Sri Lanka: The Psychological Impact of Homophobia

Homosexuality is defined as the orientation of sexual need, desire, or responsiveness towards other persons of the same gender (Masango, 2002).Although definitions of the term often focus mainly on sexual acts and attractions persons of the same biological sex , homosexuality also refers to patterns of same sex romantic and emotional bonding identifies and communities based on same sex desires and relationships and the shared culture created by those communities (Herek, 1996).

Homosexuality has been present in human civilization from ancient times (Somasundaram & Tejus Murthy, 2016). References to same-sex couples and activity have been noted as far back as 600 B.C. on ancient Japanese and Chinese pottery. Ancient Greek and Roman art is full of depictions of same-sex couples (Steever et al., 2013).  Plato (428- 348  BC)  in his Symposium provides the outline for an archetypally-based image of homosexual love: “Each of us when separated, having one side only, like a flat fish, is but the indenture of a man, and he is always looking for his other half” (Plato, 1956, p. 355; Walker, 1991).

The ancient Sri Lankans had social tolerance of homosexuality probably due to the Buddhist teachings that did not condemn LGBT people. The Buddhist Jataka stories discuss homosexuality without homophobic prejudice (Jayatunge, 2015).  According to some scholars; early Buddhism appears to have placed no special stigma on homosexual relations (Coleman, 2002). There had been greater acceptance of homosexuality in ancient Sri Lanka.

According to The Mahawansa the great chronicle that relates the history of Sri Lank describes an intimate relationship between the King Kumaradasa and the renowned Sanskrit poet Kalidasa in the 5th century CE. The Upāsakajanalankara, for example, a 14th century Sri Lankan texts for lay people, includes a long and detailed section on sexual misconduct but makes no mention of homosexuality (Saddhatissa, 1965; Bhante Dhammika  , 2018). In 1547 AD the Portuguese soldier Joao de Casto wrote a letter to the Governor of Goa stating that the KingBhuvanaka Bahu III of Kotte  used to engage  in gay activates.

The English sailor Robert Knox (1641 –  1720) who spent 20 years in Sri Lanka as a prisoner wrote ; Most of his Attendants are Boys, and Young Men, that are well favored, and of good Parentage. For the supplying himself with these, he gives order to his Dissava’s or Governors of the countreys to pick and choose out Boys, that are comely and of good Descent, and send them to the Court. These boys go bare-headed with long hair hanging down their backs. Not that he is guilty of Sodomy, nor did I ever hear the Sin so much as mentioned among them (Robert Knox, An Historical Relation of the Island of Ceylon, 1681,).

Opposition to homosexuality in Sri Lanka started with the Colonial rule and the Church’s influence. Probably the first mention of homosexuality with strong disapproval came from a Portuguese observer in the early 16th century (Bhante Dhammika  , 2018).Homosexuality has long been sources of contention within the institution after 1505 with the Portuguese influence.  The Church’s declaration on sexual ethics impacted the same-sex sexuality in Sri Lanka.  The non-heterosexual orientation had been described as a violation of norms in the area of sexuality. During this period a large number of LGBT people were subjected to numerous harassment and discrimination. Regrettably religious and cultural basis of homophobia still exists in the Island. Negative attitudes toward LGBT population are common and widespread in the contemporary Sri Lankan society. Read more via Lanka Web