Acceptance should begin at home

Acceptance should begin at home

21 January 2019 05:50 am

Isuru Parakrama, a 27-year-old from Mirigama, works as a new media journalist for a news portal. Advocating for the LGBT community and creating awareness – be it on the street or through his articles published online – Isuru takes his activism very seriously.

Isuru is of the view that the most difficult time for a young LGBT person is their school age. “It is a tough time for any teenager battling with rapid growth and hormonal changes. The environment that they grow up in is often homogenous, and they are always subject to the conditioning of a conservative society, especially in the rural areas.

“School is a difficult place to survive unless you have peer support or a person who you can trust i.e. a teacher, a friend, or a parent.”

Growing up in the suburbs, Isuru was unable to secure peer support. However, he stated that in contrast, the current younger generation has a better peer support system.

“Today’s society is more forward thinking and is more aware of different gender identities. Yet, the stigma and discrimination exists, especially in rural areas, where their access to information is limited.”

Isuru believes that support should not only be extended at school level, but that it should also come from the child’s home environment as well.

“Acceptance should begin at home, within the family, and should then cascade through to school and the person’s wider social circle.

“While school was a difficult environment for me, my parents were very understanding about my identity and I consider myself privileged in that sense.”

As the years went by, Isuru understood that he was attracted to other men.

The atmosphere within Isuru’s family was such that he was able to share his true feelings with them.

“As I turned 20, I came out as a gay person to my family. I don’t think that it’s a privilege many Sri Lankans have, given that we are still a patriarchal society.”

Looking back at his days of activism on the streets, Isuru recalls how some LGBT individuals were battling coming out to their families.

“They often questioned how their parents would react if they decided to come out. They were scared that they would not be able to maintain a positive image in society. These individuals then resorted to cyberspace as a getaway. Here they created one profile that would portray a heterosexual image and another profile to communicate with the LGBT community.”

This allowed them to live a dual life on social media platforms, allowing them to create a comfortable space. Also, as they found solace in cyberspace, they did not want to come out at all, Isuru explained.

“Many organisations are now looking at establishing safer forums for the LGBT community to discuss their issues and raise awareness about their physical and mental wellbeing. In that sense, we as a community are now able to gradually build confidence in society. However, our biggest hurdle is the jurisdiction, which needs reformation.”

Isuru further noted that it was the legal barriers that prevented many talented individuals in the community from progressing. While the Government of Sri Lanka allows the implementation of international projects to which the LGBT community becomes a key focus, Isuru explained that the healthcare sector was not geared to empathise with LGBT persons as they attended clinics to test for HIV/STIs.

“People still take the archaic Penal Code’s Sections 365 and 365A to heart, in that they always view a transgender or gay person in a judgmental manner. We are battling socially constructed norms and the legal system of this country. Even in international projects that are to be successfully executed, these elements become major obstacles.”

When The Sunday Morning inquired as to what Isuru thought of school children who were vocal about their gender identity, he stated: “A child is vocal about their true identity only at say, an international school. For a child who is in a government school, especially in a rural area, it is still difficult.

“Be it in any level of society, when a child decides to come out, there are chances that the child could be ridiculed. This is why I said earlier that a proper support system should be created at home, school, and then in society for LGBT persons to be treated in a non-judgmental manner.”

The LGBT community is not only confined to metropolitan areas, but also exist in all parts of the country. Isuru expressed that while many of them engage in sexual activities with the same gender, they are yet in denial of their sexual identity.

“They don’t want to admit that they are in a gay/lesbian relationship or that they are still confused about their sexual orientation. Social conditioning dictates that a man should marry a woman and have children, and these people end up following that way of life, but they also gravitate towards engaging sexually with other men.”

Isuru strongly believes that the lack of awareness in different parts of the country should be bridged. “The lack of information often leaves people in the dark. Many men assume that it’s a temporary feeling prompting them to behave in such a manner with another man. In contrast, in metropolitan areas, many accept that they are transgender or gay as they are exposed to many such individuals and have access to information.”

Explaining the psychological aspect of coming out to his family, Isuru stated that he initially noticed subtle changes in his parents’ behaviour.

“It is often difficult for parents conditioned to a certain way of life to immediately accept that their child will not be in a heterosexual relationship. Breaking away from social norms was challenging for my family – even though they didn’t directly admit it, I did notice it. That sense of restlessness reflected in their ways.”

Later, Isuru’s parents realised that he was still leading a normal life; he was educated, employed, and was fighting a battle to establish his identity and assist other LGBT persons on the way.

“It is the social conditioning that we are subject to which makes it difficult for us to accept certain individuals breaking away from the norm. This needs to gradually change, which it is.

“It is evident, as I look back, that parents nowadays are more accepting and even the society is more aware of LGBT individuals.”

Wrapping up our conversation, Isuru noted that it was societal ideologies that make LGBT persons uncomfortable. “For the majority, it would be normal to dress in accordance to either of the two main genders, but a transgender person would feel like a misfit.

“As children, we follow what our parents tell us to do, but also question why we hate dressing a certain way or why we are pushed to participate in certain sports or social activities that do not align with our personalities. All this deeply affects a child’s psychology.”

Written by Sarah Hannan |Photo by Saman Abesiriwardana

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