ECONOMYNEXT – Equal Ground, a non-profit promoting sexual minority rights in Sri Lanka, and the Canada High Commission in Colombo have jointly organised a queer film festival to highlight issues faced by the LGBTQI community in the island.
The Abhimani Queer Film Festival 2022 will commence on Friday (25) with an online screening of popular Indo-Canadian film director and screenwriter Deepa Mehta’s adaptation of Funny Boy, the acclaimed debut novel of Sri Lankan-Canadian writer Shyam Selvadurai.
Established in 2006, Abhimani is the oldest International Queer Film Festival in South Asia, and is the only film festival in Sri Lanka that focuses on stories related to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI) community. The festival aims to entertain and educate the wider public on the community and the issues it faces, according to Equal Ground.
Selvadurai’s Funny Boy, which won the Canada First Novel Award and the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Fiction, is the coming-of-age story of Arjie Chelvaratnam, a queer, Tamil boy from Colombo who grapples with his sexual orientation, against the backdrop of racial tension.
The film adaptation stars Sri Lankan actors Brandon Ingram, Nimmi Harasgama, Rehan Mudannayake, Shivantha Wijesinha along with Indian stars Ali Kazmi, Agam Darshi and Seema Biswas. Though the movie has been well received critically, some commentators took issue with its casting choices for not being representative of the Tamil community. The movie has also been controversial for its allegedly problematic use of the Tamil language by non-Tamil actors.
Sexual literacy among Sri Lankans is low. A video surfaced in August 2021 of a police training in Kandy, where a counsellor was heard making homophobic remarks to a packed audience of junior policemen and women. The offending video, which was shared on social media on August 02, showed the woman posing the question “Would you like your child to be a victim of a homosexual?” to which the audience replied “no” in unison.
Sri Lanka has not recognised LGBTQI rights legally, and the island nation’s four-decades-plus-old constitution only mentions men and women.
Sri Lankan Penal Code criminalises voluntary “carnal intercourse against the order of nature,” which is used to discriminate against LGBTQI individuals.
These laws are a by-product of the British legal system. While politicians like the late Mangala Samaraweera attempted to destigmatise queerness, political opponents have actively undermined such efforts.
Despite outrage from the international community, conversion therapy is still rampant in Sri Lanka, and most government forms only carry the male and female options for gender.
No government in power has legitimately accepted LGBTQI rights, as such move would be seen as hurting religious sentiments.
While gay and transgender characters appear in Sri Lankan media, they are usually used for comedic effects or promote negative stereotypes.
However, in news welcomed by the LGBTQI community, the Court of Appeal on December 08 last year granted leave to proceed for a writ petition filed against the police over the aforesaid police training video.