1 step forward, 3 steps back: Asian LGBTQ+ rights still at a crossroad

Hansana Kolonnage

20, Sri Lankan student, he/him

“They should realise that we are not a harm to society or their children just because we live how we choose to”

Q: When did you first come to terms with your sexuality now? 

I first realised my sexuality when I was 7, however it didn’t occur to me as something weird or strange.

Yet I did not know any terminology or identifying term accompanying my sexuality until I was 12. I have been at peace and accepted my sexuality since I was 14.

I understood what I felt and told myself it wasn’t wrong or ‘less-than’ to be gay. 

Q: How has your coming out experience affected your personal relationships or professional life? 

Coming out was tricky, I needed to choose my words appropriately and hype myself up to get the words out of my trembling lips the first few times. This was a result of the uncertainty and judgment I expected once I came out.

My personal life has significantly improved ever since I came out to the people I love because I found out there is so much more love and acceptance than I had anticipated. Furthermore I was finally able to live and act the way I felt inside on the outside without fears of people guessing. 

My professional life is trickier as the public is still on the close minded, conservative end. I believe in the ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy in my professional life 

Q: How do you navigate through common stereotypes of your sexuality? 

Talks like a ‘girl’, always wears shorts, “of course you love Barbies and Nicki Minaj “, has mostly female friends and that I can’t fight (I’ve had my fair share of victorious physical fights) are just some of the common ones.

However, I believe in losing the battle and winning the war, so there were situations where I decided to be ‘fearlessly me’ and fight for my place and others where I kept it down low for my safety and refrain from causing a spectacle. 

Q: Have you experienced any form of discrimination while you’re back in Sri Lanka? 

I have faced discrimination in both my closeted and out life in Sri Lanka as people struggle to grasp what they don’t identify as “normal”.

Teachers at school have joined the bullies instead of defending me, kids not wanting to work with me because they think I will make a move on them.

Yet a positive take away from such experiences is that it has helped me tremendously in figuring out what makes people react this way and how they see me.

It also made me so much stronger and empathize with other people of this community.

I now know how to defend myself against the discrimination and point out the faults in their actions.

I am grateful that Monash was the first place where I was never made to feel uncomfortable for my sexual orientation. 

Q: There have been some measures in place in Sri Lanka that aim to protect LGBTQ+ communities. However, how effective has it been in doing so? What more do you think can be done? 

While government punishment was rarely enforced, we were never comprehensively made aware of the legal actions because these measures are rarely advertised to the LGBTQ+ community. Thus, many refrain from accessing these due to fear from possible physical abuse in the form of bullying and name calling.

For me, I fear that my friends and family will abandon me. 

I personally believe that educating the future generation of Sri Lankans about LGBTQ+ issues by showing them a different perspective from the current assumptions of the status of LGBTQ+ people being ‘less’ than child predators, or shaming people who do not behave in societal perceptions of male and female behaviours (i.e perceived femininity in gay men). 

I want their mind sets to change and understand that people are born this way without a choice to change.

They should realise that we are not a harm to society or their children just because we live how we choose to.

Such tolerance would go a long way in establishing social safety to sexual minorities.

Next story, Jessica*, Cambodian student, he/she/they

“I don’t know how many times I’ve seen hearts break because of acceptance-but-not-really reaction from parents in Cambodia”

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