Rosanna Flamer-Caldera catches up with Cosmo
Since 1969, June has been known worldwide as a month to celebrate the impact of LGBT communities and commemorate the Stonewall Riots. We caught up with Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, founder of EQUAL GROUND and Colombo Pride. This week marks the 16th anniversary of EQUAL GROUND.
Q/ Rosanna, how has your lockdown been so far?
A/ It’s been really good, the first few weeks were a bit scary because we didn’t know how to get food, but once that was sorted out it was good. I can’t say the same for a lot of our LGBTIQ community members who depend on daily wages. From a privileged background, lockdown can be fun — we watch lots of Netflix and eat lots of sweets and hang out, but it’s just not the same for everybody. I actually took this time to get some rest from activism. I have a very hectic schedule, travelling a lot for international activism as well. It was a great break, to be honest.
Q/ How was Colombo Pride first established in 2005?
A/ When EQUAL GROUND was established in 2004, we wanted to work on raising self-awareness and self-esteem within our own LGBTIQ community. A lot of the community members in Sri Lanka face internalised homophobia. They feel that who they are is shameful and perverted. One of the ways to try to dispel this was to have Pride in Colombo, educating and sensitizing the general public as well as the LGBTIQ community. Our first Pride was a very modest gay party that had over 300 people, and it was a huge success.
The following year we upped the ante with an art and photo exhibition, a film festival, and rainbow kite flying on the beach, which are now must-do events for Colombo PRIDE.
Three years ago we initiated a Pride bus ride filled with the queer community, rainbow flags and a band. We go around Colombo and raise a ruckus! People can see the slogans that we are asking for rights, so it’s a protest as well as a fun thing.
Q/ What events did you have planned for Colombo Pride 2020 and are any of them still able to take place?
A/ This year Pride events have been postponed, but we are putting on several virtual events.
Q/ Why do you think celebrating Pride is still so important in Sri Lanka today?
A/ Since 2005 we have seen a huge change in attitudes as well as acceptance in the gay community and society at large. More people, especially young ones, are coming out. Political parties are endorsing an LGBT person’s rights. Things are happening, but it’s important to remember that we have lived through very repressive times, and it does feel as though we risk going back to that.
The political rhetoric here is very negative towards the LGBTIQ community, and people don’t feel as though they can embrace it because they see it as a Western notion not part of our culture. Unfortunately, nobody has told them that it’s not our culture to be homophobic, it is the British laws that were placed here and still haven’t gotten rid of. Homosexuality has been around in Sri Lanka for the longest time, so you really can’t say that it was brought here by the British.
Q/ In terms of human rights and equality towards the LGBT community in Sri Lanka, what changes would you like to see in the future?
A/ We want to see the decriminalisation of consenting same-sex sexual relationships between adults for both men and women. We want to see policies of inclusion and acceptance throughout every single department, and legislation that prevents discrimination.
Complacency has no place in the LGBTIQ community, even if there is decriminalisation and same-sex marriage allowed—you shouldn’t forget that transgender people are being killed and being discriminated against, worldwide.
Q/ What are the biggest challenges Equal Ground has had to face since the coronavirus outbreak?
A/ The majority of our work is with people. We had 3 months of work that needed to be postponed indefinitely, which involved workshops around the country, conducting sensitising programmes, and consultations with the community. We certainly can’t host virtual workshops in any of the rural areas because they may not have a smartphone or an internet connection. We have to wait and see how things go. The government has lifted curfew now, but elections seem to be the main focus at the moment.
Q/ What advice would you give members of the LGBT community in Colombo who are feeling isolated during the lockdown?
A/ Since day one of the lockdown, we’ve been having psycho-social counselling and support online, available in all 3 languages. This is for anyone feeling really bad about what’s going on and suffering a lot because of their situation at home. Some people are at home with homophobic people who treat them badly which can be very depressing.
EQUAL GROUND EQUAL GROUND
Q/ What does it mean to be an ally to the LGBT community?
A/ We have a forum for family and friends of LGBTIQ members where we encourage allies to support their loved ones. EQUAL GROUND has always been about inclusion, we welcome everyone into our space to be themselves and accept themselves for who they are. We’ve always had allies volunteering their time and attending our events.
In 2018, the Butterflies for Democracy protest took place during the constitutional coup after the President had called the Prime Minister a derogatory name, and half of the protestors were allies. One of the main ways to be an ally is to be openly vocal about your support of the cause.
Q/ How would you sum up Colombo Pride in three words?
A/ Fun, vibrant and gay!
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