8 Young Sri Lankans Are Lost to Forced Rebel Enlistment 6/03 (non-gay story)
26 October 1995
The founder of a gay-rights group in Sri Lanka recently spoke with the Reuter news service.
Sherman de Rose, head of "Companions on a Journey," said the gay population of Sri Lanka "is larger than the world average … but a lot of them cannot come to terms with themselves, mostly due to family pressures and behavioral expectations called for by their culture."
"A gay identity does not make much sense to many homosexuals in Sri Lanka," de Rose, a former special-education teacher, added. "It’s a foreign word and has a foreign meaning. A gay identity must emerge from the Sri Lankan cultural context. [But] on the whole, incidents of men having sex with men and women having sex with women are quite high." Companions has 400 male and 13 female members. "The number of women will always remain low … because Sri Lankan women are many times more unlikely than men to admit their homosexuality," de Rose said. "It may be because women are governed more by traditional and cultural expectations."
"Often Sri Lankan homosexuals have committed suicide because they had no support from their families, from their community and from the state," de Rose said. "We want to change that attitude."
17 July 1996
Nation’s first national gay/lesbian conference
The Sri Lankan gay group Companions On A Journey staged the nation’s first national gay/lesbian conference in April. Sixty delegates formulated a two-year plan that includes repeal of laws banning gay sex and a push for sensitivity training for police. The Companions office is routinely searched and group members are verbally and physically harassed by cops, said Companions founder Sherman De Rose."
19 June 1999
Sixty Attend Sri Lankan Gay Conference
Sixty gay men attended Sri Lanka’s second National Gay Conference in late June."It is remarkable that 60 gay men came out in the open and were willing to discuss openly their problems, fears and concerns," said Sherman De Rose of the organizing group, Companions on a Journey. "The consensus was that as an organization we should be more formalized." The group’s members have made contact with more than 900 fellow homosexuals by cruising malls and beaches. With funding from a Dutch foundation, they distribute rubbers and safe-sex information and offer counselling and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. Gay-male sex is banned in Sri Lanka under threat of 12 years in prison.
2 June 2000
Sri Lanka’s Press Council attacks lesbianism
Sri Lanka’s Press Council has come out in support of a letter in a newspaper, urging that convicted rapists should be unleashed on lesbians.The Council said the letter, in the Island newspaper, was published in the interest of the community.It also imposed a fine of $28 on the man who brought the complaint, Sherman de Rose. Mr de Rose is a gay rights campaigner who complained that the letter, published last August, promoted violence and hatred of lesbians.
In its ruling the Council said that lesbianism was an "act of sadism", and was an offence under the country’s penal code. "Salacious publication of any opinion against such activities does not amount to a promotion of sadism or salacity," the Council ruled. It added that Mr de Rose and not the newspaper was guilty of promoting improper values.Mr de Rose said the ruling clearly showed how gays were discriminated against in Sri Lanka and he would try to appeal. The letter to the newspaper was written in response to a report that Mr de Rose’s gay rights movement was helping to arrange an international conference of lesbians in the capital, Colombo.
5 September 2000
Sri Lanka gays mark anniversary with ball
Colombo – Homosexuality is illegal in conservative Sri Lanka where offenders can be jailed for 12 years, but the country’s most active gay group is set to mark its fifth anniversary with a ball. The gay rights movement, the so-called Companions on a Journey, is planning a gala on Friday to turn their birthday into an annual ritual with music and dancing at a resort hotel here. "The main focus is to bring the visible (gay) people together," said the leading gay rights activist and leader of Companions, Sherman de Rose. "We expect at least 300 gay and lesbian people will come together for this."
But the event is more than an exultant show of triumph, organisers said. The celebration is to be coupled with a healthy dose of AIDS awareness and sexual health pep talks in a bid to prevent the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, said 29-year-old de Rose. What we have achieved in the past five years is the creation of awareness and visibility for people in our community," said the former Roman Catholic brother who shed the cassock and took up the cause of fellow gays. Following intense campaigning the Companions had limited success when the government in 1995 agreed to review an archaic penal code under which sex between men is punishable by 12 years in jail.
The government agreed to revoke the 1883 Penal Code which outlawed sexual relations between men, but instead of decriminalising homosexuality, the authorities roped women in under the archaic laws. The Victorian laws introduced under British colonial rulers did not acknowledge that women could have sex with each other and therefore lesbians could not be prosecuted. However, with the government substituting the word "males" with the gender-neutral "persons" in the 1995 amendment to the penal code, women too face anti-homosexual regulations. With rising protests from religious groups, the government did not fully push through the penal code amendment and the half-measure has made it worse for the gay community.
Speaking at the "Drop-in-Centre" which has become a haven for gays and lesbians struggling to come out, de Rose admits that the archaic law has not been strictly enforced in recent years. But while the law is not enforced by the authorities, its mere existence is enough for the police and anti-gay groups to brand them as "perverts" and lawbreakers, he added. "Article 365 of the penal code is discriminatory and gives a stigma to those who are gay. It leads to a lot of abuses of gay people in our community." Even the venue of the gala dinner dance organised at a resort hotel near here Friday is kept secret for fear that the group may become the target of hate attacks. A government agency provides Companions with condoms to be distributed among members. They also arrange counselling as well as clinics for sexually transmitted diseases.
The group also conducts AIDS awareness programs and tries to encourage safe sex among gays and lesbians thanks to funding from a Dutch organisation. However, de Rose’s Companions got a rude shock in June this year from a most unexpected source — the Press Council. The quasi-judicial council ruled that lesbianism equals sadism and is therefore a social evil. Hate mail against women who love women had been published in good faith, the council ruled, to the horror of many, including a press council member himself. It was de Rose who had complained to the Press Council that a letter published in the The Island newspaper in August last year was promoting violence and hatred of lesbians. Instead, the council ruled that it was the lesbians who were practising sadism.
De Rose was irked by a letter in the Island newspaper which asked the authorities to unleash convicted rapists on lesbians so that the "misguided wretches" could "understand the reality of natural sexual pleasure." The former Catholic brother-turned gay rights activist was not willing to offer the other cheek. He is now taking the case to a higher court as the organisation marks five years with nearly 1,000 gays coming out of the closet. (AFP)
9 September 2000
Sri Lanka gays mark five years of protest in drag
by Michael Hoover and Amal Jayasinghe
Colombo, Sri Lanka – Sri Lanka’s hidden gay community paraded in a fashion show and danced till dawn Saturday to mark the fifth anniversary of the founding of the country’s leading gay rights group.Gays from Companions on a Journey were invited to "strut your stuff in drag … move to the beat in friendly rivalry … be there or be oblong."It was the lighter note for a section of Sri Lanka whose homosexual practices are punishable by a 12 year jail term.Spokesman Sherman de Rose said the venue at a modest resort hotel was kept secret to prevent hate attacks directed at gay and lesbian activists.A pink and black brochure proclaimed the fifth anniversary of Companions with a message that they were advocating and encouraging safe sex. The brochure was delivered with a free condom.
Companions on a Journey was formed in 1995 primarily to lobby for the repeal of an article in the penal code which bans sex between consenting adult men. Membership has grown to nearly 1,000 and Companion claims to have the support of several politicians and a cross section of society.
Despite this they have faced death threats and physical attacks. De Rose, a former Roman Catholic brother-turned-gay activist is demanding the authorities decriminalise homosexuality in conservative Sri Lanka.Following intense campaigning the Companions had limited success when the government in 1995 agreed to review an archaic penal code which outlaws sex between men. The government agreed to revoke the 1883 Penal Code but instead of decriminalising homosexuality, authorities roped women in under the archaic laws.Victorian laws introduced under British colonial rulers did not acknowledge that women could have sex with each other and therefore lesbians could not be prosecuted. However, with the government substituting the word "males" with the gender-neutral "persons" in the 1995 amendment to the penal code, women too face anti-homosexual regulations.
With rising protests from religious groups, the government did not fully push through the penal code amendment and the half-measure has made it worse for the gay community."What we have achieved in the past five years is the creation of awareness and visibility for people in our community," said the former Catholic brother who shed the cassock and took up the cause of fellow gays five years ago. "The main focus was to bring the visible (gay) people together," said de Rose. "It is a tremendous success and everyone is having a good time."Colombo-based diplomats were invited. Some foreign missions here indirectly support Companions. The evening was open to gays and lesbians but was dominated by men amid loud music, men in drag competed for the coveted drag queen title as de Rose explained a more meaningful message to diplomats.
This included an AIDS awareness and sexual health pep talk in a bid to prevent the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
27 May 2001
Sri Lanka gays going great abroad, battle at home
by Amal Jayasinghe
Colombo (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s gay activists have won an international award for quiet diplomacy, but the group is under pressure from younger members to take firmer action to have homosexuality decriminalised at home. The main gay rights group here, Companions on a Journey, and its women’s support group received recognition from the San Francisco-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission for their work since 1995. The head of Companions on a Journey, Sherman de Rose, said they had overcome many social barriers and faced even physical assault while campaigning for the rights of sexual minorities in Sri Lanka. However, even after five years of back-door manoeuvring and lobbying parliamentarians, they have failed to have a 1883 law repealed that makes sex between consenting males a criminal offence punishable by 12 years in jail.
The penal code outlawed homosexuality and the Victorian laws introduced by British colonial rulers did not acknowledge that women could have sex with each other and therefore lesbians could not be prosecuted. Following intense campaigning, the Companions on a Journey had limited success when the government in 1995 agreed to review the law. But instead of decriminalising homosexuality, the authorities expanded the scope of the law to include women. De Rose, a former Roman Catholic brother-turned-gay activist, said they were still trying to have section 365 of the penal code repealed by lobbying dozens of legislators who were seen as sympathetic to their cause. "We don’t want to make a big splash by trying to ‘out’ people who want to remain in the closet," said de Rose. "We are not trying to expose people in authority who are homosexuals, but our younger members want tougher action."
The 30-year-old de Rose said he was not sure how long they would be able to continue their "softly, softly" approach in battling discrimination. "Just because one male has sex with another consenting adult male they are not committing a criminal offence," de Rose said. "But in the eyes of our law, they are criminals." De Rose said that there was no clear evidence that anyone has been prosecuted since 1950, but that the law allowed police to harass homosexuals. The companions opened a drop-in-centre to help homosexuals to deal with social and emotional problems and create awareness about the dangers of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Earlier this month, de Rose received the Felipa award, named in honour of Felipa de Souza, a woman convicted and tortured in Brazil by the Portuguese inquisition in 1591 for having sex with other women. Companions on a Journey have semi-recognition from state authorities. A government agency provides them with condoms to be distributed among members and also spread the word on AIDS prevention.
They also arrange counselling as well as clinics for sexually transmitted diseases. The group conducts AIDS awareness programs and tries to encourage safe sex thanks to funding from a Dutch organisation. But, conservative Sri Lankan society is still not tolerant, at least to the extent the Companions would like. The quasi-judicial Press Council ruled last June that lesbianism equals sadism and is therefore a social evil. Hate mail against women who love women had been published in good faith, the council ruled, to the horror of many, including a press council member himself. De Rose had complained to the Press Council that a letter published in The Island newspaper in August 1999 was promoting violence and hatred of lesbians. Instead, the council ruled that lesbians were practising sadism. De Rose said he had still not paid the 2,500 rupee ($A56.37) fine imposed on him from bringing the case. He said: "We will see what happens."
Young Sri Lankans Are Lost to Forced Rebel Enlistment (non-gay story about children kidnapped)
January 6, 2003
by Amy Waldman Kinnaiyadi, Sri Lanka
The floods ruined this season’s paddy harvest in this village of sandy earth and slanting palms. The harvest of its youth went ahead. Ten days ago, at least 18, and possibly 60 or more, young people, according to different villagers’ estimates, were taken off to join the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, one of the world’s most ruthless and effective secessionist movements.
Many of them were boys and girls, some as young as 12. Some were taken by force, yanked from houses or scooped up along the roadside like found treasure. Others went "voluntarily," to spare their parents after Tiger cadres repeatedly threatened them if they did not supply the movement with a child. They were loaded into tractor-trailers and taken away. For 20 years, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have fought for a separate state for the minority Tamils of Sri Lanka, the island nation off India’s southern tip.
The Tamils, many of whom are Hindu, are concentrated in the northern and eastern parts of the country. They say their cause has been motivated by discrimination against them by the Sinhalese, many of whom are Buddhist, who make up three quarters of the country’s population of 18 million. Much of the rebels’ battle has been fought on the backs, and bodies, of child soldiers, according to human rights organizations, including the United Nations. Today, however, the Tigers have paused in their armed struggle and put aside the quest for their own state. They are in peace talks with the Sri Lankan government. They are trying to obtain regional autonomy for the Tamil people and to transform themselves into a legitimate political organization. They insist that they no longer have, or accept, children in their ranks. In recent months, they have undertaken the highly publicized releases of 165 children. In an interview in Kilinochchi, the Tigers’ administrative capital, the movement’s political leader, S. Thamilchelvam, said: "We want to discount the disinformation campaign of previous governments.
There was no conscription. There were no child soldiers." But in whispered interviews here, villagers – afraid for their lives if their identities were revealed – told of a relentless recruiting campaign, in which the only way to save children was to send them away. One woman who had two nieces and one nephew taken told how parents, angry that they were losing their own child, had steered cadres toward their neighbors’ children as well. A police intelligence official confirmed that children had been taken; he estimated the number at 30 or 35. One villager interviewed put the number at 60 over three days. [A representative of a human rights organization, who subsequently visited the village, was told that 100 young people, mostly under 18, were taken.]
Complaints filed with international aid groups, as well as interviews with Tamils and community leaders in the Tiger-controlled north and east, also indicate that child enlistment and abduction, while down from past levels, continue. There was a time when young people, including some children, joined on their own. The cause seemed just, and for a poor child, the movement offered meals and security. While some children still join voluntarily, swayed by recruiting meetings at which Tigers show propaganda films of battle victories, villagers say the appetite for war here is gone. The Tigers alone have lost 17,600 cadres in battle, and the country a total of more than 64,000 lives. So to bolster their ranks, the Tigers appear to be continuing to use coercion, both of those under and over 18.
Whether classified as recruitment or abduction, taking children into the movement is a violation of a cease-fire agreement signed last February, which bars, in accordance with international law, hostile acts against civilians. It is also a violation of the Tigers’ own public pledges. The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, a team of Scandinavians invited by both sides to monitor the cease-fire, has certified 281 cases of child recruitment from February through October, with more than 400 cases still being investigated; in November, there were 24. "We also clearly realize our complaints are the tip of the iceberg," said the group’s spokesman, Teitur Torkelsson. "They’re not even half." In the north, international aid groups have about 50 open cases of children who have been taken since the cease-fire was signed.
There have also been reports that homes the Tigers maintain for children orphaned by war have been used as recruiting grounds for the rebels. But most of the complaints come from the Batticaloa district in Eastern Province, where this village is. In fact, the conscription in Kinnaiyadi appears to be only the latest wave of forced recruitment, often of children, in the Batticaloa area. Here, Tamils said, the Tigers’ policy remains as it has long been: every family with three or more children must give one. "They have thousands, and they’re still taking them," said the Rev. Harry Miller, an American Jesuit priest who has lived in the town of Batticaloa for more than a half century.
In July, he said, the Tigers took eight children from outside a Hindu temple feast on the edge of Batticaloa. "We haven’t gotten any back," he said. Of the problems in the east, Mr. Thamilchelvam said they were "instances" that had been brought to the notice of the high command, and the political hierarchy had been ordered to make sure they were not repeated. But he said the demographics of the area – there are large Muslim and Sinhalese populations as well – meant that Tamil youths often sought protection by joining the guerrillas. This village is technically under government control, with an army camp just feet from its edge. But it has largely been forgotten by the government. The school ends at fifth grade and often is closed by flooding; the only nearby hospital, serving a constellation of villages and towns, can see only 50 patients a day. Instead, it is the Tigers who hold sway here, which is why villagers have been afraid to even make an official complaint to the police.
Terror chokes the shady byways. Residents, as in much of Batticaloa, say they do not open their mouths except to eat. To speak, even anonymously, they said, could mean putting their lives on the line. No one knows who is with the Tigers, but anyone might be. If the past is any guide, those taken will be taken to Tiger training camps, given new names and told their past is a closed chapter. Some parents may never see their children again. One 64-year-old woman near Kinnaiyadi, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear, told how last February, Tigers tried to extort money from her son under threat of death. To save him, his own son, 19, agreed to join the movement. He has not been seen since. Others catch glimpses, often in brief and tearful reunions, of their children at the Tigers’ annual Heroes’ Day celebrations. Some young recruits escape, although the Tigers sometimes take a relative hostage until the escapee returns.
A few are released, as was the case in an incident involving five young men from the town of Batticaloa between the ages of 18 and 22 who were taken on Dec. 17. One of them, who spoke along with his mother – both of them too fearful to be identified – said he and his friends had gone to a Tiger office with some cadres because they thought they would be able to watch films. Instead, they were put in a van, taken two hours away and told that now that they were 18, it was their duty to join the movement and either fight for a separate state or help run a peacetime administration. Their families, meanwhile, had found their sons’ bicycles outside a Tiger office.
The Tigers said the young men had willingly joined the movement, and told the parents to take home their bikes and jewelry. Skeptical, tenacious mothers demanded that their sons be asked in front of them if they had joined voluntarily, and they protested to international organizations. The young men were quietly released two days after they had been taken. Mr. Thamilchelvam, who is third in the Tigers’ hierarchy, repeatedly insisted there had been no forced conscription, of children or otherwise. Civilians, "especially young people," had voluntarily supported the movement, he said. Children who had lost parents and relatives during the war had sought refuge with the movement and been placed in orphanages, he said. Tiger officials insisted that children from the orphanages were not allowed to join the movement.
But critics of the guerrillas have long insisted that the orphanages were themselves fertile recruitment grounds for the organization. One 18-year-old in Batticaloa in the east told how after her two brothers were forcibly conscripted by the Tigers and then died fighting for them, the Tigers told her mother they were taking her sister to an orphanage to educate her. She, too, ended up dead on a battlefield. Visits to two orphanages in the north, in the jungle area that is the Tigers’ base, did little to clarify their real purpose.
At the Sencholai orphanage for girls, the picture of Velupillai Prabhakaran, the Tigers’ revered and feared leader, is in the classroom, and the girls call him "Uncle." "He’s more or less the foster parent for these children," said Janani, the 43-year-old Tiger who runs the orphanage. At the boys’ orphanage, there was a shrine to the Tigers’ suicide bombers. One girl who had come at 14 – out of her "desire," she said nervously, as several cadres listened – was now, at age 17, a cadre, as were several other girls. Janani said perhaps "two or three" had joined the movement. She would not permit a visit to the older girls’ quarters. The 17-year-old cadre was also not an orphan – her parents were alive and living in the area.
Tiger officials say that if they believe the movement can better raise a child from a poor family, they will take him or her, with the parents’ permission. Janani said that perhaps 10 percent of the girls were not truly orphans. Sometimes parents came wanting to take their children back, she said, but if the children did not want to go, "We can’t force them." It is not hard to find evidence of the Tigers’ history with children, particularly as they move former military cadres into the civil administration they run in the north. There is the 18-year-old customs official who said he joined at 16, the assistant in the political wing who joined at 15 or 16, and another who joined at 12, and from the battles he cited, first fought at 14 or 15. Then there is the cemetery outside Kilinochchi, the final resting place for 1,938 war heroes. The headstones have the cadres’ real names, their "movement names," their parents’ names, their villages of origin and the dates of their deaths. On each, the only thing missing is the date of birth.
3 August 2003
Lankans join gay, lesbian march in London
by RF in London
A contingent of Sri Lankan gays and lesbians resident were among the 60,000 odd men and women participating in the biggest ever ‘Gay Pride’ festival staged at London’s Hyde Park on July 26. The Sri Lankans, three women and over half a dozen men (identities withheld for obvious reasons) marched shoulder to shoulder with members of the Police Department, Foreign Office and many other government offices and mercantile organisations.
Dressed in jeans and with nothing at all to identify their country of origin the Sri Lankans walked along carrying colourful placards – ‘Our History’ and ‘Our Future’ from a point near the House of Commons to Hyde Park. There were representatives from various sports with the largest being from rugby while a column of uniformed police officers from all over Britain marched proudly holding high their ‘gay rights’ banners.
Staff from Britain’s Foreign Office too was in full force and had a stall at Hyde Park where gay and lesbian diplomatic officers encouraged the younger participants especially undergraduates to join the diplomatic service.
Flying with one Wing-A film by Asoka Handagama
by Tani Tatuwen Piyabanna
Sri Lanka – This is the real story of a young woman living in Sri Lanka today who passed for a man in both social and intimate settings. This woman disguised as a man, works as a mechanic in a motor garage. One day she has an accident and loses consciousness. A colleague in the garage rushes her to the nearest clinic, which happens to be the local abortion centre. The doctor who treats her discovers her gender. She panics when she realises that her true identity has been revealed. The doctor begins to harass her. He tries to force her into having a sexual liaison with him. Further, her colleague who has gay inclination also pursues her. He is attracted to her unaware that she is a woman. She refuses both.
Having being rejected by her, the doctor takes his revenge by revealing his well-kept secret to the proprietor of the garage. The proprietor, who has earlier noticed how she avoids common bathing after works, forces her to take a shower with the rest of the men. They make fun of her reluctance. She escapes from the shower area and runs home. She decides not to go to work again. But the economic constraints compel her to show up for work again. In the workplace her colleagues get to know her secret and gang up together to strip her, revealing her true gender. This leads her life into real chaos.
Her dream of freedom is completely scattered and the film becomes an escalation of her difficulties leading up to a dramatic climax. The place of women in Sri Lankan society is the director’s, Asoka Handagama, favorite subject. This is an exotic and captivating film and at the same time it is the first one coming from Sri Lanka actually dealing with the controversial issue of gender identity and sexual discrimination .
Director : Asoka Handagama
Story & Script :Asoka Handagama
Cinematography : Channa Deshapriya
Art Direction : Rohan Samaradivakara
Sri Lankan and International Press Reviews
Thr Island: "Flying with one Wing" by Handagama is an important film.
April 11 th , 2003
Dr. Sivamohan Sumathy, Dept. of English, University of Peradeniya
ì [..] Here, I wish to say that "Flying with one Wing" by Handagama is an important film. It is important because it shows a love for and intimacy with marginal people – marginal in the sense that these people have been denied citizenship in the country of Sri Lanka. It is also important because Handagama and the cast of the film approach the subject of citizenship through a transgressive mode. The film questions normality, normality, normality as given by "western" science and "western" imperialism. I do have some political disagreement with the film. But that disagreement itself arises from the strength of the film. The film has made it possible for me to have a dialogue with its form, its content.
The film has taken both its subject and the viewer seriously. It is dialogic. It attempts to deal with Sri Lanka, in all its complex mixture of "east" and "west". If we are going to make any sense of the present, then we must build dialogue. Unfortunately many of us have forgotten to do that. We must talk! but not in the way the Peace Talks are being held. [..]î
The Sunday Times: Handagama attempts the impossible.
by Susitha R. Fernando
ì [..] Reviewed, when the film was screened at the Regus London Film Festival last year a film critic said "without doubt ‘Flying With One Wing’ is the most revolutionary South Asian Film of the year. Presented graphically the disturbing image of gender based traditional Sri Lankan society where women are treated as second class catering to the wants of the male autonomy".
This film attracted international acclaim at the 20th Torino International Film Festival held in Italy when the jury decided to assign a special mention to actress Anoma Janadari for the interpretative power of the female character and for the emotion given by film which handles a universal and still very actual theme, the difficult condition of women in contemporary society. ‘Achill Valdata’ award also was given by the Audience composed of five readers for the Best Feature film. It was given mainly for its capacity to describe, even with the help of paradoxical situations, the role of women in a strongly male-dominated society. The film also won the Best Asian Film awarded at Tokyo International Film Festival and a Special Jury award at San Sebastian International Film Festival (IFF) in Spain for the presentation of a controversial theme and a deep human relationship.
July 05, 2004
Sri Lanka’s gays battle to change penal code
Colombo – Sex between men is a criminal offence in Sri Lanka and lesbianism has been officially labelled "sadism," but the island’s gays believe their long fight for equality is picking up pace amid regional moves to legalise homosexuality. Sri Lanka’s penal code, a legacy from British colonial rulers, makes sex between consenting men punishable by 12 years in jail, although the law is rarely enforced. The main gay rights group here, Companions on a Journey, said Sri Lanka’s turbulent politics has left activists and authorities groping for a solution to the issue of gay rights. " We engage the minister of justice in a discussion one evening and the next morning he is out (of office)," Companions Director Sherman de Rose said, referring to the sudden sackings of two governments in the past three years.
The gay community in Sri Lanka is now awaiting the outcome of a similar campaign in neighbouring India whose courts are reviewing laws against homosexuality that were also introduced by the British in the 19th century. " What happens in India can have an impact on us," said de Rose, a 32-year-old former Roman Catholic trainee priest. " We could use the Indian example to strengthen our case. There is similar action in Bangladesh and Pakistan," he told AFP. Shifting from individual lobbying, the Companions are inviting key decision makers for a face-to-face meeting next month to thrash out differences over the status of homosexuality in the Buddhist-majority island. The Companions are also working with the private Centre for Policy Alternatives here for legal and legislative advice on changing the penal code. De Rose said nearly 7,000 gay men and women have made contact with his rights group since it was started nearly nine years ago while some 1,800 have taken full-time membership.
Hundreds gathered at a lake resort here in March for an annual gay celebration with day-long festivities, including the selection of a drag queen. The Companions say many more Sri Lankans are waiting to come out of the closet. Officials of the attorney general’s department argue that they have not prosecuted anyone under the anti-gay laws in recent decades, making the campaign to have the penal code repealed superfluous. " What we say is why keep in statute books something that you are not going to use?" de Rose said. " Article 365 (of the penal code) attaches a stigma to those who are gay," de Rose said. "It leads to a lot of abuses of gay people in our community." De Rose himself has come a long way since he first dressed in his mother’s saris and his sisters’ skirts and played with their dolls, shunning the rough play of his peers. His introverted and shy behaviour made his parents send him to the church. It was at a seminary that he discovered he was attracted to other men and decided to quit training for the priesthood. Since becoming an activist his office has been stoned and police have raided it, but instead of turning the other cheek, de Rose is fighting back.
While the penal code introduced in 1883 makes sex between men illegal, lesbianism is not acknowledged. However, Sri Lanka’s Press Council in a landmark ruling four years ago held that a letter to the editor published in a newspaper calling for convicted rapists to be unleashed on lesbians was in the larger interest of the community. The council said that de Rose, who filed a public interest complaint against the offending newspaper, had no standing in the case as he was male and arguably would have no knowledge of lesbianism. " Lesbianism itself is an act of sadism and salacious publication of any opinion against such activities does not amount to a promotion of sadism or salacity," the council ruled, underscoring how far Sri Lanka is from accepting homosexuality.
January 2, 2005
36 Gay Activists alleged Dead in Sri Lanka Tsunami
by Rex Wockner [story filed January 2, 2005]
The Dec. 26 tsunami killed 36 members of the Sri Lankan gay organization Companions on a Journey. Twelve additional members remain unaccounted for. One hundred twelve of the group’s members had their homes destroyed by the waves.
"These are numbers that we have received so far," said Sherman de Rose, the group’s executive director. "The coastal line which the tourists frequent is destroyed entirely. So, along with it, whatever the gay-friendly places were, were destroyed as well. Mind you, we didn’t have any out and open gay/lesbian spaces, although it was accepted in tourist areas where a lot of LGB tourists from Western Europe and Scandinavian countries visit for holidays. "Fortunately for the gay community," de Rose said, "the tsunami didn’t make its appearance in the evening; otherwise lots of gays cruising along the beaches would have perished." Companions has received many requests for assistance and offers of help. "It’s amazing how the gays and lesbians responded to the calamity," de Rose said.
"Many volunteered with relief work and donated to relief programs. We have received many calls from gay/lesbian people who wanted to support the affected in any possible way. "We have also received lots of requests from affected members to assist them with building their destroyed shelters. We have donated clothing, dry rations, cooked food, water and medicine. Our principal donor, Hivos-Netherlands, has informed us that we could utilize some of the funds they have provided for HIV/AIDS- and sexuality-related activities for relief purposes."
The executive director of the Sri Lankan "LGBTIQ" organization Equal Ground, Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, said: "The magnitude of the catastrophe that affected Sri Lanka on Boxing Day is something that is hardly describable. Members of Equal Ground have not only given of their time and energy to volunteer for relief efforts, but also have spent their own monies buying essentials like medicine and food, and donating it to the larger organizations sending the trucks to the north, east and south." Flamer-Caldera said "many of the gay ‘spaces’ in the south and also in Negombo to the north of Colombo were damaged or wiped out by the tsunami. … This horrible, horrible disaster has knocked Sri Lanka so bad that it will take years and years to rebuild."
A (non-gay) Personal Account of Survivng the Tsunami in Sri Lanka
This is a firsthand account of an Indian woman who was actually surfing in Sri Lanka when the tsunami hit. The story was forwarded by a friend of a friend, etc. Delian was learning how to surf on the south coast of Sri Lanka when the tsunami hit. Here is her incredible account of what happened.
This is the first chance I have had to either call or email. As you can imagine, it is/has been quite traumatic and chaotic here right now. It has been for days. We are now in the centre of the island in Kandy — away from the ocean. I’m sorry I didn’t call you, but we only managed to call on someone esle’s cell-phone and I wasn’t sure if you would have heard the news (remember you always say you avoid the news) and I didn’t really know exactly how big this tsunami was. We are ok physically. I am pretty traumatised though. When the tidal wave hit, we were having our last surf lesson and so were in the water when everything first happened. A lot happened, I’ve just written it all down today as a way of dealing with it because I am still very upset and scared. Basically we rode out the first huge wave on our boards and stayed above the water/wave while everyone else was being swept away and everything was being destroyed.
Then the water pulled back out of the bay we were in and we barely managed to avoid being swept out to sea with the current. We landed on the beach after the first surge, but couldn’t go ashore because another wave was coming, our surf instructor told us that it was a matter of life and death that we stay away from the shore so we started heading back towards the water before it surged back in. We really didn’t know what to do. Unfortunately we had to cross some flood waters as they ran back from the inland to the sea – it was filled with mud, sand and debris. We were still attached to our surf boards and I was swept under the mud by my board in the middle of the river. I have to say that I did almost drown – I had the thought in my head that this was such a stupid way to die. Luckily, because I was still attached to my board (even though it had sucked me under in the first place) I was eventually pulled up to the surface with it before I blacked out. I managed to pull my board to me and flopped on top of it until I could breathe again, then started trying to look for Ran. He had jumped in after me and had taken off his surf leash so I was worried that he’d drowned. I couldn’t find him, the second big wave came in and I was pushed on to the shore because I was too exhausted to fight the surge.
I was able to catch some branches before hitting very much, then got off of my board and starting screaming for help. Some Sinhalese man ran up to me and led me to a 3-storey building where there were about 20 people on the roof. The waves came in and out for almost 2 hours and every time there were people being caught in it – I can’t really describe the sounds and what it was like. I couldn’t find Ran – though I thought I saw him about 1 km out in the bay being swept by the current out to sea. Then I couldn’t see him (or what I thought was him) anymore. No one could really help me – the other people I was with were gone and all the boats had either been smashed on the shore or pulled out to sea.
After some time the surf instructor (Yannick) came up the road during one of the times the water surged out of the bay and he was thrilled to see that I was alive. I was pretty hysterical by that time though and was trying to get back to the beach to find Ran. Yannick went out on his surf board to look for Ran three times – one time bringing in a body that all these Sinhalese assholes were telling me was my lost husband. I spent at least 2 hours pacing the shore with the water coming in and out destroying things every time, looking for Ran or his surf board (but I knew if I just saw his surf board that would mean that he wasn’t attached to it so he would be dead)
I think I know a little bit about what hell must be like.
I kept feeling that I was waiting so long and that I couldn’t wait any longer, but then I thought if he was dead I would be waiting forever. I have never been so afraid or for so long in my life. Finally Yannick and this other woman we were surfing with pulled me away from the spot I’d last seen Ran and tried to get me up the road toward higher ground – and after about 5 min. we spotted Ran walking down the road towards us. It was probably one of those really cheesy Hallmark moments where a couple runs crying towards each other. I have never been so happy to see anyone before I really did think he had died. Ran, it turns out, had been swept away from his surfboard after he jumped in the flood waters when I was sucked under – he had taken off his surf leash so initially he was also in danger of drowning, but as luck would have it, he spotted his board and managed to cling to it long enough to re-strap the leash to his wrist. He couldn’t get out of the current pulling out of the bay, so was sucked at least 2 km. off shore — he managed to angle his board towards one of the fishing boats that had been swept away, and pulled himself on board. No one was on the boat, so he broke a couple doors and managed to drop the anchor, but it didn’t really catch the ground. He stayed on the boat trying to figure out how to start the engine or make the rudder work – neither of which worked.
After some time he said he was being pushed by the waves towards an island and was afraid the boat would crash on the rocks around it but he couldn’t do anything to stop this from happening. He was frantically waving at other people also stuck on other boats, but no one could really control their boats. Finally, miraculously, the surge stabilised before his boat hit the rocks and a rescue boat was able to reach him. He was picked up and taken a couple of km along the shore from where I was and we just happened to be walking towards each other. The entire coast was hit and the south and east coasts the worst. All of the hotels and guesthouses in the area were right on the beach, so many foreigners either were swept into the surge during the first wave or lost everything when their hotels collapsed. There is no electricity or phone (there are no poles or lines left), most of the roads are either completely or partially wiped out and huge portions of the train tracks are destroyed. There is no drinking water and nothing to eat except Coke and biscuits. We eventually walked the 5 km down the ‘road’ through the devastation to where our hotel was. It was 2-storeys tall, and luckily we had a room on the second floor — everything on the first floor was gone, the motorcycle we rode down from Kandy was found up a tree (destroyed), but our money and passports were in a safe untouched. We were able to run upstairs briefly (not long because the building was unstable) to get these things and as many clothes as we could grab in a minute then we just had to leave.
We didn’t know what to do and every 5 minutes people would freak out again and say another tidal wave was coming, but the only way to get around is a path/road right by the ocean. We very very nervously ran back down the road with the sea threatening to surge again to where our surf instructor, Yannick, lives — he found us a family with a house about 2 km in the jungle away from the ocean and we all huddled there for the night. I was covered with mud still and couldn’t rinse any of it off because there wasn’t any water to waste for washing. The radio started reporting what happened, how many people had died, that there was a likelihood of another tidal wave if an aftershock hit hard enough Ran sat up all night anxious over seeing me getting sucked under the mud and I dozed then woke up every few minutes thinking I heard people running and screaming away from the next tidal wave. When morning finally came we went back to the road by the shore — another Sinhalese family tried to help us find a way to get inland but the petrol was running out quickly. We finally decided to walk to the nearest town with a small road leading inland, then once we got there we started asking around there for someone to let us get in their car as everyone continued to try to get as far from the water as possible.
It was very harrowing because the police kept broadcasting that another tidal wave could be coming and we couldn’t seem to get very far from the water. Finally some people in a Tata truck felt sorry enough for us that they let us sit in the back of their truck as they drove inland. This couple was Extremely nice to us — they drove us first to their mother’s house inland and fed us (we’d been living on Coke and crackers for about a day and a half), then drove us inland further to where we could find a hotel for the night. All of the tourists and locals who can are now desperately going inland so it’s difficult to find anywhere to stay. We had to look around for a few hours yesterday when we arrived in Kandy before we found a place. We’ll be staying at this dumpy hotel until tomorrow then we can transfer to the nice hotel we booked before we arrived. We’ll stay here until Jan. 2 then take a train into Negombo, stay the night there and leave the morning of the 3rd.
I am having a hard time with the fact that I am ok and Ran is ok and how it happened. I don’t feel like I made all the right decisions, I keep replaying when I got sucked under the water and want to find a way to make it through that without me almost drowning. I also am having a difficult time with the fact that so many people are dead and I saw so much of it. I saw babies and women and men, house after house completely demolished, tiny kittens and puppies are wandering around and I want to save them. There is also a big gulf between the Sinhalese people and us, it seems like they feel like we couldn’t possibily have been affected by this and often scoff at us when we tell them what happened. I know that the only reason we are both still alive is due to luck — but I also know I more lucky because I can afford to leave the coast before all the diseases hit and can fly back to my comfortable life. This morning was the first time I was able to see the news – it happened to be horrible CNN — they showed video after video of the first wave surging in with people dying and things being destroyed
I was not able to watch more than a few minutes before running back to my hotel room crying. I think this is not something I’ll get over quickly. I don’t know what to do now on my ‘vacation’ …
January 2, 2005
In the wake of the tragic and catastrophic Tsunami that has devastated a considerable chunk of the Asian Region, in particular the Northern, Eastern, Southern and parts of the Western coasts of Sri Lanka, we send this appeal for funds. Many of you may have already donated to other agencies for this and we thank you for doing so. But for those of you who have not and wish to assist in some way, we ask that you please answer to our appeal for donations.
In our efforts to assist with the relief and rebuilding efforts in Sri Lanka, Equal Ground is raising funds for much needed food, clothing, medicine and other essential items. Sri Lanka’s death toll is over the 25,000 mark now. Almost 2 million people are displaced and will suffer enormously due to the lack of clean drinking water, sanitation facilities and nutrition. Although we are not trying to downplay the enormity of the disaster in other Asian countries (and our thoughts and prayers go out to all of them) we are trying to do whatever we can for Sri Lanka as one of the worst affected countries in the Region.
It is our hope that rather than utilize your donation to arbitrarily buy essential items and ship of to affected areas, we will pick a village or two and concentrate our efforts on relief and rebuilding there.
Sri Lanka will take years to recover from this disaster. Essential services such as schools, hospitals and so on have been wiped out. Our aim is to try and sustainably assist an area and continue to do so as long as we are able to. We are also looking for a reliable local organisation through which to put the money to work most effectively, if this is a more efficient way to do so. With your well wishes and donations we are positive we can make this happen.
Diverse Communications in Chicago will be the single receiving point in the U.S. on behalf of the Equal Ground Relief and Assistance Program. The Trustees of Equal Ground are looking to increase the effectiveness of any funds donated by personally supervising that it is spent on the needy and not on “administration”. Cheques must be made out to "Diverse Communications" (a 501 (c) (3) approved organisation), marked "Sri Lanka" or "Sri Lanka Fund" and mailed to:
1146 S Taylor Ave.
Oak Park, IL 60304
Contact Person: Alan Amberg
Thank you in advance for your donation. Please make sure you provide your email address and contact details when you make your donation as we will be making reports on how the funds are spent. Please do forward this to as many people you know.
The Board of Trustees
Tel/Fax: +94-11-2682278 Mobile:+94-722-254348
Contact person: Rosanna Flamer-Caldera
Report on the aftermath of the tragedy
by Rosanna Flamer-Caldera
In the aftermath of the terrible tragedy that engulfed Sri Lanka last week, EQUAL GROUND has appealed for emergency funds to assist with the relief efforts currently underway in this country.
Our organization is not huge, however it has the enthusiasm and the willingness of its members and Board of Trustees that share a common vision with the rest of the country – to alleviate the misery of the people affected by the tsunami and assist them to find shelter, food, medical aid and clean drinking water.
We also hope to find the means to help them cope with the huge psychological scars they have sustained from this enormous tragedy. The relief efforts inour area so far, without exaggeration, have been by individuals and small organizations like EQUAL GROUND who have volunteered their services and purchased essential items with money from their own accounts. However, it needs more resources than what it has currently to cope with the magnitude of the disaster and assist victims to survive the next few weeks and rebuild their lives in the long term. Members of EQUAL GROUND have not only given of their time and energy to volunteer for relief efforts, but have also spent their own money buying essentials like medicine and food to be sent to the North, East and South of the country.
Currently, EQUAL GROUND works with the Foundation for Coexistence (FCE) which together with several other NGOs has formed a coalition to send relief to the affected areas. They are currently pooling their resources to buy food, medicines and other essential items to be sent particularly to the largely Tamil East which is not getting as much relief as the largely Singhala South. Donations are also received by these organizations of money, food and items such as clothing, matches, candles, lamps and so on from individuals who wish to lend a hand.
Even people who are very poor themselves are handing donations for the relief effort. A woman, who works as a domestic, donated Rs.200 (roughly ten percent of her monthly income).
Equal Ground is not only helping with finding funds for the relief effort, it is also assisting in the mobilization and coordination of volunteers to help with unloading the trucks, bagging the food and reloading the trucks for dispatch to the earmarked areas.
Three days ago, we received a call from a group of relatives and friends who are in Arugum Bay (on the east coast). They have converted their guest house into a makeshift hospital. They sent an SOS to us because the "hospital" was running out of diesel to support the power generators. They were also running out of medical supplies. Within a day, we were able to source and fill a truck with diesel and medical supplies and had it delivered to them. They would not have got this kind of prompt support had they requested it from ‘official’ sources.
On a relief run to Akkraipattu on the East coast, a colleague observed some women and children who were standing in the dark and in the pouring rain, clinging to each other. They stared ahead not feeling the rain or caring that it was dark and wet. They were near the shattered remains of what once were their homes. They had not wanted to leave their homes. They had not only lost their homes and all their belongings, many of them had lost husbands and children, fathers and mothers and other relatives. Their suffering and grief was enormous. The truck which was destined for Akkraipattu was stopped and unloaded immediately and they were given as much as possible.
Where are we now?
Emotionally and mentally, it has been an assault course for everyone. Yet every cloud has its silver lining. The most wonderful thing which has come of this tragedy is the bonding of people of all ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations and gender identities, all volunteering to help their fellow countrymen and women in their hour of need.
However this is a tragedy of such enormous proportions for Sri Lanka already coping with so much over the years. It will take years and years to rebuild our country, but the psychological wounds may well take even longer.
"No amount of money can replace the grief of people who have lost everything, including their families. However, we can only try to alleviate their hunger and their suffering so that they can have the strength to carry on with the rest of their lives. We urge all our members in the unaffected areas to give generously towards the victims of the tragedy". “We need an enormous amount of help here" says Rosanna Flamer Caldera, co-secretary general of ILGA and funder of Equal ground, an LGBT association directly on the ground in Sri Lanka.
"What is happening here is that we – and I mean just ordinary citizens – are buying food, water, medicines, clothes etc from our own money and sending it to the affected areas. We are running out of money now and we need more and more and soon!” We are doing fine at the moment. Physically that is….emotionally and mentally….well, that is a different story. We are up to our necks in relief efforts.
"We have been helping to bag food supplies and doing admin and coordination – I have also volunteered to be the official photographer for the consortium of NGO’s that are coordinating relief efforts…so I will have to travel to the field in the next few days. Not sure how I am going to survive that…but one has to do that as well. It’s really grim here. We watch the death toll mounting…over 40,000 as of last night. The loss of livelihoods and displacement, the loss of infrastructure like roads, railways, hospitals etc is unimaginable. To recover from this we need a Huge infusion of cash. Equal ground has set up a charitable fund to collect monies for relief efforts.
"We hope to use those funds for small pockets of survivors who are not being reached by the larger agencies. We also intend using those funds for longer term sustainability rather than a short term injection”. Rosanna Flamer Caldera ILGA Co-Secretary general
You may donate online using ILGA’s donation page. Please indicate “Asia” in the Comments box at the bottom of the page. Money will be redistributed to LGBT, women and children organizations and administered by ILGA and Equal Ground. http://www.ilga.org/donate.asp It is difficult, even here in Sri Lanka, to imagine the extent and the magnitude of the catastrophic Tsumani that hit our small island on the morning of the 26th of December. Read more at:
In the aftermath of the terrible earthquakes and Tsunamis that have devastated parts of the Asian Region, both Kursad and I, speaking on behalf of the ILGA family, extend our deepest and sincerest sympathies and offer condolences and prayers to all our brothers and sisters and extended family in the Asian Region.
Rosanna Flamer-Caldera & Kursad Kahramanoglu, Co-Secretaries General ILGA
April 19, 2005
Sri Lanka’s gays share their journey
Throughout South Asia, homosexuality has been a taboo subject. But there are signs in some areas that gay people are now becoming more open in their behaviour. In the second of a series of articles from the region, the BBC’s Chloe Arnold looks at gay life in Sri Lanka.
When Sujeewa told his older brother he was gay, he beat him up and chased him out of the house. That was eight years ago, since when Sujeewa has started helping out at Companions on a Journey, Sri Lanka’s only society for gay men and women. "It was very difficult for my friends and family to accept I was gay," says Sujeewa, who doesn’t want to give his last name. "It’s a bit easier today, but people are still suspicious of me. I have to be very careful where I go." We are sitting in a neat white room with comfortable sofas and a large television in the corner.
Companions on a Journey is a drop-in centre in Colombo that’s become a lifeline for Sri Lanka’s gay community. Once a week it shows films with gay themes – Priscilla – Queen of the Desert, Maurice, The Crying Game and Boys Don’t Cry. On the other side of the room, half a dozen book shelves are stacked with gay literature, from novels to magazines to advice on how to cope with the HIV/Aids. Growing confidence Sujeewa, who is 28, wears leopard-print corduroys, a tight T-shirt and gold earrings, and his long hair is tied in a sleek ponytail. "I get a lot of nasty looks because of the way I dress," he says. "But it’s something I’ve just had to get used to." Before, we had to be so secretive about where we met… Now at least being gay is less of a taboo Sujeewa
Since he first discovered Companions on a Journey, Sujeewa’s life has turned around. He feels more confident with his sexuality, he has started working as a hairdresser and now has a steady boyfriend. "Before, we had to be so secretive about where we met," he remembers. "Now at least being gay is less of a taboo."
Sherman de Rose, the founder of Companions on a Journey, agrees. When he started the group last year, he used to receive death threats. It got so bad, he says, he had to leave the country for a while until religious groups, political leaders, and some sections of the media, the most vehement opponents to his organisation, calmed down. "But attitudes have begun to change," he says. "At the beginning, people wouldn’t even discuss the topic of homosexuality. They refused to recognise it existed. "Now we can hold demonstrations to demand better rights and we won’t get chased off the streets."
‘Afraid to be themselves’
One of the most difficult things for gay men and women in Sri Lanka is simply coming to terms with their homosexuality. Given the social intolerance, it is very difficult, Sherman says. "So many gay men marry and have children because it is easier than coming out," he says. When he first opened his doors, people used to turn up and say they weren’t gay themselves, they were coming for a friend. "Even here, they were afraid to be themselves," he says. Others just came and sat there for an hour or two, not speaking, not doing anything. "They saw us as a safe haven, a place where they could go through a sort of healing process," he says. "It takes an enormous amount of courage for people to come here. They suffer from very low-self esteem because of the rejection."
He still receives dozens of letters from around the country from people who don’t give their names or addresses, but who just write to thank him for being there. "They simply say that they are glad they aren’t alone," he says. Legal challenge Companions now have two more drop-in centres in Sri Lanka, one in Kandy and one in Anuradhapura. They put out a monthly newsletter and every full moon they organise a big party. We aren’t expecting miracles, but I think we’re getting there, bit by bit."
"It’s a chance for people to let their hair down, really be themselves," Sherman says. "And we always have a competition to find the most beautiful drag queen." But there is a more serious side to the organisation. Working with a network of lawyers, they are trying to persuade lawmakers to change Sri Lanka’s criminal code, which outlaws homosexuality. "There is still a lot of opposition," he says, "and we still aren’t even close to Europe or the United States when it comes to gay rights."
Reactions from Readers:
=It is a good thing that these issues are being discussed and hopefully in the long term this will lead to more gay people in Asia feeling able to be open about their sexual orientation and being able to lead their own lives. It frustrates me to see the current situation in the US where politicians are exploiting deep seated homosexual prejudices to further their political ambitions. Hopefully in the future the scientific community will continue its research and prove that homosexuality has a genetic or hormonal cause. Then the religious right will have to manufacture a whole new bandwagon on which to parade its prejudiced beliefs! Holly Manktelow, UK
=Having many gay friends in Sri Lanka I am happy to see the extent of change taking place. At least in Colombo the awareness far exceeded my expectations. There is a long way to go but it is certainly going with a positive momentum. The only sad thing is when people use Buddhism (the majority religion there) as a smokescreen for their own prejudices. Yes one must take into account people’s sensibilities in any society but as far as Buddhism is concerned homosexuals are not sinners! Saying that to those who interpret things religiously will be more difficult however. Miles Vollner, Switzerland
=Social condemnation of any group of society can never be classed as fair. If countries boast about democracy and human rights, then all parties whether political, religious or other need to examine their purpose in life. If two consenting adults decide to be together and that they cause no harm to anyone else, then basically it is nobody else’s business but theirs and the choices they make. I am pleased to hear of the progress achieved in Sri Lanka and hope that at the end of the day a fairness and social acceptance wins the day! Paul, USA
=I have a strong hunch that sexual orientation is the fruit of gene arrangement, and would be glad to see that possibility investigated. If it ever became established truth, I think the world’s attitude towards homosexuality would be turned topsy-turvy over night. Fr. Dick Zeimet, Republic of China
=I am gay and European and I have my "boyfriend" in Indonesia, because of the strong love we feel for each other I am moving to Indonesia to be together. My gayness is certainly not genetic, it is based on two souls which love each other beyond sex, money and age. Once you recognize that souls have no sex, gay marriage is only natural. Good Luck Sri Lanka, every long journey starts with a first step. Ananda, Europe
=I am gay, I knew it from the very young age. I was totally satisfied with my gay life. However, my family and the society were not ready to accept my choice of freedom. I am from an extremely conservative Kandyan family and the question of not marrying even did not arise. I also work in a senior position in a leading bank and there is no way that I can reveal my sexual orientation to my office people. That would have surely ruined my career prospects. So there was no option left other than getting married. I know even my office people want me to have a wife by my side when attending office parties. Bringing a male companion to an office party was simply unthinkable. I don’t want to discuss my married life, but all I can say is I would have been a happy man if I could lead a lifestyle that would have gone hand in hand with my orientation. I envy my gay friends who had the guts to come out of the closet and decide the way they could lead their life. I never had that courage. I wish I had. Channa, Sri Lanka
=Interesting story, these certainly are issues that are being dealt with here in America. I am encouraged that an openness is beginning to be tolerated in South East Asia. As with many issues, there are underlying moral questions or religious questions and this is true with homosexuality and transgenderism. As a Christian my desire is that all would experience the love of God through Jesus. Tim Harstad, US
=I am a Sri Lankan person living in US. I cannot believe this difference in Sri Lanka. Now they are talking about homosexuality openly. This means we have to expect lot of changes in the future. Anonymous, US
=It’s encouraging to see this happening cause it makes me feel like our country has hope too. It is a taboo here, but secretly some people think its cool and will go to great lengths to prove that someone is gay. You have to be guarded and expect a lot of animosity. However it’s still undercover, and though people will try to make you reveal yourself so that you become a spectacle for them to laugh at, no-one will ever accuse you in your face without some concrete evidence. Good luck Sri Lanka and kudos to companions on a journey. Anonymous, Kenya
=South Asia has largely conservative societies where being gay or lesbian is a big social taboo. Personally, I don’t see any trouble having gay and lesbian people around. It should be left with individual to select their sexual orientations. But we also need to look at the future repercussions on the healthy functioning of societies as well because there is high probability of adverse effects on family as an institution. Given the current trend of fast erosion of familial values, supporting an open gay culture can speed up the process of the erosion of familial values which would not be a desirable thing. I believe that unless these taboos are not broken, and such societal issues not discussed, the chance of having healthy societies in future is a far off possibility. Gulab Khan, Pakistan
=This is truly an encouraging trend in Sri Lanka. I fear, however, that the US is moving backwards in its acceptance and tolerance for peoples of variant sexual orientations, particularly under the oppression of the current administration. It is truly a tragedy to see people needlessly maligned and mistreated for something that is so clearly of a genetic nature. I only wish that the "religious right" of all nations can wake up to see the majesty of the human spirit in all of God’s creation – white, black, brown, gay, straight, male and female. Christopher Bennett, US
=Overcoming the whole "family first" excessively traditional mentality of South Asians is really the problem at hand. People are not seen as individuals in South Asia, but rather, constituents and representatives of their families. Thus, people feel that they owe it to their family to hide or abandon something that may be taboo or even non-traditional, whether it is a career path or a choice in lifestyle. Sadly, this is also why so many South Asian youth today are having more mental breakdowns than any other country One should never have to forsake a life true to himself or herself. I applaud Sujeewa and Sherman de Rose for taking difficult steps and leading the way. Sanhita Choudhury, Fishkill, NY, USA
=Poverty and the freedom for gay rights can’t go together in South Asian countries. The reason for raising gay rights in Western countries is because of economical solvency. People and governments in South Asian countries have so many other fundamental things to work for – food, accommodation, education etc, rather than spend time worrying about gay people. In addition, religious and political faith won’t allow gay to accelerate there rights soon. Syed Uddin, USA
=Articles about gays that seem to concentrate on the ‘feminine’ attributes that some gay men possess, and illustrate their text with photos of drag queens, do little to advance the cause of homosexual emancipation. Harry Barrowclough, The Netherlands
=We feel extremely sorry for these people. Whatever they say or try to achieve doesn’t seem to be real. In every religion, homosexuality is described as a sin, so wherever they are they will always feel the cultural taboo. That is the reason these people are looked down as outcasts. If the world becomes a place void of religion these people might get the due recognition. Until such time they will be treated as the same way they are being treated right now. Charith Buddika, Sri Lanka
=I never realized that gay issues were so extreme in some parts of the world. Growing up gay in the US is not an easy thing for most people as well, but because of the deeply rooted cultural taboo of homosexuality and without the civil liberties afforded by a liberal constitution, I can see how in a country like Sri Lanka being gay could be very difficult. Furthermore, deeply rooted ignorance and hatred does not simply go away with the change of laws, it will undoubtedly be a long and arduous struggle for the gay rights movement in Sri Lanka. I hope that their struggle will afford changes as soon as possible."
03 March 2006
Equal Ground honours list for International Women’s Day
Colombo, Sri Lanka – This year, Equal Ground will celebrate International women’s Day on Thursday 9th March 2006.
Seven women have been picked to receive the Equal Ground achievement awards, given to Sri Lankan women who have contributed significantly to the service of their country. In previous years Dr. Radhika Coomarswamy and Gowrie Ponniah were amongst the several women honoured for their contributions to Sri Lanka in their varied fields. This year Equal Ground is proud to honour Swarna Malawarachchi, Mano Muthu Krishna, Mignone Fernando, Felicia Sorenson, Ena de Silva and Yasmin Zarook all of who have contributed significantly in sports, the arts, music, films and human rights.
The Lifetime Achievement Award, a new category of award, will be presented to Dr. Kamalika Abeyaratne for her dedication to raising awareness on HIV/AIDS. The award ceremony, which is a new addition to that of previous years, will take place at the Women On Top party on the 9th March, 2006. An event for women only, the WOMEN ON TOP party symbolizes the need for safe spaces for women to congregate without harassment and fear. The event, the only one of its kind in Sri Lanka, draws a record number of women who gather to celebrate International Women’s Day. This year is no exception. Over 400 women are expected to attend this fun filled evening which will feature performances by the WOT troupe of performers.
Equal Ground is thankful to Unilever (principal sponsor), Silvacos, Sanctuary Spas, Corona Extra, CTC, B.P. de Silva ’s, Jeiyu MS and Alpha Orient Lanka for their generous sponsorship of the event.
My Good Experiences in Sri Lanka
I am frequent visitor to SL and I have had a SL boyfriend since long time. I speak Singhaleese a bit. Sri Lanka for me is like country that you should not speak loudly of what you want in terms of gay life. You may just go on the street or be in the bus or wherever; the people will look at you as you are white (‘sudda’) and you will seem beautiful to them, even if you are not considered beautiful in your country of origin.
Lankans are very curious to have a chat with you, maybe because they want to practice English or maybe they just like the way you look. The braver ones will approach you and start small talk. Then you have to figure out if they want to have something more than just a talk. You cannot tell straight away if you want to have sex, but if they become friendly just have a cup of coffee or tea (they never drink it) and then you may ask if they want to have sex in a polite way.
In most cases you never know if the particular boy really likes the same gender. Maybe he has sex with you because he just likes you as you are white and he would never do the same with Sri Lankan. Sri Lanka is Buddhist country. When you are there you really can feel that you live your own life, as so many beings are around you. The spiders, flies, mosquitoes, dogs, monkeys. The whole environment with it’s beings is so present and gives you the feeling that you can really choose what you want to do without asking anybody.
Therefore if you meet an individual, who is Lankan he may want or not want to have sexual intercourse with you, but not because he is gay, just because he wants an experience. I am not talking about beach boys, whom you can meet in Negombo or Hikkaduwa-those are sex-workers and earn money from sex. Once I met beautiful boy in the jungle. He invited me to his basic, very poor home. His mother prepared tea and put the flowers around the house – she didn’t have anything else. The boy was really poor, his familly was poor. We had pleasure several times. I did not give him anything, but when I told him I would be leaving he gave me 3 sarongs (Sri Lankan dress) of the best quality and surely very expensive. How can you explain this?
Another example. I met a boy at a beach party a ‘jungle boy’, cute, sweet. I took him to my hotel room and we had fun all night long. I was drunk. When I woke up in the morning, I noticed my wallet on the table. I rushed to check the content. Nothing was missing, not even single dollar. The boy was not in the room any more but he came at noon time. He asked me if I could give him 100 rupia (one US dollar) for slippers (shoes) as he was barefoot. How can you explain that? He could easily have taken my wallet when I was sleeping but he didn’t and he was just a jungle young boy, not educated, didn’t speak English at all. He just enjoyed the time with me and didn’t take anything– wallet, camera, clothes, shoes.
Only once did a boy ask me for the money. I picked him up from a bar. He was cute, young, energetic. We spent the whole beautiful night together and we were amazed by each other, mostly by the sex we had experienced. In the morning I walked him up to the bus stop. He was so shamed to ask me for money, as he didn’t have any to go to his distant home. He repeated many times that he is not like this, that I should not understand him wrongly etc. That was just the situation. Have you ever done the same? He had no money so I needed to pay for his bus or taxi. What shall I do at that time. Tell him to deal with his problem and disappear? Of course not. So I gave him 400 rupia. (4 USD)
He called me many times afterwards to apoligise for this and to meet me again (but I couldn’t).
Q: About your SL boys, did they want to be fucked by you or did they want to fuck you? I wonder about the ‘role’ they play in bed since maybe they were not gay…?
Pawel: well it was always depending on the situation. There were some guys that just wanted to fuck or get sucked, as they were not really sure what they really wanted or just it was one of their first experiences.
Some of them just wanted fun and were very much open for anything and one could do with them literally everything as they were curious and were learning. There are also so many gay boys, some of them very experienced and as gay they liked the stuff according to their preferences, some of them were bottoms and some of them tops. Others were versatile.
SL is ultimate, a wide range gay experience place, not much different from other countries in terms of what you do in the bed with a boy, but surely much different from the point of view how you get a boy to the bed.
The following advisory message was posted by ‘Achilles’ (firstname.lastname@example.org) to the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Gay and Lesbian branch about exercising caution: I spent four weeks on Sri Lanka–10 Nov to 9 Dec 2001. I see some of the other posters complaining about touts and other harassment in Colombo. It by no means ends at the capital but extends into every medium-sized town you get to and everywhere in between.
In my experience there was no official harassment, like police demanding bribes or anything like that. It was entirely in the form of everyone trying to separate you from your rupees. NEVER follow anyone to his/her shop and start to look at things from bags or boxes. Don’t believe anyone who says he has a cousin or an uncle or a brother-in-law somewhere who will give you a good deal. And remember if you let anyone bring you to a hotel or guesthouse he will get a kickback and you will make up the difference. Also I heard an infinite variety of ‘can you buy some milk powder for my daughter’ stories.
In sum you will be considered a resource to be exploited and this will follow you like a shadow taking away the sun from what could otherwise be a fabulous place. I suppose this was in my case made worse by the fact that as of six weeks ago at least tourism is down by 80 % from the same time last year–uncle Osama, the election, and general fears of war in south Asia are keeping the tourists away. Thus the targets for the touts are reduced and it will be open season on you.
As a gay traveller, let me tell you some of my experiences in this regard. Negombo is reputed to be the center of gay sex and as a natural concommitant in Sri Lanka–gay prostitution. I may be wrong in saying this, but there are no gays in Sri Lanka–based on my own experience and of every other gay I met up with (local and foreign–who will do it for fun, even if nothing is discussed in the beginning. They will always ask for it. as I said, the foreign traveller is a resource.
Anyway, in Negombo as I tried to enjoy the sunset and sat on the polluted sands, three times pairs of locals came up to me–eyeliner, plucked brows, long fingernails, earrings –basically your worst fears confirmed. For 1500 Rupees they could be yours but I had to use all my tact to get rid of them.
And beware a walk anywhere on the beach will bring ‘teachers’ asking for donations to their school for the blind; ‘investors’ looking for capital in a new resort project; and a host of clothing, shell, coin, and just about any other product hawkers. My best advice I have for Negombo is get out of there quick or, better, give it a total miss.
Far more beautiful is Hikkaduwa; here is another center of ‘gay life’ is Sri Lanka, such as it is. Beware the multitude of scams! Some of my saddest memories of Sri Lanka come from here. A fisherman will come up to you–sometimes speaking german and sometimes english–asking if you want a boy. This could be a guy anywhere from 15 to 30. Sometimes they are advertised as his ‘son’; other times as a friend or just someone sweet that he knows.
I always travel alone and am in my late twenties so maybe I had more than my fair-share come up to me. Anyway the older guy will try to make you a package deal of room and transport to that room and of course a boy to be delivered to you. The problem in all of Hikkaduwa and Unawatuna in general is that the proprietors of any guest house or hotel will be glad for you to sleep there. But they will NOT allow you to have a guy with you if you r a registered guest. Thus if you want to have a place for sex you will need to find a place separate from where you stay for sleeping.
If you want to do that, you take your chances of being really ripped off and one never knows if the hotel owner, the guy offering the package deal, and/or the local police are in collusion with one another. As a final observation, only Hikkaduwa and Negombo had what could be considered an ‘open’ gay scene. But as I said this is heavily intertwined with prostitution.
So in summary: touts will hit you everywhere for everything throughout the country. Sex operators only in Negombo and Hikkaduwa. Please beware and do not allow yourself, your rupees, or your sense of self-worth to be sucked into such darkness. There are many treasures to be had there, culturally, architecturally, spiritually. If you absolutely cannot be away from sex for your trip, bring a significant other from abroad; otherwise you may not be able to see those treasures through the miasma of exploitation and deception.
June 24, 2007
Sri Lanka in Toronto Pride Parade 2007
Toronto’s annual Pride Parade is not only the biggest in Canada, but also one of the biggest in the world. The event honours diverse sexual and gender identities, histories and cultures. This year’s Pride Parade, held on a beautiful Sunday afternoon of June 24th, culminated a week of gay pride activities all over the city that featured over 600 artists in a free outdoor multidisciplinary arts festival. This year’s International Grand Marshall was Rossana Flamer-Caldera, co-secretary of ILGA (International lesbian and Gay Association) who also works as a queer activist in Sri Lanka as a founding member of the organization Equal Ground. This year Pride Toronto decided to highlight eight countries where queers face persecution in the form of torture, punishment, or the death penalty.
The eight chosen countries were Iran, Pakistan, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Belarus, Russia, Jamaica and Honduras. Carrying their respective flags, representatives of each country marched at the head of the Parade just behind Rossana, showing the world the pressure they face to remain silent. Arsham Parsi was invited by Pride Toronto as an Iranian queer activist to take part in the Parade for this purpose and carry the Islamic Republic of Iran flag. The flag-bearers were trailed by the rest of the parade – a celebratory march filled with music and dancing, bright costumes, proud slogans and floats from various queer groups and organizations that make up Toronto’s diverse queer community.
August 28, 2007
Homosexuality, Buddhism and Sri Lankan Society
by Bellanvila Sudaththa Thero and Cecil J. Dunne
Before we discuss what Theravada Buddhism says about homosexuality, it is important to understand that in Buddhism people are encouraged to look inwardly when seeking guidance or a solution to a problem. In the words of the Lord Buddha himself “be a lamp to yourself” which simple means do not search for wisdom outside of yourself, rather you should let your conscience be your guide and it is here that the teachings and scripts of Lord Buddha can be of assistance.
Generally speaking Lord Buddha did not anything specifically about homosexuality because it has never been an issue, however this is not to say that that there was no homosexual activity in the time of the Lord Buddha. There Tripitaka (Buddhist scripts) refer to incidents of homosexuality and transexuality. Specifically the Tripitaka highlights the case of a bhikku (monk) Wakkali who became a monk purely because he was physically attracted to how handsome Lord Buddha was. The Tripitaka also highlights a transsexual incident in which a married man with children was physically attracted to a monk, following this the man underwent metamorphosis and became a female and eventually married a man. Another section of the Tripitaka refers to an incident where a novice monk masturbated a high ordained monk.
While Buddhism itself makes no moral claim on any form of sexual behavior, regardless of orientation, the vinaya (monastic rules) for monks states that monks are not allowed to enter their sex organ into bodily orifices (vagina, mouth or anus). But it makes no distinction between homosexual or heterosexual sex. Essentially monks are expected to be celibate so they cannot engage in sex with anyone, including themselves. However it is important to note that the vinaya apply only to monks, there is nothing in the scripts that extend these rules to lay Buddhists.
The most important reference point lay practitioners of Buddhism have for homosexuality or sexual behavior in Buddhism is contained within the third precept which refers to sexual misconduct. However this precept in itself is insufficient a guide as it makes no distinction in relation to sexual orientation or practice. In order to apply the principle within the third precept to homosexuality, one has to go back to the wider core Buddhist principle of “do no harm” and consider this precept in a holistic interpretation.
When considering the precept of sexual misconduct one can draw some specifics as to what is allowable and not. Issues of rape, adultery and pedophilia can be considered as incompatible with Buddhist teachings as they cause harm to others. Outside of these specificities one has to go beyond both ourselves and the scriptures in seeking a solution as to what is right or wrong in homosexuality, or as the famous Kalama Sutra puts it “Revelation (anussana), tradition (parampara), the authority of the scriptures (pitakasampada) and one’s own point of view (ditthinijjhanakkhanti) are inadequate means of determining right and wrong”
Whether homosexuality is right or wrong is essential a question of private morality. Having questioned the conventional basis of morality, the Buddha suggests criteria for making moral judgements. The criteria are what might be called the universality principle – to act towards others the way we would like them to act towards us. In the Samyutta Nikaya he uses this principle to advise against adultery. He says “What sort of Dhamma practice leads to great good for oneself? A noble disciple should reflect like this: ‘If someone were to have sexual intercourse with my spouse I would not like it.
Likewise, if I were to have sexual intercourse with another’s spouse they would not like that. For what is unpleasant to me must be unpleasant to another, and how could I burden someone with that?’ As a result of such reflection one abstains from wrong sexual desire, encourages others to abstain from it, and speaks in praise of such abstinence”
So one must abstain from sexual practices which cause others harm. Whether you are gay or straight the most important thing in life is not to create harm and respect others lifestyles without creating them harm, this is a basic foundation of Buddhism as is the philosophy of seeking inner contentment, happiness and east. Wherever you are and whatever you do, you must learn to accept and love yourself for what you are and feel at ease with yourself, and spread that ease across society.
Conventional modern day Sri Lankan morality is non-accepting of homosexuals and homosexuality. The Dalia Lama recently stated that “if you want to be a Buddhist you cannot be a homosexual, full stop” surmises the modern day Sri Lanka approach to homosexuality. However this statement by the Dalai Lama is totally without justification as there is nothing in the Buddhist scriptures to support this statement.
Sri Lankan morality imposes guilt on homosexuals and Sri Lankan law punishes it. The role of monks is to provide support to lay Buddhists in their day to day lives, yet currently monks live in fear of advising homosexuals because they may be labeled as homosexuals themselves. Sri Lanka is a Buddhist society and there is no place in the teachings of the Lord Buddha for guilt and punishment. So how have we arrived today at the stage where the Dalai Lama can make such unjustified statements and Sri Lankan morality and legalization opposes and punishes homosexuality?
The roots of this un-Buddhist approach to homosexuality can be traced back to the colonization of Ceylon. There are stark differences between the pre-colonial Ceylon and the post colonial Sri Lankan attitude to homosexuality. The Ceylon attitude is illustrated in a 17th Century book by Robert Knox, “An Historical Relation of the Island Ceylon” where he draws attention to the then King’s homosexuality. The modern Sri Lankan attitude to homosexuality is reflected in “Funny Boy” by Shyam Selvadurai.
The un-Buddhist excommunication and punishment of openly practicing homosexuals in Sri Lank has its roots in the colonization and modernization of Sri Lankan Buddhism. AS stated throughout this article, the concept of what is right or wrong is based in morality which is directly derived from religion, or in the case of Buddhism, philosophy. The colonial power brought with them and externally introduced to Sri Lankan their own sense of morality derived from their own religion, namely Christianity. In relation to human biological reproduction practices (sex) contrasts can be drawn between the Christian religion and Buddhist philosophy. While Christian Bible specifically categorises the spilling (spoiling) or Gods seeds (sperm) as a sin, the Buddhist Scriptures contain no such reference. As both Thailand and Sri Lanka share the same variety of Buddhism further analogies can be drawn here. Currently Thailand does not legally or morally punish homosexuality preferring to adopt a live and let live philosophy so long as the principle of do no harm is adhered to. The main variable here is the fact that Thailand was not subject to colonialism and therefore a purer and more traditional form of Buddhism has prevailed while the Sri Lanka form of Buddhism has been diluted, poisoned and rendered impure by its modernization along the lines of western principles.
In order for Sri Lankan’s to be considered truly Buddhist they need to find inner peace and be happy with themselves and stop expecting others to live as they wish them to live. In order for Sri Lanka to truly consider itself a Buddhist nation it needs to stop forcing its people to live as it wishes them to live.
The Buddhist scholars within Sri Lanka have a duty and an obligation to advocate for a return to the traditional and more tolerant teachings of Lord Buddha. It is not only homosexuals who will benefit from this return, the entire Island of Sri Lanka and all its people will benefit from the tolerance, acceptance, openness and celebration of difference that the Lord Buddha envisioned.
29 November 2007
Gay Sri Lankan Awarded Asylum In The USA
A groundbreaking decision by the US grants the first Sri Lankan Gay man, Asylum in the US. Earlier this year, Equal Ground was approached by SP’s lawyers to assist with his case. This is not the first case that Equal Ground has had a hand in. In the past Equal Ground has assisted with cases in the Czech Republic and the UK as well.
An elated SP contacted Equal Ground after his case was completed and had this to say: “…. have grete news. my lawyer get some help from Equal Ground and they send email to you and they told me you respons to them. thank your support rozana. do you know i won the asylum (only one interview) last september. this is the first time sri lankan gay man who won the asylum in new york. its a great chance to sri lankan asylum seekers in usa. my case was handle by brooklyn law college and they doing everthing for me. now i am legally in USA. i have all the benifits from USA governtment………….so once again thank you very much for the kind help you and your organization”.
We wish SP a wonderful future in his new home country and hope he has the freedom to be who he is without hiding his sexuality any more!