The act of resistance gave rise to Pride. However, repression continues to be a reality wherever Pride is held. Even in places where legal equality has been accomplished and visibility is celebrated, heterosexuality is still regarded as the norm, and constrictive gender binaries still exist. Pride serves as a reminder to the general public and the LGBTQ+ communities themselves that queer people exist and will not be silenced.
Historically, Pride events have their roots in the Stonewall Riots, a series of spontaneous demonstrations that took place in New York City in June 1969. These protests were a turning point in the LGBTQ+ rights movement and are widely considered as the catalyst for the modern Pride movement.
The rainbow flag has become an iconic symbol of LGBTQ+ pride and is prominently displayed during Pride events. Designed by Gilbert Baker in 1978, the flag represents the diversity and unity within the LGBTQ+ community with each color symbolizing a different aspect of identity.
Pride is more than just a celebration; it is also a platform for raising awareness about LGBTQ+ rights, advocating for equality and addressing issues such as discrimination, homophobia and transphobia. Pride events often feature speakers, workshops and educational initiatives to promote understanding and inclusivity. There is a clear advancement in the global arena, where many countries have decriminalized consensual same-sex relationships, moving away from laws that once criminalized homosexuality. LGBTQ+ individuals have gained increased visibility in media, politics and other fields, contributing to greater acceptance and understanding.
In contrary, some societies, influenced by cultural or religious beliefs, still hold negative attitudes towards LGBTQ+ individuals, leading to social stigmatization and exclusion.
The freedom of voice that now prevails in Jaffna and Colombo has come about because of the effort that LGBTQ+ community has put in. Recently the community exhibited its pride on the roads of Colombo, led by EQUAL GROUND, an NGO that works to promote and protect the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. The organization focuses on advocacy, capacity building, community support and raising awareness about LGBTQ+ issues and addresses discrimination, fights for legal reform and creates safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community.
The government has shown a commitment to fostering a more inclusive society. There have been positive developments in legislation aimed at protecting the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals. The recognition of transgender rights in official documents is also a significant milestone.
However, challenges persist. Discrimination, stigma and social prejudice against the LGBTQ+ community remain prevalent in certain segments of the society. Activists and advocates continue to work to combat these issues and create a safer and more accepting environment for all.
The journey towards acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community has been complex. Historically, same-sex relations were criminalized under Section 365 of the Penal Code, which was inherited from British colonial rule. However, in recent years, there has been a growing movement for LGBTQ+ rights and visibility in the country.
EQUAL GROUND has been a driving force behind the annual Colombo Pride celebrations since 2005. Colombo Pride serves as the overarching theme for a series of events held throughout the month of June, a time when the global LGBTQ+ community unites in celebration. The Colombo Pride Walk 2023 marked a significant milestone as it was the first ever walk organized by EQUAL GROUND, and it was a groundbreaking event for Colombo, where no such Pride parades had taken place before.
Same-sex sexual activity is still criminalized under the law, specifically under Section 365A of the Penal Code. While prosecutions are rare, the law contributes to the social stigma and discrimination faced by the LGBTQ+ community.
Premanath C. Dolawatte, a legislator and attorney, introduced a Private Member’s Bill in parliament in 2022 with the goal of amending Sections 365 and 365A of the Penal Code, which outlaw same-sex relationships between consenting adults and “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” and “gross indecency,” which is interpreted incorrectly to harass and discriminate against LGBTIQ people. The first infraction, which is refers to sexual activity between people of the same sex, has a sentence of 10 years while the second carries a sentence of two years in jail. The proposed amendment to Section 365 would make bestiality the only prohibited behavior, and Section 365A would be completely repealed. It declares that the legislature does not intend to punish someone only for their sexual orientation.
Globally, there has been a shift towards acceptance and recognition of the LGBTQ+ community. Numerous countries have implemented legislation to protect LGBTQ+ rights such as legalizing same-sex marriage, banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and allowing gender recognition for transgender individuals.
The LGBTQ+ rights movement has gained significant momentum worldwide with greater visibility, public support and representation. Pride parades and LGBTQ+ events are celebrated in many countries, serving as platforms for advocacy and solidarity. International organizations and initiatives are working towards advancing LGBTQ+ rights and promoting inclusivity on a global scale.
While progress has been made, there are still areas where acceptance and equality are lacking. Discrimination, prejudice and violence against the LGBTQ+ community persist in some regions. Continued efforts are needed to foster understanding, challenge stereotypes and promote acceptance at all levels of society.
Pride Month 2023 serves as a powerful reminder of the progress made by the LGBTQ+ community and its allies in the ongoing fight for equality, acceptance and human rights. The annual celebration not only commemorates the historical milestones achieved but also amplifies the voices of those still advocating for change. But the journey towards true equality is far from over. By continuing to support and uplift the voices of marginalized individuals, challenging discriminatory practices and fostering inclusive communities, we can create a world where love, acceptance and respect are universal values. Pride Month 2023 stands as a beacon of hope and a call to action, urging us to work together to build a future that celebrates and embraces the diversity of the human experience.
Photographs by Ama Koralage