Celebrating Pride: Breaking Barriers

Jun 27 2024.

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In June, we celebrate and recognize LGBTQ Pride Month in honour of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising. This commemorative month acknowledges the significant impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals have had on history at local, national, and international levels. The Stonewall Riots were ignited by a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay club in Greenwich Village, New York City, on June 28th, 1969. The raid sparked six days of protests as the LGBTQ community, angered by police harassment and social discrimination, took a stand. These events galvanized the gay rights movement, leading to America’s first gay pride parade on the one-year anniversary of the riots.

Pride Month was first recognised in 1994 when a coalition of education-based organizations in the United States designated October as LGBT History Month. Now Pride Month is held in June in many countries across the world. Even though same-sex relationships are considered a criminal act in Sri Lanka, Pride Month is openly celebrated. Coming out as a gay person in Sri Lanka is a deeply personal and courageous journey, often marked by significant challenges due to the country’s conservative cultural and legal landscape. Despite societal progress in some areas, LGBTQ+ individuals frequently face discrimination, stigmatisation, and legal obstacles. This environment makes the act of coming out not just a declaration of one’s true self but also a powerful statement of resilience and hope. The bravery of those who choose to come out in Sri Lanka serves as an inspiration, shining a light on the ongoing fight for acceptance, equality, and the right to love openly.

Shan De Silva a model and jewellery designer speaks candidly when he says he always knew he was different and was attracted to the same gender. “I didn’t know I was gay/queer because I had never really seen anybody like me in society, on TV or on social media. And it was never something we were taught about or even spoken about.” Shan’s parents refused to acknowledge he was gay and had been searching for brides for him. However, Shan says “When I met my partner they were still actively looking to find me a wife. I think they knew I was different but maybe thought it was a phase or if I got married it would change. But once I met my partner I refused their intentions to get me married and they slowly gave up on that idea also. They now obviously know. They now see me living my life not only authentically but also happily. They have also seen me in magazines and social media. It’s not something we talk about but they have just accepted it.”

Offering advice to those who are considering coming out, Shan adds “I understand it’s difficult and not everybody will have the same reaction. I know people who have been rejected by their families and kicked out of their home for coming out but I also know people who have been surprised by their families/parents reactions. From experience regardless of peoples' reactions, there is nothing worse than living a lie in fear. Once you come out you feel such an immense sense of freedom and quite often your family will come around. Most parents love their children and want to see them happy. It’s about educating them to show them we can lead a happy life the same as any heterosexual person. Equal Ground has some great educational programmes for families of LGBTQIA+ people. Support is there."

A fashion and style consultant, Jude Gayantha reveals that he realised he was gay during his pre-teen years. However small as he was he knew that it was not appropriate for him to be attracted to the same sex. A devout Christian, Jude says “ There were consequences to having crushes or what I found to be a natural attraction to men was considered perverse in the Christian atmosphere I was brought up in. I tried to avoid talking about it as long as I could. As I was mustering the courage to speak to them before university and start fresh at art school out of the closet, a ‘concerned’ family friend from my previous church had communicated to my mother that I was telling my friends that I was Gay and had tried to advise my mother on how best to handle me.”

Jude goes on to say when his sexuality was revealed there was confusion and chaos as his mother felt Jude was making the wrong choice. “ As if I could make a choice on my sexuality! It led to many arguments and screaming matches that continued for a year. My mother and I refused to back down on our beliefs; Hers being a conservative Christian fear that my soul is being damned to hell by me ‘choosing’ to be attracted to men, mine being the opposing view of being completely over trying to “pray the gay away”. “Deep in those arguments and fights I realised it was love and worry that motivated her fights with me, but she insisted she loved me and told me I cannot leave the house for anything other than Uni or church. It was a step up from theorising I’d be thrown out of my house at that point. It took many more fights and together finding out that God still loves me. That I can still be a functioning Christian and keep the same faith and hold on to the same values. Now she is the biggest champion of the LGBTQ community” he adds.

For Jude coming out of the closet meant that he did not need to maintain an elaborate web of lies anymore. He was free to be himself in front of the only people whose opinions mattered at the end of the day.  Once he was free of living a lie he realised that he was able to grow as a person.

Aruni (anonymous name used) realised she was gay when she was in her mid-20s. “Unfortunately one of the people who was in my life back then decided to inform my family without my consent. It wasn’t very pleasant at the beginning. But I had a strong support system and I’m forever grateful for my church and chosen family- they made it easy. My parents were not in the country at the time and she was upset and thought that there was something wrong with me. But with time I was able to educate her and my brother who was super supportive made my mom also look at things with a better perspective. Also, my church played a massive role in acceptance.”

Lalani says she was a late bloomer when she decided to come out at the age of 30. She was 13 years old when she realised she was attracted to women but never knew what Lesbian or Gay meant during that time as there was not much information. Lalani decided she had wasted too much hiding the truth from her family so she decided to come out and reveal her sexuality first to her brother who was supportive. However, her younger cousins outed her to her mother. “Mum was a teacher and she wanted to keep the family together. She thought my revelation that I am a lesbian would split the family. However, I remained steadfast and told her that I would one day marry a woman. I was suffering from anxiety and depression while I was in the closet and all that changed when I came out. I told my father also the truth. He is someone who knows about the LGBTQ community from his work, but he freaked out and tried to stop me, he wanted me to quit the job and even come home and thought it was the end of the world, thought the family was going to be scattered. But I stood my ground and now my girlfriend and my dad are buddies. However, I am still not allowed to be a lesbian in front of their friends and extended family.“

Unanimous advice that all our respondents said was that a support system in the form of friends or community members is paramount when you do decide to come out. Also, check your mental health as keeping your sexuality a secret does take its toll on you. Never be judgemental of others as you never know what their life story is. Many opined that the archaic Victorian laws should be repealed so that LGBTQ community members can live and love in peace. 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tina Edward Gunawardhana

Tina Edward Gunawardhana is a journalist specialising in travel, fashion, lifestyle, cuisine and personalities. She is also the Deputy Editor for Hi!! Magazine. An intrepid traveller, she likes to show readers the world through her eyes and experiences. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram - tinajourno [email protected]


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