Sri Lanka discusses LGBTQ rights ‘over and over’, but clings to the past

Sri Lankan flag
Sri Lankan flag

The government of Sri Lanka is undecided on LGBTQ rights, but the matter is under discussion, government officials say.

EconomyNext reported:

The video, which surfaced on Twitter [on Aug. 2], showed the counsellor posing the question “Would you like your child to be a victim of a homosexual?” to an audience of police officers who all reply no in unison.

The trainer is heard advising the policemen and women against the union of same-sex couples, adding that the members of the audience would not have been born had their parents been gay.

She also claimed that governments in Sri Lanka have been toppled over their stance on homosexuality.

The video came up at the weekly cabinet press briefing [on Aug. 3]. Co-cabinet spokesman and Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella, responding to questions, said the matter of LGBTQ rights have come up “over and over again” and has been taken up for discussion.

“Right now, it’s not legalised – I don’t really know if law enforcement have been taking any action [against LGBTQ people] – but it’s a matter that’s under discussion,” he said.

Sections 365 and 365A of the Penal Code prohibit “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” and “gross indecency between persons”, which rights groups including Human Rights Watch have said is “commonly understood in Sri Lanka to criminalise same-sex relations between consenting adults, including in private spaces.”

Human Rights Watch has documented that other laws, including a vaguely worded Vagrancy Law and a penal code provision banning “cheating by personation,” are also used to target transgender and gender non-conforming people for arrest.

“Police have carried out many such arrests with violence. Among the 61 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people interviewed for a 2016 Human Rights Watch report, 16 had experienced physical or sexual assault, including rape, by the police,” an HRW report published in October 2020 said.

According to Rambukewlla, recognising LGBTQ rights has not been completely ruled out.

“Nor has it been accepted. Right now, with the constitution, it is not. But it’s at a stage of discussion, with some kind of reasoning out,” he said.

“There are a few people and organisations who have made representations, so we’ll be looking seriously at it,” he added.

When articles about Sri Lankan treatment of LGBTQ people reaches Western readers, the news is often bad. That contrasts with its huge northern neighbor, India, which overturned its anti-homosexuality law in 2018. Erasing 76 Crimes has reported about Sri Lanka:

In 2018, a teenage student who self-identified as bisexual and gender-fluid was disciplined and then refused entry to school after displaying a rainbow flag and wearing trousers.

In 2015, a political party leader of political party National Freedom Front called for the arrest of Minister of Foreign Affairs Mangala Samaraweera after he voted in favor of gay rights at the UN.

In 2015, LGBTI activists in Sri Lanka hoped that a new group of reform-minded leaders who took office that year would move the country closer to repeal of its ancient anti-gay law. (Those hopes were in vain.)

 

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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