The inter-webs of Sri Lanka went haywire last week when an announcement was made that the Cabinet had decided against the decriminalization of homosexuality in the draft Human Rights Action plan.
The stance of the government was further confirmed when Minister Rajitha Senaratne was quoted saying “Sri Lanka is against homosexuality, there was no proposal before the cabinet to legalize it.”
Commenting on the government’s stance on LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and questioning) matters in general, Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, Executive Director of Equal Ground said that the country was seemingly heading back into the dark ages by criminalizing the rights of the LGBTIQ community when most developed countries in the world like Canada and Norway are embracing diversity in every sense with open arms.
She said that Sri Lanka is still lagging behind in identifying gay right as human rights, to begin with. “Some tend to justify their homophobic prejudices by claiming to be subscribing to the Sinhalese-Buddhist culture. In fact, nowhere in Buddhist scriptures has homosexuality been condemned or criminalized. The only mention of sex, if at all, is where the clergy has been asked to abstain from having any form of sex and masturbating,” she added.
Commenting on the recent thoughts expressed by the Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith on how the church does not approve of same-sex marriages, the activist said that the Cardinal might want to ‘first get his house in order’ – alleging that pedophilia is rampant in the church and such ‘actual problems’ are swept under the carpet more often than not by the same religious leaders who readily label the LGBTIQ community, especially gays, as defective.
Pope Francis made a revealing statement recently when he was asked the question by a journalist on gays. The pontiff said: “If a man is gay and he still seeks God, who am I to judge”?
Flamer-Caldera did not forget to speak about the transgender community in Sri Lanka with whom her Organization, Equal Ground, works closely. She said that although other countries recognize many more genders than the conventional male-female binary, Sri Lanka barely even acknowledges the existence of the third gender – the transsexuals – who are often abused and marginalized to a great extent.
Making clear the distinction between sex and gender, Flamer-Caldera said that sex is biologically determined while gender is more to do with how one chooses to identify and express oneself. Facebook has made available 71 gender option for its users to choose from while ABC News recognizes up to 58 genders in total.
However in the context of Sri Lanka, she said that gender roles are very much defined and if anybody even slightly deviates from what is perceived as ‘normal’ by standards of society, there is a great chance that they will be discarded as ‘freaks’.
While emphasizing on the importance of sensitizing the local communities to gradually recognize and respect LGBTIQ individuals without discriminating them, she was happy to note that some corporate firms have already come forward to openly welcome LGBTIQ employees and have even revised their Human Resource policies to be more accommodating towards individuals with different sexual orientations and gender identities.
“Over the last 16 years we have been trying to convince the government that decriminalization of homosexuality – as a first step— is a low hanging fruit,” Flamer-Caldera said.
While there may be opposition from certain parties, she said that in the grand scheme of things, embracing diversity will help Sri Lanka carve a niche as a gay-friendly destination as travel and tourism is already an area the country is capitalizing on for economic development.
Equal Ground as the most prominent Sri Lankan organization that currently advocates for LGBTIQ rights hopes that the necessary legal reforms will come into place to recognize the rights of the LGBTIQ community as well as to protect them.