Tamil LGBTQ voices face even greater risk in Sri Lanka

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This article is relevant for humanitarian and development practitioners, especially those working in protection, health and policy development, because it demonstrates the ways in which pre-emergency marginalisation of and discrimination against the LGBTQ community intersects with and is exacerbated by emergency response.

As Sri Lanka, like much of the globe, has responded to the COVID-19 crisis with lockdowns and increased militarisation, the already marginalised Tamil LGBTQ community has found itself under new and greater threat. Nandakumar says that the LGBTQ for Tamil people is one marked by state violence, geographical divisions, issues of political economic and other socio-cultural challenges. LGBT identities were originally criminalised under British colonial rule and have not been changed in the 70 years since independence.

Nandakumar provides a brief overview of militarisation in Sri Lanka, and the status of LGBT people in Tamil vs Sinhala communities.

LGBT activists in Jaffna have worked to set up LGBT-friendly spaces and community groups in the past few years. In response to COVID-19, in March of this year, the Sri Lankan sate extended its military-enforced lockdown to encompass the whole country, which posed a particular challenge for LGBT communities who were no longer able to access the few ‘safe spaces’ that had. For multiply marginalised people this lockdown has had acute economic and psychological consequences. For instance, many LGBT Tamils have been thrown out by their families and are thus ineligible for government support, as support is provided to family units. The author points to the political repression, familial discrimination and general societal threat towards LGBT people and rights.

The author explores the specific impacts of COVID-19 response on the Tamil LGBT community, and provides suggestions for ways to move forward.

[Quote]

"To be queer on the island means criminalisation of lives both by the state and the community. It may often mean being kicked out of your home. To be physically displaced from your family and community and placed with a private realm of unspoken violence."

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As Sri Lanka, like much of the globe, has responded to the COVID-19 crisis with lockdowns and increased militarisation, the already marginalised Tamil LGBTQ community has found itself under new and greater threat. Nandakumar says that the LGBTQ for Tamil people is one marked by state violence, geographical divisions, issues of political economic and other socio-cultural challenges. LGBT identities were originally criminalised under British colonial rule and have not been changed in the 70 years since independence.

Nandakumar provides a brief overview of militarisation in Sri Lanka, and the status of LGBT people in Tamil vs Sinhala communities.

LGBT activists in Jaffna have worked to set up LGBT-friendly spaces and community groups in the past few years. In response to COVID-19, in March of this year, the Sri Lankan sate extended its military-enforced lockdown to encompass the whole country, which posed a particular challenge for LGBT communities who were no longer able to access the few ‘safe spaces’ that had. For multiply marginalised people this lockdown has had acute economic and psychological consequences. For instance, many LGBT Tamils have been thrown out by their families and are thus ineligible for government support, as support is provided to family units. The author points to the political repression, familial discrimination and general societal threat towards LGBT people and rights.

The author explores the specific impacts of COVID-19 response on the Tamil LGBT community, and provides suggestions for ways to move forward.