LGBT rights in Sri Lanka

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LGBT rights in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Same-sex sexual activity legal? Not specifically illegal, but "gross indecency" law may apply
Gender identity/expression -
Recognition of
No recognition of same-sex couples
Adoption -
Discrimination protections None

LGBT people living in Sri Lanka may face different legal and social challenges then non-LGBT living in Sri Lanka. Homosexuality may be technically illegal under a broad provision dealing with, "gross indecency", and no national legislation exists to protect LGBT people from harassment or discrimination. Yet, since the 1990s there has been a growing movement to advance the rights of LGBT Sri Lankans.

Criminal law

Article 365A prohibits anyone, irrespective of gender, engaging in "gross indecency", which is not explicitly defined. Although stiffer sanctions apply if one person is under the age of 16 or if any sort of injury was caused as a result [4]. While punishment involves heavy fines and long prison sentences, there are no recorded cases of the law being directly used against non-commercial, private, adult and consensual sexual conduct. Instead, it would appear that the law may be used as a pretext for certain members of law enforcement to harass, assault, blackmail and even rape LGBT people [5].

Civil Rights

As of 2010 no national or local laws exist, or has been introduced, to protect LGBT Sri Lankans from discrimination and or harassment. While the National Constitution does contain a broad prohibition against discrimination, the courts have not applied it sexual orientation or gender identity. No openly LGBT person has sought or won elected office.

However, the Supreme Court recently affirmed in an opinion that the 2008 Civil and Political Rights Act, based on the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was in line with the principles of the Covenant and the opinions of its Human Rights Council. Sri Lanka is a signatory to and has ratified both Protocols 1 and 2 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights. This could have future appplication for LGBT rights because such documents have been found to void many forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

It maybe also important to note that following the principle of Parliamentary Supremacy, the numerous Conventions and Acts signed and passed by the Parliament of Sri Lanka since the 19th Century penal code may have already annulled its application and validity in respect of the anti-sodomy and gross indecency laws. These same arguments were used by the High Court of New Delhi in a 2009 judgment that effectively invalidated the 19th century sodomy and gross indecency laws of the British enacted penal code, which is shared by both India and Sri Lanka.


In the 1990s, the Sri Lanka LGBT community began to create the first LGBT rights organization, namely, "Companions on a Journey". Newer organizations such as "Womens Support Group" and "Equal Ground" would arise to campaign for the human rights of LGBT people and well as other projects such as AIDS-HIV education and yearly pride festivals [6]. The growing visibility and organization of the LGBT community has resulted in both prejudice as well as some gradual changes.

In 2001, a gay right activist named Sherman de Rose was ordered to pay the "Island" newspaper legal fees for his rejected complaint against the publication to the Sri Lankan Press Council [7]. The newspaper had printed a letter to the editor, which advocated submitting lesbians to convicted rapists in an effort to 'cure' them [8]. In rejecting Rose's complaint against the newspaper, the Council stated that lesbianism is, "an act of sadism" itself, that homosexuality is an immoral and abnormal crime and that, as a man, Rose had no grounds to complain [9]. While, homophobic the Press Council is not a judicial body and the lawsuit helped raised public awareness of LGBT rights.

Organized opposition to LGBT rights tends to come from socially conservative Muslims, Hindus and evangelical Christians who view homosexuality and cross-dressing as sinful acts. Despite these religious beliefs, parades and public demonstrations for LGBT rights have become more common and generally tolerated [10].

During the 2010 Presidential election, the main rival opposition candidate, General (Rtd.) Sarath Fonseka, did pledge to abolish sexual orientation based discrimination as part of his overall policy for minorities.

The incumbent regime of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has largely avoided the issue of LGBT rights. The government did refuse to sign onto a proposed United Nations document that called for nations to respect LGBT rights.

Sri Lankan major and minor political parties still tend to avoid LGBT rights issues and instead focus on matter relating to the economy, the recently concluded civil war or the rights of ethnic minorities.

Family and marriage

Sri Lanka law does not recognize same-sex marriages or any similar civil union. It is not known if LGBT people or a same-sex couple can legally adopt or have custody of children, but there have been scattered reports of same-sex couples being blessed in Buddhist marriage ceremonies.

Their remains significant social pressure within Sri Lanka families to find a suitable partner of the opposite sex, marry and start a family. With Muslim and evangelical Christian values tending to view homosexuality and cross-dressing as sinful acts. LGBT people who have come out to their family, often report being verbally or physically harassed [11]

Transgender issues

While there are some traditional transgender practices associated with certain rituals, transgender people are victims of harassment and discrimination [12]. The term "ponnaya" is a negative word often used against transgender people or effeminate men [13]. Oftentimes they are forced to become prostitutes or find work as “makeup experts” or to work in bridal or fashion stores [14].

However, Sri Lanka also has famed transgender and drag individuals. Indu Dharmasena is one of the island's most respected and esteemed dramatists and theatre producers and directors. He was an open lesbian when he was a woman and recently had a sex change to become a man. He remains one of the most sought after directors and producers from school plays to national theatre. Koluu is another famous and respected drag artiste cum celebrity chef. He runs a chain of restaurants and bars in the island adorned with pictures of him in drag and nude men.

Media & popular entertainment

  • Flying with one Wing (2002) - Asoka Handagama wrote and directed this film about a Sri Lankan woman who passes for a man in the society and in her personal relationships [15].


While AIDS–HIV is not only a problem for LGBT people, it has helped to open up a more public debate about gender roles and human sexuality [16].

The high levels of poverty, combined with the stigma associated with the disease and conservative cultural mores has made it difficult to implement comprehensive prevention programs and to offer life saving treatment to those people already infected [17].

In the late 1980s – 1990s, efforts to draft a national AIDS-HIV policy failed to pass and the subsequent political instability contributed to a tendenacy of the government to ignore the pandemic.[1] Yet, this has begun to change.

Today, a National AIDS Council has been established, the government formally recognize the United Nations World AIDS Day, more public education about the disease is available and efforts are being made to combat the prejudice people living with AIDS-HIV face in the workplace.[2][3]

See also


  1. [1]
  2. [2]
  3. [3]

External links


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