All About EQUAL GROUND
EQUAL GROUND is a nonprofit organisation seeking human and political rights for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Questioning (LGBTIQ) community of Sri Lanka. We are committed to creating a safe space for all LGBTIQ individuals and to providing opportunities for self help including mental well being, economic, social and political empowerment, access to health, education, housing and legal protection for the LGBTIQ community.
EQUAL GROUND is the only truly mixed organisation in Sri Lanka which includes the wider identities of the Queer community in Sri Lanka as well as our heterosexual allies and friends.
We are dedicated to professionalism in all aspects of our work. Our Trustees and Staff adhere strictly to a clear code of ethics. We maintain transparency and set high ethical standards in our day to day dealings including confidentiality, security and trust. We believe in equal opportunity and an equal representation of ethnicity, language, religion, abilities, sexual orientation and gender in every aspect of our work and our organisation. We strive to lead by example and believe in inclusion and equality for all sexual orientations and gender identities.
“Equality for all Sexual Orientations and Gender Identities: Human Rights for everyone”
The challenges the community face are numerous, primarily, the criminalization of same sex relationships and the cultural and social stigmas attached to homosexuality and transgender in Sri Lanka is rife. As a result the LGBTIQ community in Sri Lanka faces all forms of discrimination, marginalization and violence inevitably resulting in mental health issues, low self esteem and internalized homophobia.
Gender roles and responsibilities are rigidly followed in Sri Lanka. Much significance is placed on traditional roles and responsibilities of men and women, towards each other and society at large. The heteronormative and binary gender standards that the culture tends to uphold is the root of this problem. Homosexuality and Transgenderism is viewed as a shameful and abnormal phenomenon, and is often termed as a psychological disturbance, manifestation of sins from previous lives and/or a disease.
Advertisements are often placed by ‘practitioners’ claiming to cure persons of homosexuality as well as the consequences of it, grossly exploiting young persons and their hardships. Families suspecting family members of being queer often force marriages and in extreme cases there is curative rape. Violence in all forms is perpetrated against LGBTIQ persons across the board, by family members and society at large. This behavior is further validated by the behavior of authorities towards LGBTIQ persons who are often blackmailed, ridiculed and in some instances raped. Shame and internalized homophobia still remains causing LGBTIQ persons to go deeper and deeper underground.
Further, due to the existing penal code and lack of protectionary measures for LGBTIQ persons, they are afforded no recourse to justice. LGBTIQ persons often leave instances of violence unreported due to the fear of their sexuality being discussed as well as the shame associated with it. In the rare occasions they do report such instances; authorities have in the past abused confidential information to further victimize the individuals.
Media scrutiny – The EQUAL GROUND Website, Blog and general email address continues to receive homophobic, threatening statements frequently. Whilst these comments are moderated the media continues to report traditional interpretations of homosexuality- the phenomenon rather than reporting on the issues objectively. The ownership and status of the newspaper/company depends on its tolerance, and it can be approximated that there are several more homophobic publications than there are those willing to report objectively and truthfully. Those that have shown inclination to uphold internationally accepted standards of journalism tends to be read by upper class English speaking society thereby reinforcing the negative stereotype that homosexuality is prevalent amongst educated, upper class, elite society.
EQUAL GROUND is the only organisation in Sri Lanka to hold annual PRIDE celebrations – an important event in the Sri Lankan LGBTIQ calendar. EQUAL GROUND works very hard to provide for the needs of the community each year giving the LGBTIQ community of Sri Lanka the space to stand up tall and be proud of who and what they are. PRIDE in Sri Lanka is currently on a small scale and whilst we hope to one day march the streets demanding our rights, the current political climate coupled with the oppressive laws against LGBTIQ persons, impedes a peaceful march. Therefore, PRIDE celebrations take place as private, yet very public functions attended by persons from all over Sri Lanka. PRIDE has grown from strength to strength. Each year a diverse range of events are held to encourage the Queer community to come out and be proud. It is also an educational and sensitizing exercise where the message of diversity is addressed in a holistic way paving for better understanding and acceptance of the Queer community by the larger Sri Lankan citizenship. Events include workshops, dramas/shows/musicals, film festivals, art & photo exhibitions, parties, the kite festival and so on.
It was apparent right from the inception of EQUAL GROUND that the Queer community of Sri Lanka suffered untold mental health issues due to the stigma and discrimination they face on a daily basis. EQUAL GROUND in response, decided to establish a counseling hotline for LGBTIQ persons to call for assistance with regards to their issues. This counseling line now operates in 3 languages (English, Sinhala and Tamil) and also has a women only line for LB women to access. Operated by women counselors only it also functions in all three languages.
Extracurricular activities and maintenance of a Safe Space
The EQUAL GROUND office which houses a staff of 14 persons maintains the Colombo LGBTIQ safe space where the administration offices are also housed. In addition, it houses a library of LGBTIQ books and DVDs for members to access whenever they require. The Safe Space is used for extracurricular activities such as dance classes, self defense classes, movie nights, cross dressers evenings, and theme nights for LGBTIQ persons in general and so on.
Health Campaigns for LGBTIQ
The ‘Adare Pata’ (Colours of love) campaign informs on safer sex practices and is distributed at workshops and other LGBTIQ events. Information on Breast and cervical cancer via our publication “Breast and Cervical Cancer – information for women who love women” is distributed via workshops on sexual health and reproductive rights. These workshops also include HIV and STI prevention methods, information on where to access testing and so on.
To date EQUAL GROUND has published the following publications:
- Human, right? – This publication addresses Gay rights through a Human Rights perspective
- Breast and Cervical Cancer – information for women who love women
- Stepping out of the Shadows: Same Sex domestic Violence in Sri Lanka
- STEPPING OUT for parents of children with alternate sexual orientations and gender identities
- The Yogyakarta Principles – translated into Sinhala and Tamil
- Struggling against Homophobic Violence and Hate Crimes – A report on the documentation and research conducted by EQUAL GROUND from April 2010-June 2011 on violence against LB women in the rural areas
- Rainbow News – The quarterly newsletter of EQUAL GROUND
We feel that the dissemination of information via our publications is an integral part of sensitizing the public and empowering the LGBTIQ community as well. Please feel free to access our publications via our website.
Media and Communications Unit
EQUAL GROUND has recently establish the Media and Communications Unit to sensitise the media on LGBTIQ issues, monitor media for misrepresentative and homophobic media reports and to publish news articles on LGBTIQ issues in a positive and enlightening manner.
- International Women’s Day
- International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO)
- International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (16 Days of Activism)
- World AIDS Day
- Human Rights Day
Advertising campaigns, events, poster and sticker campaigns and discussion forums are conducted to commemorate the above dates.
Several workshops are held each year in the rural areas to sensitize the public at large as well as the LGBTIQ community on several topics such as Gender and Patriarchy, Gender Based Violence, Human Rights, HIV/AIDS etc. In the past few years workshops were held in Dambulla, Colombo, Piliyandala, Kalutara, Mathugama, Matara, Galle, Nuwara Eliya, Thalawakelle, Hatton, Kotmale, Thawalanthenna, Meepirimana, Kalukelle, Baddegama, Dadella, Kantalai, Trincomalee, Uppuvelli, Attalachchenai, Batticaloa, Kattankudy, Eechalampathu, Linkepuram, Kilivatti, Sarthapuram, Kalledy, Kebithigollewa, Medawachchiya and Vallachchenai.
Satellite Officer Network (Addressing GBV for LB Women)
EQUAL GROUND has established a network of 10 satellite officers from 4 Districts in Sri Lanka to work on issues relating to violence against LB women in the rural areas. The districts are Anuradhapura, Nuwara Eliya, Kalutara and Galle.
LGBT Stigma Index – Advanced Data gathering
The LGBTIQ Stigma Index is intended to be an advanced data gathering exercise to determine the level of stigma and discrimination the Queer community in Sri Lanka face on a daily basis. To date no in-depth studies on Stigma and Discrimination faced by LGBTIQ persons in Sri Lanka have been conducted. Neither has any other study been conducted on the lives of LGBTIQ persons in this country. This is an attempt to start producing quantative and qualitative data and statistics on the LGBTIQ community in Sri Lanka which will then be used for advocacy purposes, the decriminalization of homosexuality in Sri Lanka and other purposes.
Democracy and Equality Program Dialogues (in collaboration with ICES)
A series of dialogues aiming at de-stigmatizing LGBTIQ persons and gathering civil society, professionals (i.e. Doctors, lawyers, judiciary) and others to think outside the box and address LGBTIQ issues as true human rights issues with the purpose of eventually causing a groundswell of voices to aid in the decriminalization process.
Engaging Corporate Sri Lanka (sensitizing Programs)
Corporate Sri Lanka has a key role to play in this country accepting and embracing the LGBTIQ community. Diversity in the workplace and issues pertaining to the LGBTIQ workforce are discussed while sensitizing the corporate community on LGBTIQ persons and the stigma and discrimination they face each day.
Enhancing the Technical Capacity of rural CBO’s, LGBTIQ Support Groups and Individual LGBT activists
EQUAL GROUND continues to enhance to capacities of the many groups and individuals we work with. This includes CBOs in rural areas, LGBTIQ support groups and individuals and other smaller rural NGOs. Trainings include: Gender and Patriarchy, Gender Based Violence, Sexuality, Human Rights, HIV/AIDS prevention methodologies, sexual and reproductive health, counseling, project management, etc. In addition EQUAL GROUND firmly believes in enhancing the capacity of regional Lesbian and Bisexual Women’s organisations and individuals as well and has conducted trainings on a variety of subjects including: Security and organizational management, utilizing the Yogyakarta Principles in advocacy work, Gender and Leadership, Homophobic Violence and Hate Crimes and Research Methodologies.
EQUAL GROUND has produced several advocacy documentaries including “PRIDE 2006”, “Heaven’s Trauma” (Tsunami – 2006) and “Repeal Section 365A” (2011). In addition, full length documentaries include “I Have a dream” (2008), “Rainbow Runway” (2010) and “The Auntie Netta show” (2011). EQUAL GROUND will expand its repertoire of advocacy documentaries and focus on bringing sensitizing through visual advocacy. Future programs will be updated soon.
Currently, at least 70% of the EG staff are youth. The EQUAL GROUND Youth Network is aimed at networking with the general youth population of Sri Lanka especially those with a focus on Human Rights and taking the issues of LGBTIQ youth into the mainstream.
The Transgender project is new project for 2012 which will incorporate an enhanced program which will include field visits, social gatherings, HIV and STI workshops, gender and sexuality workshops and vocational training – all aimed at enhancing the lives of transgender people.
LGBTIQ Resource and Training Center
The soon to be established LGBTIQ Resource and Training Center will provide trainings and skills building for those LGBTIQ community members who cannot otherwise afford fees to attend mainstream vocational and skills building schools and institutions. It will focus on speaking, reading & writing English, IT, Beauty culture, Cookery and so on.