On May 17, 1990, the World Health Organization (WHO) declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder. However, 27 years later, members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Questioning (LGBTIQ) community throughout the world continue to be thought of as deviants and mentally unstable persons who are very often forced to undergo life threatening ‘cures’ to cure them of their homosexuality or gender identity. Throughout the world, Lesbians, Gay men and Transgender are brutally murdered, raped and violated in numerous ways. This is prevalent in Sri Lanka too.
Earlier this year, a transgender man was arrested by the police on a domestic dispute in Narahenpita. He was locked up, verbally abused by the police and asked to undress and show his genitals to prove he was a man.
A transgender woman was accosted by the police in Anuradhapura and when she refused to have sex with the officers she was allegedly taken away and raped by 14 police officers at the Police station.
"There are many reasons why a child would be afraid to tell their parents about his/her sexuality. Most important amongst these is the simple fact of their fear"
Two Gay men, sitting on the beach in Mt. Lavinia, holding hands were accosted by two policemen. They proceeded to berate them loudly until a small crowd had gathered. The two boys begged for mercy. The police proceeded to extract all the money they had on their person and were then allowed to go.
LGBTIQ are branded criminals and social deviants by the laws of many countries including our own. They are subject to ridicule, bullying and are deprived of educational, professional and economic opportunities solely on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The 134 Campaign (https://www.causes.com/campaigns/106430-end-134-years-of-criminalisation-of-homosexuality) which is steadily gaining traction is attempting to deal with homophobia, bi phobia and trans phobia within the legal system of Sri Lanka. However, the law is but one part of the vicious cycle of intolerance and hate that crush persons of diverse sexual orientation or gender identity in this country.
The intolerance and prejudice towards people based on their sexual orientation and/or their gender identity, known as homophobia, bi phobia and transphobia, is one of the main reasons for the atrocities being committed against the LGBTIQ community the world over.
The International Day Against Homophobia, Bi phobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT), is globally observed on May 17 each year to raise awareness of the consequences of prejudice and hate and to educate persons on diversity in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity, thereby attempting to disrupt the hate cycle.
On May 17, 2017, an event was held in Colombo to commemorate the IDAHOT in Sri Lanka. This year’s theme for IDAHOT is Families. The turnout was unprecedented leading this writer to believe that more people in this country want to learn about LGBTIQs, want to support them and accept there are different people living in this country and all should be respected and treated with dignity no matter who they are.
"Two Gay men, sitting on the beach in Mt. Lavinia, holding hands were accosted by two policemen"
Misrepresentations, stereotyping, religious intolerance and ignorance are the root causes of Homophobia, Bi phobia and Transphobia with the only medication being, the dissemination of information and awareness creation whereby people who fear, mistrust and hate LGBTIQs realise that they are not just their sexual orientation or gender identity, they are much more than that. We value family in this country enormously, so then why do we turn our backs on our LGBTI or Q family members?
We talk about Family Values and the creation of family units, and vilify the LGBTIQ community as being anti-family. However, we are all part of a family. Family values should not be polluted by hate and bigotry, by ignorance, homophobia and Transphobia.
‘Equal Ground’, an organization working for the LGBTIQ rights takes sensitising and education of the general public and of the LGBTIQ community very seriously. Since 2006, it has conducted sensitising and educational programmes all over Sri Lanka. It has also distributed publications on same sex relationships, human rights, GBV and health amongst many others, to hundreds of people across the country. One in particular has resonated in many parts of the island. It is called “Stepping Out: for parents with children of alternate sexual orientations and gender identities” and is available in all three languages. It is an informative publication to educate parents of LGBTIQ children and give them the resources they need to understand and support their children.
“For a child – a teenager – at least, telling a friend they are gay or lesbian is, in itself, a difficult challenge. So, one must understand how difficult it would be for them to tell his/her parents about it. There are many reasons why a child would be afraid to tell their parents about his/her sexuality. Most important amongst these is the simple fact of their fear: fear of disappointing their parents, fear of being alienated from them, fear of being punished. In addition, most LGBT teenagers harbour a solid belief their parents will not understand what they are going through, and what it means to be gay. Unfortunately, this belief about their parents’ lack of knowledge is, more often than not, correct.” (an excerpt from Stepping Out: for parents with children of alternate sexual orientations and gender identities).
Particularly in this country, being ‘out and proud’ as a LGBTI or Q person is a very difficult task.
Being ostracised by one’s parents for being different is a heavy blow to any child as all children rely on their parents love and guidance throughout their lives. Having said this, we should also realise that just as much as LGBTIQs struggle to ‘come out’ of the proverbial closet, most parents too, suffer similarly in trying to come to terms with their LGBTIQ children and be openly supportive and understanding.
"We talk about Family Values and the creation of family units, and vilify the LGBTIQ community as being anti-family. However, we are all part of a family. Family values should not be polluted by hate and bigotry, by ignorance, homophobia and Transphobia"
They also require counselling, a friendly ear and support to deal with their coming out process – accepting their L, G, B or T child and, being accepted by their friends and family and society as parents of a child or children with alternate sexual orientations or gender identities.
Being accepted as parents of an LGBTIQ child is just as much a trial – society can be so judgemental and cruel – as it is for a child. The key to acceptance, coming out, understanding, loving – is education. Ignorance cannot be your excuse to give your child a hard time about his/her sexuality or gender identity. As parents, you owe it to your child to know the facts and not speak or harass your child out of ignorance. Because once you know your facts, it is easier for both you and your child to face the struggle and keep your family together. In Sri Lanka, although there are some parents who are very understanding and accept their LGBTIQ children unconditionally, most others are very homophobic and transphobic creating a very harmful family environment. The laws in this country and the stigma that is attached to homosexuality and transgender, brought by the British in 1883, needs to be removed if almost 10% of this population is to be free to contribute as accepted citizens of this country. The continuous break up of families too will decrease and all citizens of this country can enjoy the freedom to love who they choose.
“All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.”
– Harvey Milk