In celebration of Pride Month and marking the continued efforts of GotaGoGama and the Aragalaya, a Pride march was held on 25 June 2022. The march was particularly significant as, while it may not have been the first initiative where the LGBTQ+ community of Colombo was represented in a public gathering in this way, it was the first of its kind, a large-scale Pride march in Colombo, during Pride, as part of a larger political movement.
Considering the significance of the Aragalaya and having LGBTQ+ identities represented on such a large and public platform, many have taken to social media to express their thoughts following the event. While much of online discourse has been neutral or even positive as we’ve all come to expect, there were some negative opinions sprinkled here and there.
Twitter user @pasanghe presented an interesting observation, on what the Pride march represents and how it is in fact not an isolated incident but rather a culmination of what has been the increased public mobilisation by Sri Lanka’s LGBTQ+ community, which included the ‘butterfly incident’ during the 2018 constitutional crisis where President Sirisena expressed his homophobic views publicly.
They also noted: “Importantly, the march was organised by individuals from GotaGoGama and wider Colombo, without support from mainstream LGBTQI+ NGOs or Western diplomatic missions, as is usual with Colombo Pride events, but which often restricts their content to be narrowly liberal in nature. Instead, the march was explicitly framed as part of the Aragalaya, that LGBTQI+ Sri Lankans suffer from the economic crisis too (often in very acute ways), and are stakeholders in ousting the Gota-Ranil Government…”
It can also be said that the Pride march somewhat represents the Aragalaya and GotaGoGama’s evolving politics, made clearer by the permanent presence of the equality tent at the GotaGoGama as well.
Homophobia or valid criticism?
The loudest of all the criticism is of course the ‘now is not the time’ rhetoric, but really, many may argue now is absolutely the time.
One Twitter user Yusuf Ibrahim noted: “It seems that the Aragalaya has lost its purpose. Instead of focusing on the economic and political issues, they have joined the bandwagon to promote the sexual preferences of the LGBTQ. To be fair, they should also campaign for sex between only married (male and female) partners as well.”
The Aragalaya is an incredibly politicised movement, and while it may espouse neutrality in party politics, what GotaGoGama fights for is fundamentally political. Criticisms that the movement has become unnecessarily politicised by bringing in the LGBTQ+ cause do not hold much water.
Activist Nuzly Hameem, a long-time resident of GotaGoGama and a well-known face of the Aragalaya, speaking to Brunch said: “We are not only fighting for certain groups of people. From the very start of GotaGoGama there have been various events starting from Iftar, Vesak, Avurudu, Easter, but all of a sudden when we hold a Pride march people are saying that we are diverting the goal and are now politicised. It simply can’t be like that. The LGBTQ+ community is also part of this society; they are also Sri Lankan, and so we need to include them in this movement.”
“We can’t only talk about certain issues, and there can’t be specific restrictions on other topics. You can’t ask us not to talk about the PTA, or rights of the LGBTQ+ community – that’s not fair,” he added. “If we are talking about a system change, then yes, we have to talk about all of these things, it is not a diversion. We all know what the short-term goal is and that is to send Gota home, but the long-term goal would be to find a proper solution, and people are open to this and are engaging in these conversations. That is what we are doing.”
Nuzly also spoke of the equality tent at GotaGoGama and how well it has been received by the residents: “There is an equality tent at the GotaGoGama, and people have been absolutely welcoming, but of course there will always be people who are against something – there are those who oppose everything. Even during Iftar there were a handful who opposed the celebrations, but the majority thought it was a good idea. There are always about 10-15 people from the village itself at the tent.”
From the community
Sri Lankan transgender artist Vasi Samudra Devi shared her thoughts and experiences regarding the Pride march: “Whenever a certain minority or a marginalised group decides to show ourselves, everybody else, even from other minorities will pick up on that and be completely opposed to it. This is sadly a common thing and it was really expected.”
Vasi also shared her experience at GotaGoGama. “I think the people there are now used to me,” she said, noting that because she had been there for some time, migrating from tent to tent, it had been a smooth assimilation.
“In an individual capacity also there is some resistance, but I have to say the majority there have been more accepting than the majority of the Lankan population. The GotaGoGama when it started was a very different place and now it has evolved greatly,” she said, noting that because it was such a compact space, the good and the bad were much more noticeable.
She also stressed that while LGBTQ+ community members who were involved with the Aragalaya had certainly faced certain forms of discrimination at the hands of fellow participants, they still continued to lend their support because they understood that this was now the time to start making a change. “We do not wish to be too critical of the negative experiences at the Aragalya because it is after all a place that represents hope and we want other queers to know that it will be safe for them with us,” she said.
Vasi further added: “People forget that the Aragalaya is in fact political. Change should not just be economic, but the systems that promote queerphobia and misogyny should also be taken down. Mind-set changes should be the goal here.”
However, there will always be naysayers. The Aragalaya and the GotaGoGama movement have been making history and the majority of Lankans appear to be working towards placing themselves on the right side of history.