Civil society organizations highlighted the fact that members of the transgender community constantly face imminent danger in the form of potential arrest due to the enforcement of Section 399 of the Penal Code which deals with the offence of cheating by personation.
Ultra-nationalist hardliners and religious extremist groups such as the Sinha Le and Ravana Balaya have recently cracked down on events organized by groups with diverse gender identities and sexual orientations such as the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex and Asexual (LGBTQIA) community. The said community of individuals is a marginalized, exploited and oppressed group in many societies including ours.
EQUAL GROUND, an organization in Sri Lanka advocating for equal rights for all sexual orientations and gender identities, whilst praising recent comments made by the Asgiriya Chapter stating that discrimination and the violation of the rights of the LGBTQIA community was wrong, countered contradictory statements made in the same instance, and clarified that the Public Representation Committee on Constitutional Reform’s recommendation that Article 12 of the Constitution concerning the right to equality be expanded to include specific provisions for freedom from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, does not bestow a special recognition and/or protection for the said community but would simply be a right available to all individuals regardless of their sexual orientations or gender identities and not solely to the LGBTIQ community.
Apart from Section 399 of the Penal Code, Section 365 which pertains to “whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman, or animal”, the phrase ‘against the order of nature’ being ambiguous to say the least, Section 365A concerning ‘acts of gross indecency between persons’ and provisions in the Vagrants Ordinance are used to persecute the LGBTQIA community.
On the question of certain liberal countries allowing homosexual marriages and whether that should therefore be provided for in Sri Lanka, EQUAL GROUND observed that the right to marry and found a family life too was a fundamental liberty that should be afforded to all irrespective of gender identity or sexual orientation.
EQUAL GROUND explained that acts of corrective rape too take place in the country.
Ethnicity too plays a role in discrimination. For example, if one is an affluent, Sinhalese Buddhist who is a homosexual, the chances of one being discriminated as opposed to if one was from the minority – a Tamil (religion – mainly Hindu or Catholic or Christian) or a Muslim (religion – Islam) – who was also not financially well off, is less.
“The repeal of and amendments to these Sections and provisions will only allow for more freedoms. No one’s right is being taken away. The Asgiriya Chapter suggests that if the said laws are repealed or amended and thereby made lax, there is a danger that this would result in the open expression of such behaviour by way of the open practice of this aspect of human sexuality and the expansion of and proliferation of night clubs, guesthouses catering to such and drugs as such go hand in hand, parallely, as in the case of Thailand. This is a misleading assumption. There is no direct correlation whatsoever between the former and the latter,” the organisation said.
“There are so many other factors including, for example, socio-economic factors such as the state of the economy, income disparities, the level of education, the increase in the numbers of sex workers, and the use of alcohol. The said laws also lead to a straitjacketing of sorts where the productivity and the potential of the members of the said community decreases. This is due to the redirection of energies to maintain a non LGBTIQ facade whilst achieving productivity goals. Elsewhere, there are cases of employment being terminated simply because one is lesbian or gay or bisexual or transgender or intersex or questioning. With these laws, there is the element of invasion of privacy too,” EQUAL GROUND emphasized.