exactly they want. They should communicate that to us and then we will see if it hurts our culture and take a decision accordingly," the Premier told Daily Mirror online.
Sri Lanka’s gay community on Sunday demanded equal rights and urged the authorities to emulate India which had last year lifted restrictions on the gay community in New Delhi.
21 September 2011 – Global Voices
Sri Lanka: Yellow Journalism Threatens LGBT Community
Hans Billmoria reports how a local newspaper published their alleged exposé on “condoms and lubricating gels being distributed to men who have sex with men”, and published the addresses of the community based organizations involved in the process. This has put the gay community in the country in fear and insecurity.
21 September, 2011 – Gobal Views
Are there really gay Sri Lankans?
by Hans Billimoria
As I write this, friends and people I have worked with, are living in fear. In truth, since Saturday before last (10th September) when Rivira published their exposé on condoms and lubricating gels being distributed to men who have sex with men, and the community based organization involved in the process, tensions have been high for the gay community. In the 10th September article, the organization was identified by name, their detailed address was also offered up with the sensational declaration that both offices of this organization (project and head office) were in close proximity to a primary and secondary school respectively. Of course parents were warned to protect their sons, based on the infantile notion that if a man is gay, he must necessarily be a pedophile too.
In addition to targeting the community organization, Rivira also raised questions about the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM) who have provided funds to the community organization to implement their HIV prevention programming. The not very veiled assumption was that ‘foreign’ funds were somehow forcing us to violate the norms and mores of our culturally conservative nation was predictably poor journalism. As were the uninformed accusations directed at the National STD/AIDS Control Programme (NSACP), part of the Ministry of Health; and Sarvodaya, who together with NSACP are the primary recipients of this US$ 12 Million grant to prevent the spread of HIV in Sri Lanka by working with populations that are most at risk from the virus…
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September 22, 2011
Five minutes after reading this article, I stumbled on a video on the TED website. (Here’s the link. http://bit.ly/6WfqX ) After listening to the speaker talk about the danger of single stories, I had to come back and comment here. Of what an injustice that has been done against the GLBT community by these articles on Rivira, and also the most recent one, though markedly less ridiculous than Rivira’s, on the AdaDerana website.
They are, in these articles, all sticking to a single story — the monopoly of truth, that has been savagely inculcated in the way of ordinary Sri Lankan thinking. Too many people (some educated, some not quite so educated, some religious, some not quite so religious, some conservative, some not quite so conservative) instantly jump to the defence of culture, tradition and decency, before qualifying their defence against both the reality of the situation and the reality of what they are saying: too many people don’t realise that the logical extension of saying, “Oh, but our culture is more important!”, or “Oh, but we are a Buddhist nation!”, or whatever-else-have-you, is that at least thirty thousand men and women (as much as has been successfully reported by statisticians) must either choose to live alone and unloved or marry a person of the gender they are not attracted to and live a miserable life of lies and pretensions and hurt. Nevermind, the broken families. Nevermind, the hurt and rejected children of two parents who seem inexplicably irreconcilable and distant. Nevermind, the heterosexual wife or husband that will live their life believing that they’re forever inexplicably incapable of satisfying their life’s partner…
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