The new debate in Sri Lankan media on homosexuality
by Kiyanna Staff
January 30, 2017
(Cartoonist Gihan de Chickera portrays the brain on the left as homosexual and the brain on the right as homophobic in the above displayed cartoon.)
Sri Lanka government’s recent moves to amend laws led to a dialogue on homosexuality in the society.
The way a leading Sinhala newspaper broke that news caused controversy. Mawbima newspaper said in its lead news that the government was trying to legalize homosexuality by way of amending the 150 years old vagrants ordinance.
But the truth is that the vagrants ordinance cannot be used for that although it is used to penalize the homosexuals, transgender persons and sex workers etc. The journalists appeared either ignorant or careless about the legal aspects.
Legal expert Hemantha Warnakulasuriya pointed out that Sri Lanka had no law to act against sex workers. The brothels ordinance can be used only to take legal action against the brothel keepers but not the sex workers.
Vagrants ordinance is widely used to sue the prostitutes and the LGBTIQ community. One of the terrible errors is producing condoms possessed by the suspects as evidence to prove vagrancy. This affects all efforts of the Ministry of Health to promote condoms as a safety measure against spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and also for the prevention of unwanted pregnancies.
However, homosexuality is still a punishable offence in Sri Lanka under article 365 A of the Sri Lanka Penal Code . Article 365 criminalizes “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” and provides for a penalty of up to ten years in prison “public and private acts of gross indecency” between two people may be punished by a fine or up to two years imprisonment. Article 365A was amended in 1995 to specifically criminalize sexual activity between women.
While the main stream media, especially Sinhala language print media, reported the so-called ‘government’s moves to legalize the homosexuality’ with tongue in cheek, English language media as well as social media among urban elite showed much restraint. However, it was not so among the light readers and the fun-seekers who poured in so much hatred against sexual minorities.
The development was remarkable because it was a moment in the recent times a lot of Sinhala language writers, bloggers and activists came forward for the rights of the LGBTIQ community.
We posted in Kiyanna Sinhala a short comment of veteran writer Kathyana Amarasinghe. She pointed out that sexual orientation is something a person inherits by birth which cannot be reversed.
But social media activists Rangana Prasad and Anuhas Wichithra protested it stating it was a backward opinion. They argued Kathyana’s idea had connotations that it could be corrected if possible. They argued that homosexuality was not abnormality which must be pardoned. However, Rangana Prasad agreed that the dialogue was victory from the side of the LGBT community.
This example shows the level the dialogue was on. But still the local language main stream media were lagging far behind.
Following are some of the opinions expressed by leading social media activists of Sri lanka in Sinhala language.
History often forgets the nature of humans when drafting public policy and bringing laws on social behaviour. Same thing happens in the debate regarding the homosexuals. We are still not ready to study how societies have achieved development socio-economically as well as ethically when free people are allowed to live freely. We ignore that the societies which tried to make laws for others have gone to bankruptcy economically and decayed ethically. – Aruni Shapiro, blogger
A society which tramples the rights of LGBT communities is still in the medieval era.