LGBTIQ+ community and activists gather against President’s ‘butterflies’ statement.
Members of the LGBTIQ+ community and activists on the 7th of November convened a press briefing to condemn and announce their stance with regard to the statement made by President Maithripala Sirisena on the 5th of November using the term ‘butterfly’ referring to Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe.
Senior lecturer, University of Colombo Waradas Thiyagaraja, solicitor and director of Frangipani movie Visakesa Chandrasekaran, attorney and journalist Radika Gunaratne and community activist Ephraim Shadrach joined the press briefing to express their opinions regarding the President’s statement which exhibited President Maithripala Sirisena’s homophobia.
President must apologize!
Waradas Thiyagaraja speaking at the press briefing stated that President Maithripala Sirisena must apologize to the LGBTIQ+ community. He also stressed that the President must be held accountable if any member of the LGBTIQ+ community has to face discrimination following his comment.
“Homosexual children of poor families living in rural areas may face severe consequences due to this statement. This comment may have been made targeting the elite, but it is the low-class people who will experience its impacts. When the President of the country condemns this community, it directly leads to stigma in families, discrimination, employment terminations, extortion and police harassments. Also we view it as a statement made with the aim of justifying such harassments,” Waradas said.
“This is not an issue that should be taken lightly. The President intentionally used the term ‘butterfly life’ to insult the LGBTIQ+ community. Although it was a reason for President Sirisena and the audience to laugh, it was a huge blow against the entire Sri Lankan LGBTIQ+ community,” he added.
Sirisena of Sri Lanka and Museveni of Uganda
“This is not the first time the President insulted the LGBTIQ+ community. Not only did he remove a recommendation on the rights of the LGBTIQ community included in the National Action Plan of Human Rights, but also announced what he did with pride. There are only a handful of such leaders in the world. One of them is our President, and the other one is Museveni of Uganda,” he added.
“This is not an isolated incident. We view this as a political statement made by a homophobic government. Therefore, we cannot accept this as a mere statement against a certain political party. Its influence is significant. These types of statements do not suit for the head of the state.”
“The President, therefore, must accept the responsibility for future harassments against the LGBTIQ+ community,” Waradas noted.
President should resign!
“We know that the country is going towards a constitutional crisis. The parliament is prorogued. The Prime Minister was removed, and Mahinda Rajapaksa was appointed as the new Prime Minister. To what direction did Mahinda Rajapaksa turn the political situation of Sri Lanka, a non-interrupted democratic state, through the 18th Amendment? President Sirisena has reversed the country even without a constitutional amendment. This is a serious issue. President Sirisena has torn the Yahapalana agenda apart. The President, through giving political power to the person against whom the Yahapalana agenda was formed, has created a situation that forces him to resign.” Waradas noted. He also said that the LGBTIQ+ community’s right to engage in politics must be respected.
President’s language is similar to that of Terrorism Prevention Act!
Community activist Ephraim Shadrach stated:
“My biggest concern is that the Prevention of Terrorism Act in the past has been used to inflict homophobia mostly on the Tamils in the north and east during the war and post war. And I believe that that homophobia was in the language of the President. That is very troubling. Because once that language itself has becomes normalized, then we no longer need the Prevention of Terrorism Act to inflict homophobia on the LGBT community. Our safety will be drastically minimized, and that will be quite harmful to the members of the community.”
These types of statements may lead to situations where LGBTIQ+ people are followed and murdered!
Director of internationally renowned movie Frangipani, solicitor and academic Visakesa Chandrasekaran said:
“I work. I earn. I contribute to this economy, and I pay taxes. I vote, and I have equal rights. And I must have equal rights. I’m very troubled by the statement made by the President. There were two things about that statement. One, he refers to disqualifications of the Prime Minister and try to make a link between that disqualification and his alleged sexual orientation. Two, he makes that statement, and then he make a pose and wait for people to cheer. It is kind of encouraging people to be part of that and approve what he said. Those are the two main issues that I have. That is very serious because he demonstrates that he can make a statement like that, which is going to incite some sort of violence against LGBT people, and that you can get away with that. That is very dangerous.
We have seen similar things happening in other parts of the world; countries like Russia. It starts with this sort of statements by the politicians. Now it has gone to the level that the police in Russian are chasing after LGBT people and murdering them. Even in so called democratic states such as the USA, there are incidents of violence outside main cities and people live with fear. We don’t want that to happen in Sri Lanka.
Ranil did not do anything for the LGBTIQ+ community, but...!
Now the issue is, we have serious grievances against Prime Minister Wickramasinghe. He hasn’t done anything to the LGBT community. My point is that his political disqualifications should not be linked to sexual orientation. It doesn’t have any foundation. Number two, we don’t have and I personally don’t have any evidence to prove the sexual orientation of our Prime Minister. He decides to keep it as a private matter. That’s his private life, and his privacy should be protected.
There is no order to give equality
“LGBTIQ+ people are citizens of this country. They deserve equal rights. Hateful statements must not be made against them and also against a particular religion, ethnic group, differently abled persons and persons with mental illnesses. If we demand equality, other groups demanding other forms of equalities must also join us. There is no order to demand equality, like firstly it should be Tamils, then Muslims, women affected by violence, people living with disabilities and finally LGBTIQ+ people. Equality is equality. Everyone is entitled to equality,” Visakesa emphasized.
Sirisena was elected as there were no other choices
Attorney, human rights activist and journalist Radika Gunaratne thereafter addressed the press briefing.
“Maithripala Sirisena appointed Niluka Ekanayake, a transsexual person, as the Governor of the Central Province where the Temple of the Tooth Relic is situated, and he is now talking about butterflies. He sternly questions others’ sexual orientation and private space in public. We do not see this as a coincidence, or a sudden change.”
They don’t match
We elected Maithripala Sirisena in 2015 because we did not have any other options. We had no understanding of his capacity or abilities. What we experienced throughout the past few weeks, and what he expressed through creating a massive political crisis, was a result of the pressure he experienced due to uniting with parties that do not match at all. In this particular moment, LGBTIQ+ community’s right to live, and politicians’ right to force them to live within a cultural frame, are seriously discussed.
There is a question as to why he cannot work together with other parties; is it due to his fault, or the fault of the parties working with him.
This is not a problem about him being a villager – this is a problem about the incapability to be a reasonable human being
Sri Lanka is an island, and many people in Sri Lanka do not have the capacity to think broadly. Homophobia in his comment is not a result of him being a villager or his education level. If he is a good human being, if he is intelligent, he does not need anything else to help him to understand the fact that there is a problem. Therefore we see this as his incapability.
The problem is not with the mirror!
We can use a simple example to explain this. Let’s assume you look at yourself in a mirror and you look ugly. You do this twice, and you still look ugly. Let’s assume you do this once again. Again, you look ugly. If you are still ugly, you must understand that there is no problem with the mirror but you!
We view this as turning a personal problem of understanding into a national issue. He’s not paying for his emotional scars, it is us who are paying for it as a country and as a national.
Sri Lanka’s Leo Varadkar
When it comes to coming out, Ireland’s Leo Varadkar had the spine France’s Macron did not have. There is a Leo Varadkar in Sri Lanka too who said that it is better to be a butterfly than a leech. But we have a question whether he was able to do anything for the rights of the LGBTIQ+ community in this dirty political system.
Stop taking unsuitable decisions!
We must not return to the Stone Age. When we talked about Indian Supreme Court’s decision to decriminalize homosexuality, extremist groups in Sri Lanka questioned whether it is going to happen in Sri Lanka as well. But before everything, stop taking unsuitable decisions instead of what really must happen,” said Radika Gunaratne.
This is the first time in the recent history that LGBTIQ+ community members and activists openly held a press briefing.