LGBTIQ rights have been and are still a very sensitive topic in Sri Lanka. The topic is sensitive mainly because of Sri Lanka’s strong cultural background, a culture which refuses to accept gay rights.
Rosanna Flamer-Caldera has been pushing for the recognition of LGBTIQ rights in Sri Lanka. Yet those attempts have yet to reach a successful conclusion.
Following are excerpts of an interview done with Rosanna Flamer-Caldera:
QYou are the Founder of EQUAL GROUND and have been advocating for LGBT rights in Sri Lanka for a long time. Have you been successful in your attempts?
Well, I think it all depends on what successful really means. Do you mean whether we have managed to change the laws that criminalise adults, same sex sexual relationships? No. If you talk about public opinion or the levels of acceptance, those have risen. We started EQUAL GROUND in 2004 and I’ve been an LGBT advocate since 1999. So it’s been 21 years since I’ve been an advocate for LGBT rights and 16 years that EQUAL GROUND has existed. And I feel that there has been a huge shift in attitudes and the support that we are receiving from the general public as well as some politicians and governments. Now, it’s a very rough road because LGBT rights can be politicised just like any other issue. But at the end of the day, there’s absolutely no reason why rights cannot be granted based purely on the fact that this issue was brought to us by the British in 1883. The criminalization was in the law since 1883. Homosexuality isn’t a Western import, but the laws are definitely. It is definitely from the colonizers. So if we are talking about our culture, our culture had homosexuality and other forms of sexualities and gender identities long before the Brits arrived and it was embraced, there were former kings of Sri Lanka who were gay. People didn’t think it was such a big deal. It’s just the way a person is born, the way they carry on in life, its sexuality, just like heterosexuality. So I think it’s time that people decided that they need to get their heads back into the 21st century.
So, you know, the worst thing that can happen to a child is for his/her family to say we don’t love you anymore because you’re gay or lesbian or transgender. They didn’t ask to be born that way and they were born that way. You don’t suddenly decide, OK, I’m going to be cool down here. I’m just going to be gay. It doesn’t happen like that because if they do that, they will soon find out. Is not that cool.
QBut why do you think policymakers and even the public at large are refusing to accept what is now accepted globally?
I don’t think they’re refusing to accept. I think mainly it’s a matter of us versus them; in the sense that no matter how much we put out there and no matter how much it’s happening across the world, you will always find the ‘naysayers’. You always find politicians who are trying to capitalise on, you know, making somebody a bogeyman, so that you have somebody to lash out at. And that’s what’s been happening all across the globe. Even during Trump’s era he was lashing out at everybody, including the LGBTIQ community. And they have made huge strides in the United States having gay marriage and everything like that. But at the same time, you do have sections of the population who will not tolerate anything that they feel is a threat to their culture or religion or whatever.
In fact, it’s not. There are LGBT persons everywhere. You wouldn’t even know that you are sitting next to a person. So how can you just judge a person based on, you know, what you think they do in bed or who they love or whatever?
QBut these ‘naysayers’ seem to be having a stronger voice in Sri Lanka.
The problem is that you will find the naysayers. And yes they might have a stronger voice now, but they don’t have as strong a voice now as they did like ten years ago and 20 years ago and 40 years ago. So those voices are becoming fewer and the people who support and are allies of the LGBTQ community are getting bigger. And really, it’s just about educating and sensitising people to accept others. Everybody’s different. You and I are different. I mean, we may come from a similar background, but we are different because we dress differently. We act differently. We talk differently. Our colour of our skin is different. So what I do in my bedroom or who I choose to love shouldn’t be the state’s business.
So if we are talking about our culture, our culture had homosexuality and other forms of sexualities and gender identities long before the Brits arrived and it was embraced, there were former kings of Sri Lanka who were gay. People didn’t think it was such a big deal. It’s just the way a person is born, the way they carry on in life
QSome people feel that becoming gay is not real. It’s just this ‘in thing’ which makes you look cool and part of a high-class community in Colombo.
If I had a kid and they said that he was gay, the first thing I would think is, oh, my God, he or she is going to face so much adversity in his life. It’s far from being cool. It’s the amount of harassment, discrimination, marginalisation, bullying, violence perpetrated against us. I have to constantly look over my shoulder whenever I’m out in public. Try living with that. It’s really very difficult for some people. Their parents don’t accept them and their families shun them. So, you know, the worst thing that can happen to a child is for his/her family to say we don’t love you anymore because you’re gay or lesbian or transgender. They didn’t ask to be born that way and they were born that way. You don’t suddenly decide, OK, I’m going to be cool down here. I’m just going to be gay. It doesn’t happen like that because if they do that, they will soon find out. Is not that cool. You need to go and run and hide because everybody’s after you. Now maybe not as much as before in Colombo, but definitely when we started our activism the amount of hate stuff. I’m still getting hate stuff on our Facebook pages and my personal WhatsApp. So it’s not something that you just decide to aspire to one day. You either are or you’re not.
QDoesn’t the LGBT community in Colombo have more protection than people in other parts of the country? We hear of incidents of intimidation, harassment and violence perpetrated against them more than we hear maybe in Colombo.
But it’s happening in Colombo as well. The thing is that LGBT people in the rural areas tend to not be out. Yes we do hear about many issues. That there are some segments of society or some segments of, for example, law enforcement that make it their prime directive to harass and target LGBTIQ persons. So we have to be able to combat all of that by sensitising, educating and trying to be a little bit more interactive with those who oppose us because they are doing it out of sheer ignorance rather than something that they know for a fact is true.
So it’s been 21 years since I’ve been an advocate for LGBT rights and 16 years that EQUAL GROUND has existed. And I feel that there has been a huge shift in attitudes and the support that we are receiving from the general public as well as some politicians and governments. Now, it’s a very rough road because LGBT rights can be politicised just like any other issue.
QOn the matter of law enforcement, Human Rights Watch recently put out a very damning report on how law enforcement is treating some of these community members. Have you addressed this?
EQUAL GROUND and Human Rights Watch, did issue the press release on the anal examinations. Quite a few months ago there was an incident at a nightclub where a transgender person was not allowed entry based on the way she was dressed. And that blew up as well because she blew it up in the press. And we also blew up the whole anal issue and Daily Mirror too carried it.
So I think in this day and age of digitalising everything, every person has an Android phone that they can just you know, it’s just like what happened in the US with the whole Black Lives Matter movement. 80 percent of the brutalities that were perpetrated against black people by the police, for example, were video recorded and so it went all over the world. So even in Sri Lanka, these things are happening. You know, people are recording. People are basically calling out those who are harassing others because there is absolutely no reason for individuals in this country to be harassed based on the colour of their skin, who they worship, who they love, what school they went to or whatever. I think we as a society have grown up to be very, what should I say, judgmental about others. And certainly we don’t look at others as our equals here in Sri Lanka. So naturally, there are all those layers of, you know, not hatred, but suspicion and perhaps this feeling that I have to be better than those people. I am better than those people. So in order for me to feel good about myself, I need to put those people down. And that is the kind of mentality, unfortunately, we Sri Lankans have.
QHave incidents of intimidation and harassment of the LGBTIQ community increased since this administration took office because we see their attitude towards this being more negative maybe as opposed to others.
Yes and no. You know, I mean, obviously, these cases that came to light recently, they actually started in 2017 with the previous Government. So while they may have been more open and friendly so far this Government hasn’t done anything to harass people. But having said that, I have to say that a lot of people who are intimidated, harassed, violated LGBT persons, that is, they tend not to report it. They tend to keep it to themselves because they fear that if they report it the same people would return to harass them again. I also consider that the harassment and intimidation take place on a daily basis regarding them. But I think that I can’t say, oh, this Government did this or that Government did this. They are all bad because they haven’t given us our rights. They haven’t treated us equally. And it’s about time they did that.
QWhat does giving rights to the LGBT community really mean? What do you expect?
Some colleagues of ours did a gap analysis as to what exactly is not in place for LGBT persons. And that report is 155 pages long. In every single social sphere there are no protections for LGBTIQ persons. Adult same sex sexual relationships are criminalised by articles in the penal code. One talks about carnal intercourse against the order of nature. We have no idea what that means. And the other talks about acts of gross indecency. So while they don’t arrest or harass on the first one because they can’t quite figure out what that is on the second one acts on gross indecency. So if two guys are holding hands or two women are hugging or something like that, they can be construed as gross indecency. And that’s exactly how they’re using those laws. They’re twisting those laws. People have sex. Everybody has sex. Even our parents had sex. Otherwise you would’t be here. Sex is just a normal human thing. So we don’t have to hide in the closet to have sex. We don’t have to hide the fact that I prefer a woman instead of a man to be a partner. It comes back into this whole cultural thing.
Even during Trump’s era he was lashing out at everybody, including the LGBTIQ community. And they have made huge strides in the United States having gay marriage and everything like that. But at the same time, you do have sections of the population who will not tolerate anything that they feel is a threat to their culture or religion or whatever.
And this is the irony of it all as well, because nonconsensual sex is accepted and consensual sex is criminalized. I think UNICEF did a study several years ago where it was ascertained that quite a large number of males at the age of 18 have already raped. What is it saying about our culture then? What kind of culture is that? And what kind of country is this if we allow that to keep happening? We are not India where there are one billion people. So we can’t use the excuse or we can’t keep track of everything. We can’t do this. We can’t do that. We have to change the legislature. We have to put in stringent laws to protect women and children here.
QHow do you change the mindset of the people? You see some media, individuals, musicians making fun of the LGBTIQ community. How do you change that mindset?
Well, the thing is that those people who are making those jokes have probably something to hide. And so I won’t go into why they do that. They’re just, you know, very small minded individuals who don’t have anything more in their lives other than to make fun or to harass other people. Once the government changed in 2015 there were more LGBT groups and organizations starting up. So the word is spreading and I think the world is also changing. And globally, it is not acceptable for people to be discriminated against because of who they love.
(The full interview with Rosanna Flamer-Caldera is available on Daily Mirror YouTube and Instagram) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iu72lN14dOE
Adam Tuesday, 26 January 2021 01:23 PM
Remember. It's Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.
Full flame Tuesday, 26 January 2021 02:11 PM
You are a sick woman who needs help.. Pathetic..
Kumara Tuesday, 26 January 2021 09:21 PM
You are the sick person who needs help for your discriminatory views.
Realist Wednesday, 27 January 2021 12:38 AM
You sound like someone who has had a lot of rejection in your life.
Sokrates Tuesday, 26 January 2021 06:31 PM
Just I can not understand the Sri Lankan men. In this country the most men are bisexual and there are much more homosexual here than in other countries. Why they are hiding? Even the comments here shows that Sri Lanka has still a long way to go to become a liberal country.
ultimate Friday, 29 January 2021 07:12 AM
Liberal? Oh please! Don’t consider me discriminatory for this comment; ofcourse This is sick! The lineage of human beings will no longer matter, children will have no intrinsic father or mother and then dont blame your kids for your mistake for being outcasts. people frown about polygamy, but are fully ok with prostitution and Sick homo sexuals. The Next would be sex with parents would also be ok because it is bedroom business. And thereafter animals is also ok because it is our right to do what we want? Ofc animal rights activist will be totally fine with it as it would be discriminatory to go against their so called pleasures. So disgusting! Handful of hypersexual people with serious disorders depressed in life! Trying to rub their bizarre Acts on to the ordinary human race. poor young minds Are being corrupted and these jokers will make society infested with all sorts of diseases, physically. You were never born with such disorders, your choice is bizaare!
Kandy Monday, 01 February 2021 04:21 PM
Perfectly true. Just visit the Fort MC to find out the number of men caught inside public toilets for gay acts. Let's allow them to voice their opinion.
Lanka peiris Tuesday, 26 January 2021 07:20 PM
Animals have a better brain! They know that sex should be between a male and a female. You can't put a bolt into a bolt or a nut into a nut. Keep your LGBTIQ rights to yourself and in your own room.
Shantha Wednesday, 27 January 2021 09:13 PM
What a disgusting, hateful and atrocious comment Lanka. You should be ashamed of yourself. Don't be a frog in a well (linde inna gemba). Open your eyes and look around the world where these communities have rights and how progressive these societies are.
Henry Tuesday, 26 January 2021 07:43 PM
What happens in bedroom should not be anybody's business including prostitution and buggery. Come on!
Sanduni Tuesday, 26 January 2021 10:47 PM
How uninformed and backward that you compare LGBTQ lifestyle to prostitution. Just like what happens in your bedroom is no one's business a LGBTQ person's sex life should not concern you or anyone else. They should not be judged on their sexuality or lifestyle but the human being that they are, and only judged by their skills, talent and merit as human being, not their gender, religion, race or sexuality.
Seb Tuesday, 26 January 2021 07:59 PM
I always feel sorry for transgenders. I can't imagine how it must be to feel you were born in the wrong body. Who are we to decide what is right or wrong when it comes to this issue. Just live an honorable life and treat everyone the way you want to be treated yourself.
Sandy Tuesday, 26 January 2021 08:16 PM
Why do you tell others about what you do in bedroom , isn't it a private thing.
Sanka Tuesday, 26 January 2021 09:11 PM
It is very sad to read some of the discriminatory comments in the comments section. I am ashamed as a Sri Lankan to know that fellow country men and women feel this way. I can only hope that it is just a small minority who feel this way. I would encourage my fellow Sri Lankans to create an inclusive society free of persecution and discrimination and not judge people based on their age, gender, race, religion or sexuality, and emerge into the 21st century.
Asanka Tuesday, 26 January 2021 09:36 PM
You are very brave. I salute you with deep respect.
Mohan Wednesday, 27 January 2021 01:22 AM
When I see these derogatory and negative comments I wonder how you guys tolerate all the politicians in the country. Even though I am not part of the LGBTQ community I strongly believe it’s their right and we have no business in preaching to them! How many monks and Swamy and members of the clergy engaged in sex ? Have you said anything for them ? You won’t because you guys are all scared
Eesha Wednesday, 27 January 2021 02:32 AM
If you are LGBT it is not normal, it is a abnormal situation. Such marriages etc should be banned. According to Buddha allowing such marriages is not a way forward a culture that acces such marriages is a degenerated culture. Though I believe that people should have the freedom to do right or wrong and face the legal and karmic consequences only because one cannot go up the river to enlightenment if the river does not flow down. For example one must not drink alchohol when alchohol is freely available in order for one to say that I dont drink. If the law does not allow one to drink then taking the precept of Surameraya majjapama dattana veramani sikka padam samadiyami does not make sense.
Asanka Wednesday, 27 January 2021 03:08 AM
Anal examination : how low can a country go. You are very brave. I salute you with lots of respect.
Humanist Wednesday, 27 January 2021 05:23 AM
It was Pierre Elliott Trudeau who famously said “The State has no business in the affairs of the bedroom” long time ago. He is one of the very rare breed of intellectual Statesmen in my book.
Andrew from Sri Lanka Wednesday, 27 January 2021 07:09 AM
Whatever said and done nothing can ever beat the Sri Lankan smile. Ask the foreigner about Sri Lanka smile.
Mozzart Wednesday, 27 January 2021 08:57 AM
As long as you keep it "public in your house' and do not promote among innocent young people under various pretexts.
Chris Wednesday, 27 January 2021 09:44 AM
The test of the morality ,character and decency of a nation rests more on not how the majority protect and pander to their own kind and sort but more so on how they lend a hand to those in minority and protect their rights and interests to co-exist with others with dignity and honour. It seems when topics of this nature are put up for discussions the prejudiced and vulgar element is immediately attracted to join in and destroy the purpose and tenor of the dialogue with personal attacks and insults as some we see here. This is a discussion that merits the attention of educated and decent elements of society who could make a constructive contribution. To begin with the archaic laws against the LGBTIQ human beings criminalizing their behaviour must be repealed before proper legislation could be discussed and enacted to prohibit discrimination as has been done in most modern day enlightened democracies all over the world. These are measures that would ensure progress ;not hatred.
Gamage Wednesday, 27 January 2021 09:04 PM
Well said Chris. It is extremely refreshing to hear these comments and that there is still hope for this country.
Lasith Thursday, 28 January 2021 05:06 AM
As a Buddhist country ( in the same way USA is a Christian country), Sri Lanka must protect the LGBT community. Our doctrine does not forbid their presence.
Vaughan Thursday, 28 January 2021 06:18 AM
Sri Lankans have an awful habit of being more concerned about what others think of them and their families, that is why a lot of Sri Lankan parents would prefer their children not to come out and have any discussion around sexual and gender identity. And they cover this up by saying "this is how our culture is". When in fact, gender and sexual fluidity was accepted here (and in other parts of Asia) well before the British put their flag here. I really hope Sri Lanka can take a big leap forward on this issue.
ultimate Thursday, 28 January 2021 12:43 PM
The lineage of human beings will be no longer matter, no father mother for children. and then dont blame your kids for being discriminated for your mistake. people frown about polygamy, but are fully ok with prostitution and homo sexuals. The Next would be sex with parents would also be ok because it is bedroom business. And thereafter animals is also ok because it is our right, animal rights activist will be totally fine with it. So disgusting. hypersexual people with serious disorders.! depressed in life.
Saman Friday, 29 January 2021 01:47 AM
Again why are you comparing prostitution, incest and homosexuality in the same category. They are not the same. Years of brainwashing, stigma has led to this. LGBTQ are none of those things. Please read up and educate yourself
Asanka Thursday, 28 January 2021 02:06 PM
Ultimate: when you blow out someones candle, your candle is not going to shine brighter
Mr X Thursday, 28 January 2021 03:48 PM
Like repels like. Unlikes attract. Laws of the universe.
The Casual Rainbow Friday, 29 January 2021 09:48 AM
When i see the comments, it just shows how backwards and discriminatory most of these people are, shows the weaknesses in their belief systems and how narrowminded the haters are over here. Some people said that animals knows than better than us but i ask them to do some research into the animal kingdom and homosexuality, best example is chimpanzees and dolphins. There are also some decent understanding people in the comments who show support to the LGBT communities which is a breath of fresh air. Sri Lankan education system needs to teach about LGBT communities and the challenges people are facing on a daily basis. Highly doubt it will be ever taught considering that we have yet to properly teach about sex-education in local schools to educate the younger generations. Really proud that people like Rosanna Flamer-Caldera are fighting for the hidden voices in LGBT communities on this small island.
Human Friday, 29 January 2021 08:06 PM
Those LGBTIQ humans do NOT choose to be "different" if they didn't born different. People need to get educated about humans. They are born different than you are but they have every right as a "human being" in the society. Backward, uneducated countries like Sri Lanka...it's time to "educate" your citizens.
SL Saturday, 30 January 2021 08:18 AM
ma'am you yourself are promoting about the matters you have in your bedroom. do not invite others to comment you .we do not talk what we do in the bed room in public,it is private. you are trying to create a cult and then advantages out of it. so keep your private life private rather than creating public cults
SpaceCab Monday, 01 February 2021 03:32 PM
As a minority in this country i can only imagine what the LGBQT must be going through. Even though homosexuality is against my religion i completely understand the difficulties they must have to endure
Era Tuesday, 02 February 2021 09:55 PM
Soon to come, right to have sex with any living being.
Raina Amarasinghe Thursday, 04 February 2021 03:06 AM
I have one word. Compassion. Try it, especially all those hate mongers. We are all human beings who want to be happy. You may not agree with others all the time but as long as they are not hurting anybody, why should you worry? Compassion in your heart feels much better than hate. Its better for your health as well.
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