Into the Unknown Gender Certificate in Sri Lanka

Into the Unknown Gender Certificate in Sri Lanka

29 September 2018 08:08 am

Our folks used to say truth, like oil, always reaches the surface.

Truth, as challenging as it gets in absorbing, offers what lies beneath the veil of fantasy we covered ourselves with. When truth tastes sugar we welcome in open arms, and when it is bitter, the better we feel the more we tagalong to ignorance. It is human nature to distract ourselves from the reality and believe in something vaguely scientific, illogical and fantastic. Our beliefs might have been tempted with our cultural values, religious teachings, or even self-imagination. Neither can blame nor judge that believing in something you value most is dimwitted.

Nevertheless, if your belief attracts negativity, or a form of it affects peace of the others living in the society, you become yourself a villain in the image of humanity. When the world moves forward, discoveries found everyday ease people in understanding what could not be understood before. Truth is a standalone warrior, takes side of only who believes in it. Science is a medium, opens doors to understanding the truth.

People with diverse Sexual Orientations, Gender Identities and sometimes Biological Sex Characteristics standing at a struggle in plugging into the society for acceptance throughout history is no exclusive news to the eyes of our readers. Their voice opened up a hot portal, in countries which priority to human rights and equality is most given in particular, in both the Social Media and the Physical Environment over the preceding decade. However, evidences throughout history that reflect their struggle, the discrimination settled upon them, and the unspoken cultural elements in different corners of the world emphasizing the beauty of their diversity are vast. Today might not be our day to finger-cross for decriminalization of Homosexuality in Sri Lanka like India did very recently, but it definitely is a day to clutter back a not-so-long-ago Government decision in which the Sri Lankan Transgender Communities are privileged to legally change their Gender.

Yes! You have read it correct. Amongst the Transgender Umbrella, those who identify themselves to be the opposite Gender to what they have been assigned at birth can walk in a formal process to legally change their Gender, if they want to. And this is Sri Lanka we are talking about. People who identify themselves to be Transsexual, in which one would expect to undergo medical and psychiatric treatments in changing their Gender, can access Government clinic of a Consultant Psychiatrist and get issued with a ‘Gender Certificate’, the key component to the process.

What is Transgenderism?


Transgenderism is not Homosexuality. There is no link between Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. Sexual Orientation parallels with who you love, care for and attracted to; Gender Identity is a matter of defining your living entity in keeping with or without personal, cultural or social differences. It is a state when the Gender identified by oneself does not correspond to the assigned Sex at birth. The law in Sri Lanka had already played their part of villainy by restraining to love who you love. Although in terms of defining what your living entity is, they have become somewhat sensitive to the issue.

Transgenderism is an Umbrella. There can be many Gender Identities, inclusive of even very complexed ones, starring under the Transgender Umbrella beyond Gender Binarism. The Government decision to issue the Gender Certificate under a licensed Consultant Psychiatrist might have been a lesser gesture to these diverse Gender Identities, for it only stands for converting a man into a woman, or the vice versa, again confined into the Gender Binarism. However, the decision, albeit not beyond the Gender norms, turned out to be a revolutionary step of strengthening Human Rights for the Transgender Communities in Sri Lanka.

The doctor would examine the client in identifying their physical and psychological capacity for a Gender change and prescribes the necessities need to be taken. Adherent to the hormonal treatments, clients with accurate follow-up of the transition process will be issued with a Gender Certificate by the doctor. The piece of paper is simple. It is a doctor’s recommendation with the Government logo on the top, to approve that their client is under transitioning process and hence the approval to change the other legal documents combined.

The Certificate allows initial access to change the Gender of the person, in their personal documents, such as the Birth Certificate and the National Identity Card, without undergoing any Gender Confirming Surgery. It will be most beneficial to those who cannot afford to spend a high amount of money for the surgeries in matching their Gender Expression to the legal citizenship.

Currently, Government clinics for the transitioning process are known to be located in the General Hospital of Colombo, consulted by Dr. Kapila Ranasinghe, and the Teaching Hospital of Kandy, by Dr. Pabasari Ginige. It is only a matter of time these clinics shall be made available islandwide.

The Gender Certificate

In 2015 the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) presented a circular to the Ministry of Health in regard to enabling Transgender Communities to change their Sex in their personal documents, such as the Birth Certificate and the National Identity Card. The HRCSL continued discussions with the Ministry of Health, the Department of Registrar General and Civil Society, in regard to the Gender Certificate formulated by the HRCSL to be issued by the hand of a licensed Consultant Psychiatrist in enabling the Transgender Communities to legally change their Gender. Following, the circular No. 01-34/2016, dated 16.06.2016, was issued by the Ministry of Health, at the hand of the former Director General of Health Services. The Registrar-General issued circular No. 06/2016, dated 28.07.2016, and set onto operation on November 2016, instructing all registrars islandwide to change the Sex and Name in the Birth Certificate, based on the Gender Certificate.

Where are we?

The decision was set into function in November 2016, as to why it was never given a publicity this far we do not know. The case was raised many times, as per relentless commitments of the LGBITQ and Transgender Activists of Sri Lanka, but when a young Transgender activist made a complaint to the HRCSL demanding her right to be a woman, the issue reached the attention of the authorities. It was neither conversant in the Newspaper, nor on other Mass Media. The act can be defined as a landmark in the Sri Lankan LGBITQ history of 24 years, having many commitments buried upon it by the Sri Lankan LGBTIQ activists. Prior to the colonial period, Sri Lanka, similar to India, was a country diversity of people’s sexuality was accepted, thus with many cultural elements LGBTIQ representation was gallantly visible. But what is this ‘against the culture’ theory many Social Media and people with twisted political agendas ripping over and over again? The ‘culture’ we today believe in is a culture imprinted upon us by the British centuries ago, a culture even the British declined more than five decades ago.

Were you ever aware that such process is available under the jurisdiction of Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka? This might be the first time to publish such information on a news website read by most readers around the country. And as we said as to why the Gender Certificate was never discussed in Mass Media before, we do not know. The decision is nearly two years old. Some define the limited publicity to it to be a safety precaution, in which the decision was kept low profile in case if a Governmental change or a strong political influence reverses the process. Some define the concealment to be a result of internal stigma, and some say that people are too obsessed with gossip and the cut-open of the next model’s dress, that they are too ignorant to understand such sensitive issues.

But the question we raise is, do not they have a right to know information? What about the Transgender Communities who do not know such process exists? Do Trans-women and Trans-men from rural areas know that now they can legally change their Gender and all they have to do is visiting the clinic for startup? Have you ever thought for a fraction of second what are the life constrains these communities face on a daily basis? What about those who commit suicide unable to bear the social pressure, or those who are assassinated as a consequence of Transphobia? The tragedy at Dambulla only passed a year, do people even remember? Information should be made available. That is how we learn the unknown. Ignorance creates fear, and fear creates hate. Unbeknownst to the open eye, Transgender Communities exist everywhere. The person who is sitting next to you at the bus, or walking beside you on the road might or might not be a Transgender person. It is not an ‘American thing’, not even a ‘NGO thing’. Transgenderism is a very Asian, very Sri Lankan thing. Transgenderism is a very beautiful product of mother nature; a radiant phenomenon of diversity. We are too juvenile to recognize them as a community, or maybe we are too disgusting as a whole nation to see them as humans.

- Isuru Parakrama