At an AIDS conference in Colombo in 2007, the Sri Lankan health minister, Nimal Siripala de Silva said, I don’t want people to think I brought all of these people here to promote lesbianism and
homosexuality-¦ People in South-East Asia practice good sexual behaviour with single partners-¦ When the Western world was living in jungles, we were leading a civilised life.

Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, executive director of Sri Lanka’s leading LGBT activist group EQUAL GROUND, believes the distinction between the West and Sri Lankan society is a key stumbling block to greater acceptance of homosexuality in her country.

Broader society feels homosexuality is a Western import and that it goes against the predominant cultures and religions in Sri Lanka, she said. Ironic really since Buddhism is the main religion here. Nowhere in Buddhism does it make reference to homosexuality being bad other than sexual conduct for monks.

Homosexuality is illegal under the Penal Code enacted by the British in 1883. In 1995 the Government held a review of the law, but rather than repealing the legislation it made amendments that now encompass women as well as men. The word -˜persons’ replaced the word -˜males’ in Article 365A.

Rosanna believes the Government hasn’t repealed the law because of a perception in Sri Lankan society.

There is a heavy lobby from the Christian, Muslim and Buddhist clergy to hang on to these Victorian laws. Most politicians feel it would go against our culture. They feel if they repeal the code it will lead to gay marriages and all kinds of -˜debauchery’, she said.

Several years ago, the health minister made a statement at a Human Rights conference that this law will be never repealed because homosexuality is unnatural.

Although the law itself is rarely prosecuted, Article 365A has implications for people’s lives.

The police feel they can use this law to arbitrarily harass and arrest people, mostly to extort money,
Rosanna said. Also in the north and the east there is an unwritten law that executes LGBTIQ persons.
These -˜laws’ are enacted by Tamil and Muslim extremists who operate in these areas.

EQUAL GROUND was formed in 2004 and is pushing for the decriminalisation of homosexuality and to create an environment of acceptance and equality.

Rosanna believes the solution lies with making gay and lesbian issues mainstream.

We hold workshops on sexuality and human rights, stage events like drag shows that are attended by everyone, organise the annual Pride celebrations, join civil demonstrations and send petitions.
In four years Rosanna has seen a shift in attitudes.

A few years back the Press Council ruled that lesbianism was salacious and sadistic. But now the Press Complaints Commission has a clause that protects the rights of persons discriminated against by the media due to their sexual orientation.

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