Trigger Warning: This post contains material about LGBTIQ+ issues and mental health. Anyone reading this who feels upset or distressed: call 1333/0717639898 or 0112696666 to talk. These are helplines that are operating in Sri Lanka.
I’ve met you briefly while reading your uncle’s book ‘ Sainted Blue, Painted Black’ a few years ago; which describes the day you first saw this world with all it’s beauty and ugliness. Your uncle says you were ‘screaming blue murder’ as you made your way into the world and it’s almost as if he knew, how strong and unafraid you would be.
Your experience at the Colombo International School has stirred a great deal of discussion and debate around rights, identity, and freedom. I am not here to add my two cents, but I feel the need to put down what’s in my heart. LGBTIQ+ rights in Sri Lanka is something that we need to look at deeply, energetically and with empathy just like we must address the rights and needs of people with disabilities, persons living with HIV/AIDS, and of those who are simply ‘ different and diverse’. I believe that rights are for everyone, no matter what sexual orientation or gender identity you identify with and your story really brings out how prejudice and discrimination trickles down from the very people who are responsible for the well-being and growth of other people. Individuals and organizations who have it in their job description and/or mandate to be inclusive, multi-culturally sensitive and diversity friendly continue to actively discriminate others based on sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, ability etc. This does not happen only in the education sector, but in healthcare services, workplaces, state organizations, law enforcement agencies and in most other public spaces. I often notice that we are quick to cast blame on ‘ society’ for a great deal of things including stigma and inequality. Who is society? What is society made up of? Who creates ideas that exist in society?. I will leave you, the reader to ponder a moment on these questions.
As much as Sri Lanka is rich in culture, diversity and also has a rich sexual history; archaic laws, toxic heteronormativity and unchallenged patriarchy creates hatred and feelings of disgust towards those who are divergent. I believe, as a person who works in the field of mental health in Sri Lanka that discrimination and prejudice experienced by those who are outside the normative framework and the lack of space for those outside the gender binary leads to a great deal of psychological distress and hinders the individual’s ability to feel well and safe. This in turn pushes back an important Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) which is health and well-being for all. People are being left behind. Rights that are not respected, freedom that is restricted because of a different sexual orientation and/or gender identity, and identities that are suppressed often does lead to mental health and psychosocial problems. How do these SDG’s then apply to our current social context?
As a LGBTIQ+ affirmative mental health professional and as an ally of the LGBTIQ+ community, I stand with you, Saakya. You are also an inspiration for others who identify with varied sexual orientations and gender identity. It is important to state here that our rhetoric and discourse must not only be about sexuality and gender, but about identity. We must talk about the assertion of who we are as human beings. We must rethink and reimagine our heterosexual privilege and re-examine the gender binary again and again.
So, Saakya, keep screaming blue murder. I’ll join you in the fight.
With love and pride,