For 13 years, Colombo PRIDE has been an exercise in increasing the visibility of the LGBTIQ community and thereby bringing to the attention of the public, the issues faced by the Community throughout Sri Lanka. Colombo PRIDE therefore, has been about forming a collective LGBTIQ identity, emphasising the existence of the community and providing the LGBTIQ persons, their family and friends a safe space to proudly be themselves, without fear of persecution or violence and to meet other people in similar circumstances.
Most persons belonging to the Sri Lankan LGBTIQ community continue to live ‘in the closet’ and hide their gender identity or sexual orientation in order to blend into society. The goal of Colombo PRIDE is to challenge and change the stereotypical expectations that have been imposed on us, whether we are LGBTIQ community members or not.
PRIDE celebrations throughout the world are about celebrating diversity. Anyone and everyone who believes that human rights are for everyone can and should participate in celebrations of diversity, like PRIDE. Colombo PRIDE is no exception to this. We are proud to say that each and every year Colombo PRIDE is attended by people from all walks of life, religions, ethnicities, gender expressions, socio-economic status, colours, sizes, nationalities, sexual orientations and gender identities.
Colombo PRIDE opened this year with a Corporate Round Table discussion which was aimed at sensitising CEOs and persons empowered to take decisions for and behalf of their companies to change their human resource policies to support diversity in the workforce. The importance of having an LGBT-friendly workplace from a purely business perspective was emphasised to provide equal opportunities for LGBTIQ community members so they could work in environments that were welcoming to them.
"Most persons belonging to the Sri Lankan LGBTIQ community continue to live ‘in the closet’ and hide their gender identity or sexual orientation in order to blend into society"
The Bus Parade was our take on a PRIDE Parade where we drove around Colombo in a Double Decker bus with the participation of members and allies of the community. Much like international Pride events that have welcomed Sri Lankan citizens to walk in their parades, we wholeheartedly welcomed citizens from other countries who marched with us in solidarity. What kind of values do we hold if we denied them that?
The Film Festival, Art and Photography and Music and Dance festival was an educational experience about queer culture and encouraged community members to express their queer identities. This provided our exceptionally talented members of the community with a platform to showcase their talents. This also celebrates the queer expression, encouraging community members to express without boundaries.
After thirteen years we understand that not every organisation can tackle every problem. We have selected to specialise in certain fields and we strive to do it to the best of our best capabilities and being in a stable position we at EQUAL GROUND wanted to encourage other LGBTIQ organisations and individuals to continue the good fight.
Idea Junction was organised to bring these organisations together to present the kind of work they did. We invited organisations that worked at grass root levels to better LGBITQ lives, organisations that focused on youth SOGI, groups that worked with the trans community, PLHIV organisations that function as community support systems to come together to share ideas and their work with the general public.
"The first thing to bring about a positive change for the LGBTIQ community is to change the laws and policies and end the institutionalised harassment of the LGBTIQ community"
Being a small island nation, Sri Lanka has been exposed to many waves of thinking ranging from predominantly South Asian countries to European regions. Our identity has evolved to reflect a mixture of all of this. With the increase in globalisation and the advent of social media, the LGBTIQ identity also has begun to reflect varied perspectives. Our singular agenda, if any, is freedom of expression and human rights for all gender and sexual orientations. How individuals choose to express their identity is up to them, we do not carry a nationalist or an international agenda. Where would our value system lie if we hindered a person’s cultural identity? We do not want to be hypocritical to our own value systems as an LGBTIQ Advocate organisation.
In addition to the form Colombo PRIDE takes, we have to pay attention to the happenings in Sri Lanka. Past experience has shown us that extremist elements in society exist, and that such elements can and will resort to violence simply due to ideological differences. This is the reason behind choosing hotels or diplomatic cultural centres such as the Gothe-Institute to host our events. Safety of our community members is paramount when organising such events.
In addition to Colombo PRIDE, EQUAL GROUND has worked hard to sensitise law enforcement officers, members of the clergy and of the general public through sensitising workshops which have been conducted in over 12 districts.
We have established a number of field officers throughout the island to assist community members in emergencies such as domestic violence, police harassment and exploitation and sexual abuse. We maintain three separate hotlines offering counselling support for Women, Trans persons and other community members.
"Visibility of the existing community encourages new members to reach out and embrace themselves. Which is why, Colombo PRIDE has always been an important event to the LGBTIQ Community and will continue to be so"
The EQUALITY Magazine portrays members of the community in a positive manner encouraging people to embrace their queerness without fear and shame.
The 134 Campaign led by EQUAL GROUND is promoting the review and repeal of Sections 365 and 365A of the Penal Code. Our effort is also to collect testimonials from various members of the LGBTIQ and Ally communities to discuss the importance of Equal Rights for LGBTIQ persons. The first thing to bring about a positive change for the LGBTIQ community is to change the laws and policies and end the institutionalised harassment of the LGBTIQ community. Parallel to this change, ideally, misconceptions prevalent throughout society need to be addressed through an open and honest discussion about topics such as gender, sexuality and human rights.
Visibility of the existing community encourages new members to reach out and embrace themselves. Which is why, Colombo PRIDE has always been an important event to the LGBTIQ Community and will continue to be so.