No one should hide their rainbows
By Nethmi Dissanayake
PRIDE (typically the month of June, and sometimes July), is a time for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, and intersex (LGBTQI+) communities to celebrate their identities and campaign for equality for LGBTQI+ persons.
The roots of PRIDE stem from the Stonewall riots, a series of demonstrations and protests in response to a police raid on a gay bar in New York City – the Stonewall Inn – that saw the Police using violence against members of the LGBTIQ+ community at a time in US history where same-sex relations were still criminalised in many parts of the country. PRIDE now takes place each year to commemorate that very first march of pride that took place in response to Stonewall 1969. In 1978, the most recognised symbol of the LGBTIQ+ community, of PRIDE, made it’s splashing debut: The rainbow flag.
Designed by artist Gilbert Baker, this first rainbow flag included eight colours representing different spheres of life. As reported by Britannica, these eight colours represent sexuality by hot pink, life by red, healing by orange, the sun by yellow, nature by green, art by blue, harmony by indigo, and spirit by violet. The rainbow flag eventually went on to become a flag of six colours; art was replaced by harmony with blue and this was later joined by other flags celebrating each individual identity on the LGBTQI+ spectrum.
The power and history of these flags and other symbols lie in the fact that they allow the LGBTQI+ community to celebrate who they are in ways that society often doesn’t let them.
Sri Lanka has celebrated PRIDE each year in June since 2005, with EQUAL GROUND, Sri Lanka’s leading advocate of political and human rights for LGBTIQ+ individuals in Sri Lanka, hosting Colombo PRIDE each year with a collection of events and activities that celebrate Sri Lanka’s LGBTQI+ community. This year, with the pandemic, Colombo PRIDE is taking place virtually across the months of June and July in partnership with several like-minded partners and organisations. Against the backdrop of the world, and Sri Lanka, celebrating PRIDE this month, Brunch chatted with a few young professionals on how they, as young LGBTQI+ persons in Sri Lanka, view PRIDE.
‘Change begins with better, open conversations and a better education system’
Content creator and writer Aasif Faiz spoke to Brunch about what PRIDE means to him and why a queer person should not be treated as a criminal.
“Pride to me is quite multifaceted, in that not only is it a celebration of our journey thus far in the fight for equality and justice, but also a period of reflection on the battles fought in the past, the struggles we face today, and the journey ahead of us.
“As a queer Sri Lankan, I can tell you that living in a society that deems you or your rights invalid is one of the most gut-wrenching experiences out there. We’ve constantly been marginalised, not just in official instances, but in societal ones as well. Changing that, however, begins with better, open conversations and a better education system.”
He went on to add: “And as varied as we humans are, the Sri Lankan LGBTIQA+ community has people from all walks of life and thus our experiences are all different. I simply cannot tell you ‘this is how it is for us or that is how it is for us’. I for one try my best to recognise my privilege in being able to openly discuss things pertaining to me, but that is not the case for everybody.”
Faiz shared how others can be allies of this community: “One thing I definitely can ask people, however, is to seek information. We live in an age where we have access to many global and local resources dedicated to helping broaden your mind. So if you ask me how you can help, I’d say read up, and share it with others as well.”
‘I believe that you can inspire people by just living your truth’
Talented makeup artist Viran Jose Peter shared how he uses his social media platforms as a safe space for the queer community.
“I mainly use my social media platform to create awareness and other than that, I speak to anyone who reaches out to me for advice or even someone who wants to just talk about it. I mainly share my story and how I created the life I always wanted to live. I believe that you can inspire people by just living your truth.”
Speaking against the backdrop of PRIDE, he added: “The biggest advice I would give a queer person is to be independent. It’s difficult to look for acceptance, especially in a country like this. Your main purpose should be to be true to who you really are. There is a lot of discrimination a queer person could face at home, in public, and also at a workplace. Sadly, it is almost impossible to find a place where discrimination doesn’t exist. But what you can do is take yourself away from such negativity.
“As queer people, we always have the opportunity to create our chosen family; people who love us no matter what. People who we meet when we start living as our true selves. By doing that, we can create our own safe world. In my case, my family has supported me throughout everything and I consider myself to be really fortunate.”
‘Everyone should be treated equally and live without the fear of being discriminated’
LGBTQI+ rights activist Thanu Jayawardene shared what PRIDE means to him and how the younger generation tends to react to so-called “taboo” topics.
“PRIDE to me means that I am capable of accepting and loving myself for who I am and who I choose to love. In my perspective, equal rights means everyone should be treated equally and live without the fear of being discriminated against for their religious beliefs, their ethnicity, their gender identity, and their sexual orientation.
“I honestly believe that future generations would find it easier to come out because our generation seems to be more open and accepting regarding topics of sexual orientation and gender identity. Adding on to this one of my favourite mantras that helps me get through tough times is from the song I am (feat. Flo Milli) and it is ‘I am healthy, I am wealthy, I am rich , I am protected, well respected, I am queen, I am dream and I do what I wanna do’. This verse is my mantra because it is what I hope my future will be, and having a mantra would be a bit of help for you to overcome a bad situation you are in,” Thanu added.
Thanu also spoke to us about how he uses his platform to help young people who are closeted or “outed”, which is where LGBTQI+ people’s sexual identiites are (often malcioulsy) exposed to their families, friends, or the world around them without their consent. Thanu said that he consciously takes actions to create awareness and encourage acceptance, saying: “I post stories regarding topics such as LGBTQ+ rights, equal rights. I also openly talk about issues regarding acceptance, equal rights, and gender identities, and I use this platform to get a positive message across, hoping I would be able to help or encourage at least one person”
The fact that the fight for both LGBTQ+ rights and racial equality has been going on for centuries and may continue for centuries more, feels overwhelming. On the other hand, how can we change the system when only half of the people are welcomed to participate in the conversation? We won’t be able to fix everything at once, but there are lessons that we have learned from the past that can help us in moving forward.
For resources and information on the LGBTQI+ community and their issues, EQUAL GROUND, Sri Lanka’s leading advocate of political and human rights for LGBTIQ+ individuals in Sri Lanka, has a very valuable collection of resources in English, Sinhala, and Tamil on their website at https://www.equal-ground.org/resources