EQUALGROUND would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very peaceful and happy holiday season. At the same time, we would like to thank you all for your support and your interest in the work we do to uphold freedom, justice and equality for the LGBTIQ community in Sri Lanka. Without the support of our donors, allies, well-wishers and community members, we would not be able to carry out our work successfully and impactfully. For this we are grateful!
2018 was a year filled with many success stories. One of the highlights of a very successful and the largest Pride celebration held to date in Sri Lanka, was the Abhimani Queer Film Festival. With support from and in collaboration with the Delegation of the European Union to Sri Lanka and Maldives, we launched the rebranded Abhimani European Film Festival for Colombo PRIDE 2018. Held over a period of 4 days, the festival featured films not only from all over Europe, but also from Tonga, Taiwan, Australia and India. Record breaking attendance at these screenings encouraged us and we are grateful to the EU Delegation for giving us this unique opportunity.
At the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting held in the UK in April, The Commonwealth Equality Network chaired by our Executive Director, successfully negotiated a very rocky path to gain more visibility, ensure raised voices and putting LGBTIQ issues squarely on the agenda at all discussions and forums at the Commonwealth Summit. Our lobbying with the Government of the UK culminated in the now very famous speech the PM made at the opening of the People’s Forum where she said; “Across the world, discriminatory laws made many years ago continue to affect the lives of many people, criminalising same-sex relations and failing to protect women and girls. I am all too aware that these laws were often put in place by my own country. They were wrong then, and they are wrong now. As the UK’s Prime Minister, I deeply regret both the fact that such laws were introduced, and the legacy of discrimination, violence and even death that persists today.” 2018 saw decriminalisation take place in Trinidad & Tobago and in India.
Toward the end of October 2018, we saw the country spiral into chaos and uncertainty as a constitutional coup dominated our everyday lives for almost 2 months. Disparaging homophobic remarks by the President against the Prime Minister he ousted illegally galvanized the LGBTIQ community to step out on the street in protest, not only with regard to the President’s ill-advised speech but also to demand democracy and good governance be restored in our island nation. This was a historical moment in the short history of the LGBTIQ movement. The Butterflies for Democracy – a group of LGBTIQ organisations and individual activists – took to the streets of Colombo on several occasions joining pro-democracy protests and holding their own protest as well. EQUALGROUND was proud and happy to play a part in organising and scheduling these protests. Thanks, should go to all our community members who not only showed up at the protest in numbers but also took time to create banners, placards and rainbow accoutrements to give our protest a truly ‘gay’ flare! Perhaps a PRIDE march is now a distinct possibility!
The Butterflies for Democracy will stand in solidarity along with allies, family and friends of the LGBTIQA community to protest the blatant disregard for democracy currently prevailing in the country. We will come together on 7th December 2018 at Lipton Circle from 4pm till 6pm to demand that sanity, democracy and decency prevail and that the rights of the LGBTIQA community be recognized.
For over 135 years, the LGBTIQA community has been marginalised and discriminated against due to archaic British Laws that were introduced in 1883, which our Governments have clung on to for over 70 years of independence in order to vilify and marginalise our community. Meanwhile, the UK and 35 other Commonwealth Countries have moved to remove these laws. As recently as weeks ago, our neighbour India decriminalised consensual same sex relationships, freeing over 200 million LGBTIQA persons from under the yoke of British Colonial laws. We ask, why not Sri Lanka?
Politicising and denigrating the LGBTIQA community has been the mantra of conservative politicians in order to garner votes and scare people into thinking that being LGBTIQA is some sort of sickness or perversion – neither of which is true and neither of which can be proved scientifically or medically.
We are gathering at Lipton Circle to remind the President and politicians of this country that we represent a large voter base in this country. We also remind the very same persons that the Constitution of this country protects our rights as equal citizens and that we must be treated as such. We demand that democracy prevails and insist that democracy is nothing without equality, respect and dignity for all citizens of this country. We stand in solidarity with the many groups who have been speaking out for the same in this moment in time, and warmly invite them to join us.
#butterfliesfordemocracy #LGBTIQ #LKA #democracy
Colombo PRIDE 2018 is proud to present this year’s line up of events.
Wondering what happened to the Abhimani Queer Film Festival ? Stay tuned to this site or our Facebook Page for breaking news and exciting announcements!
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Can policy reform bring about social change in this country and how do we provide a life free of discrimination for all Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Intersex, and Questioning Community (LGBTIQ) persons in Sri Lanka?
The Executive Director of EQUALGROUND Rosanna Flamer-Caldera sat with DIG Ajith Rohana of the Sri Lanka Police, Professor Camena Guneratne from the Open University, Ms Ambika Satkunanathan of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, and Dr. Paikiasothy Sarvanamuththu of the Center for Policy Alternatives to discuss how to combat discrimination of LGBTIQ persons, as we commemorated the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT represents an annual landmark to draw the attention of decision makers, the media, the public, opinion leaders and local authorities to the alarming situation faced by LGBTIQ people and all those who do not conform to majority sexual and gender norms) on the 17th of May 2018.
The discussion revolved around the commitments made by the Government of Sri Lanka during its Universal Periodic Review (The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique mechanism of the Human Rights Council (HRC) aimed at improving the human rights situation on the ground of each of the 193 United Nations (UN) Member States. Under this mechanism, the human rights situation of all UN Member States is reviewed every 5 years) in November of 2017 (The Government of Sri Lanka supported four recommendations on protecting LGBTIQ persons from discrimination and stated that they will be committing to reform the law of the country to reflect these recommendations).
During the panellist’s presentations, DIG Ajith Rohana acknowledged that there are isolated incidents of discrimination of LGBT persons, but they are working towards eliminating them by introducing sensitising programs in the police training curriculum. He strongly emphasised that no one should be discriminated because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
A highlighted point that was repeatedly discussed was the importance of social change following policy change and how the narrative should be shaped when challenging the laws that criminalise same-sex conduct. Humanising LGBTIQ issues by using real-life examples and cases of queer people can make it more relatable to those who do not understand the struggles of the LGBTIQ persons and eventually change people’s negative perceptions about the community.
Dr Sarvanamutthu strongly believes that there is power in numbers and representation. He suggests that it is time that families rally behind the movement; He urged parents and grandparents to strongly question the law and file for a class action lawsuit demanding for the decriminalisation of their children and grandchildren.
From a policy change stand point Professor Camena stated that even though the constitutional reform process is in the back burner there could be a possibility of explicit protection offered to the LGBTIQ community through expansion of the fundamental rights chapter. This reform, coupled with an introduction of post-enactment of judicial review of all legislation that is inconsistent with the constitution can nullify the criminalisation of same-sex conduct as stated in Penal Codes 365 and 365A of Sri Lanka.
The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has taken a strong public position in including explicit protection for the LGBTIQ community (The HRCSL appointed an LGBTIQ subcommittee, spearheaded the gender recognition certificate for transgender persons and is working with the press council of Sri Lanka to introduce a set of ethical media reporting guidelines). In Ms Satkunanathan’s presentation, she discussed the importance of not only sensitising the general public and civil society organisations but also the staff at the HRCSL (Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka) to be empathetic and non-judgemental.
The LGBTIQ community can also use other forms of legislature such as arbitrary violence and torture to safeguard themselves from unauthorised searches and questioning. Ms Ambika also urged that community members make use of the HRCSL’s complaint mechanism to report violations. We understand that policy change does need to be followed by social change and the continuous fight for equal rights has to involve the youth and multiple stakeholders such as our family members to strengthen our position.