The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ) community has been frowned upon by the Asian culture as opposed to the West. Against such a backdrop, their fight for acceptance continues in Sri Lanka. While they represent a considerable portion of the Sri Lankan population, they are still being subject to harassment, ridicule and ostracism with blessings from the patriarchal mindset instilled in its culture. But their never-give-up attitude has given them the courage to come out of the closet.
Attempts to decriminalise homosexuality have miserably failed and it was at a time when the community was becoming active that the head of State decided to call the ousted prime minister a ‘butterfly.’ As it is a homophobic slur used to describe this community, the entire community took to the streets a few days after the president made this remark. Last Friday, a faction of this community once again took to the streets and protested the undemocratic moves taken by the president since October 26.
Butterflies for democracy Going by the derogatory term used by the president to describe the community, the recently concluded protest attracted a crowd that supported the rights of LGBTIQ. The protesters held rainbow flags and boards with slogans such as “My vote is not for sale” and “Butterflies are voters too.” During the protest, a few participants spoke to us and here is what they had to say:
Ethical political culture need of the hour – Kumudini Samuel
I think it is important that we stand for democracy. Within that context, we see it as embedding equality and non-discrimination. Today’s protest is by the LGBTIQ community and we want to say very clearly that this unconstitutional process of superseding Parliament and the executive’s actions have thrown the country into disarray. It is something we totally reject and we need to work towards an ethical political culture. We also condemn the kind of ridicule the president himself subjected the LGBTIQ community to. In the context of calling for an ethical political culture, we are also saying that those efforts must respect, project and fulfil the rights of the LGBTIQ community. In this political crisis, we stand with all those who call for the due process of democracy, for the reinstatement of democracy and for the constitutionality of all actions whether in Parliament, executive or judiciary. We are also calling for the separation of powers between the judiciary, executive and legislature. This is the only way we can ensure checks and balances
Vital to protect democratic freedom– Sonali Gunasekara
I participated in the protest because I wanted to support the LGBTIQ community and I think it’s very important to ensure that we have our democracy in place. If not, we will not be able to stand for the rights of the LGBTIQ community because once democracy has been curtailed, every part would be curtailed. We therefore need to protect the democratic freedom we already have
Our votes shouldn’t be sold – Francis Rajiv
Our votes shouldn’t be sold and we need democracy to live in this country. There is a way the president could have appointed the prime minister, but what he did was totally unacceptable. That is why we are here today, to let our voices be heard and stand up for democracy
LGBTIQ community represents large chunk of voter base – Rozanna Flamer Caldera
This protest underscores the fact that democracy has been hijacked and the fact that it has been used to foster hate, homophobia and racism. It’s not simply about the president calling us butterflies in a derogatory manner, but the joint opposition too has been expressing similar sentiments in the past. But it is the head of State who made this remark, completely wiping out the right of democracy of every citizen to be treated equally in this country. So we are protesting the decline in democracy and the unavailability of equality throughout the history for the LGBTIQ community. We also want to show the president that we represent a large chunk of the voter base in Sri Lanka. Try 20%, if you want us to vote for a just, democratic government you need to come to us and decriminalise homosexuality and bring us into the society as equal citizens
LGBTIQ community deprived of fundamental rights – Adil Suraj
I came here to fight for democracy. Democracy is very important to this community because we have been deprived of our fundamental rights. The LGBTIQ community has been ridiculed by the president himself, but this is a community that needs to be treated equally, similar to every other citizen in the country. Today, we witness that they have become stronger in voicing out their rights and calling for democracy, showing they are stronger together
Pics by Damith Wickramasinghe