LGBT rights in Sri Lanka

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LGBT rights in Sri Lanka Sri Lanka
Same-sex sexual intercourse legal status Illegal under Article 365A
Gender identity/expression Transgender people allowed to change gender, following surgery and therapy
Discrimination protections Yes, constitutional protections
Family rights
Recognition of
No recognition of same-sex couples

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Sri Lanka may face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. It remains a taboo subject and they are often associated with pedophiles due to several scandals and "anti-gay groups ... brand all lesbian, bisexual, transgendered persons as ‘perverts’ and criminals". Many "individuals are denied access to health services, education and employment and the ability to participate in social and public life".

Article 365[A] currently criminalizes homosexual sex as an act of gross indecency between persons, however reports state that police harassment is rare and that the provisions of the acts are rarely enforced. There has also never been a conviction under the act. There have also been provisions for the recognition of transgenders and anti-discrimination laws have been implemented to prevent discrimination along sexual orientation lines.[1]


Sri Lanka has a rich history of supporting homosexuality prior to colonialism. Many account of the island's 'sinful' acceptance of homosexuality was written by Portuguese and Dutch invaders, characterizing the island's king as being frightening for allowing the act of sodomy on the island, and even accounting that the king himself partook in gay sex.[2]

The island’s two dominant religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, do not condemn homosexuality. The former talks about homosexuals using positive descriptions, including tips on how to have better homosexual sex in the Kama Sutra, while the latter's view on 'sexual misconduct' can affect liberal sexual activity among both hetrosexuals and homosexuals.[3]

Transsexuals have had legal support on the island for long time, whereas third gender rights have not been reformed in concord with other governments of other South Asian peoples. The concept of 'third gender' has long been a strong part of Hindu culture and Buddhist culture, with many references to the group in religious texts.[4]

In November 2016, Sri Lanka voted against a plan to get rid of the UN Independent Expert on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity at the United Nations General Assembly. The push to get rid of the UN expert failed 84-77. Sri Lanka along with Kiribati were the only two countries, where homosexuality is still criminalised, who voted against the proposal.[5]

The Government has announced that the Constitution of Sri Lanka bans discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Legality of same-sex sexual activity[edit]

The political framework of Sri Lanka has predominantly been inherited from the United Kingdom, but has strong influences of Dutch and Portuguese traditions.

The two main legal arbitrators used against homosexuals are the anti-sodomy laws and gender impersonation laws.[6]

Article 365A[edit]

Article 365A prohibits anyone, irrespective of gender, from engaging in "gross indecency", which is not explicitly defined, although stiffer sanctions apply if one person is under the age of 16 or if any sort of injury was caused as a result.

In 1995, criminal law was amended to expressly prohibit "gross indecency" no matter the gender of the participants.[7]

In January 2017, cabinet members of the Sri Lankan Government rejected the chance to legalize homosexuality.[8]

The European Union has recently proposed to use its elevated trade deal negotiations to ensure that human rights on the island would be protected.[9]

In November 2017, Deputy Solicitor General Nerin Pulle stated that the government would move to decriminalize same-sex sexual activity.[10]

Recognition of same-sex relationships[edit]

Sri Lankan family law does not recognize same-sex marriages or same-sex civil unions.

Discrimination protections[edit]

LGBT flag map of Sri Lanka

Article 12: Right to equality[edit]

The Government of Sri Lanka explained to the United Nations Human Rights Committee on October 7–8, 2014 in Geneva that sexual minorities were already protected under existing anti-discrimination laws provided in the Constitution.[11]

Article 12 states:[12]

12.(1) All persons are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the law. (2) No citizen shall be discriminated against on the grounds of race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion, place of birth or any one of such grounds :

Provided that it shall be lawful to require a person to acquire within a reasonable time sufficient knowledge of any language as a qualification for any employment or office in the Public, Judicial or Local Government Service or in the service of any Public Corporation, where such knowledge is reasonably necessary for the discharge of the duties of such employment or office :

Provided further that it shall be lawful to require a person to have a sufficient knowledge of any language as a qualification for any such employment or office where no function of that employment or office can be discharged otherwise than with a knowledge of that language.

(3) No person shall, on the grounds of race, religion, language, caste, sex or any one of such grounds, be subject to any disability, liability, restriction or condition with regard to access to shops, public restaurants, hotels, places of public entertainment and places of public worship of his own religion.

(4) Nothing in this Article shall prevent special provision being made, by law, subordinate legislation or executive action, for the advancement of women, children or disabled persons.

In 2017, the Government also decided to update their Human Rights Action Plan with an addendum that bans discrimination against someone based on his or her sexual orientation.[13]

Gender identity and expression[edit]

While there are some traditional transgender practices associated with certain rituals, transgender people are victims of harassment and discrimination.[14] The term ponnaya (පොන්නයා) is a defamatory term often used against transgender people or effeminate men.

A patient who wishes to undergo sex reassignment surgery (SRS) must consult a psychiatrist for an initial evaluation. If the person is deemed to be of sound mental status, an official letter endorsing this can be issued. The patient can now start to undergo necessary hormone therapy prior to any surgical intervention. It can often be troublesome to find therapists who are understanding of transgender issues.[15]

A major hindrance to most transgender individuals is that the island lacks any public or private hospitals that are able to perform SRS. The high costs of obtaining private treatment abroad can often be a strong deterrent from finishing the transition process.[15]

It is currently possible for transgender individuals to obtain a new identity card from the Department of Registrations of Persons that is concordant with their gender identity, upon the provision of correct documentation to the department. However, many transgender individuals complain that they are unable to obtain the required documents (mainly medical notes) and therefore cannot register themselves for a new ID.[16]


Conversion therapy[edit]

Some private clinics in Sri Lanka claim to be able to "cure" patients of their homosexuality, although the World Health Organization does not view homosexuality to be a mental illness. Conversion therapy is a harmful and unscientific intervention that can cause significant mental distress to those who undergo it. Groups such as "Companions On A Journey" and "Equal Ground" are helping to educate the public on the dangers of such harmful practices.


While HIV/AIDS is not only a public health problem for LGBT people, the HIV/AIDS pandemic has helped to open up a more public debate about gender roles and human sexuality in Sri Lanka.[17] The high levels of poverty, combined with the stigma associated with the disease and conservative cultural mores, has made it difficult to implement comprehensive prevention programs and to offer life-saving treatment to those people already infected.

Initially, during the late 1980s–1990s, the Sri Lanka Government tended to ignore the pandemic. This may have been because of the political instability in the Government during the Civil War, or because of the taboo nature of the pandemic scaring off government officials. It was not until the early part of the twenty-first century that a national HIV/AIDS policy was developed in Sri Lanka.

As of 2017, a National AIDS Council has been established, the Government formally recognizes the United Nations World AIDS Day, more public education about the disease is available and efforts are being made to combat the prejudice people living with HIV/AIDS face in the workplace.[17]

Living conditions[edit]

LGBT people who have come out to their family often report being verbally or physically harassed.[18]


Flying with One Wing (තනි තටුවෙන් පියාඹන්න) (2002) – written and directed by Asoka Handagama, it features a Sri Lankan woman who passes for a man in the society and in her personal relationships.[clarification needed]

Flower of Six Petals (සයපෙති කුසුම) is a movie about a same-sex male relationship. Some contemporary pop and hip-hop songs also features LGBTQ+ themes. For example, "Red Lips" (අසම්මත පෙමක්-රතු තොල්) by A Jay can be considered a pop song featuring a queer theme.[7][not in citation given]


Colombo PRIDE has been held in the capital of Sri Lanka for the past 12 years, and is primarily hosted by Equal Ground. PRIDE in Sri Lanka is currently on a small scale due to the current political climate coupled with the oppressive laws against LGBTQ persons. PRIDE celebrations take place as a private, yet also very public, event attended by people from all over Sri Lanka. The PRIDE festival in Sri Lanka has grown each year, and a diverse range of events are held to encourage the queer community to come out. It is also considered an educational and sensitizing event where the message of diversity is addressed in a holistic way paving for better understanding and acceptance of the queer community by the larger Sri Lankan population. Events usually include workshops, dramas/shows/musicals, film festivals, art & photo exhibitions, parties and a kite festival.[19]

PRIDE has faced difficulties by the Colombo Municipal Council and the local police when attempting to obtain permission to hold its events. They have also received threats of violence by radical groups.

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal No (decriminalization proposed, unenforced)
Anti-discrimination laws in employment Yes (Since 2017)
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services Yes (Since 2017)
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) Yes (Since 2017)
Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples No
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No (Married couples only)
LGBT people allowed to serve openly in the military No
Right to change legal gender Yes
Recognition of third gender No
Access to IVF for lesbians No
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No
MSMs allowed to donate blood No

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Sri Lanka: Treatment of Sexual Minorities" (PDF). 
  2. ^ "Sri Lanka News | The Sinhala King of Kotte was so GAY.In 1547,the Portuguese wrote a letter to the Governor of Goa to express the fear of living among the Sinhalese, it says the homosexuality is so prevalent in this kingdom of Cota that it almost frightens us to live here". Retrieved 2017-11-01. 
  3. ^ Experts, SEO. "Homosexuality and Scripture |". Retrieved 2017-11-01. 
  4. ^ "Third gender and the long Journey toward recognition | The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka". Retrieved 2017-11-01. 
  5. ^ Anti-LGBTI push at U.N. falls short Erasing 76 Crimes
  6. ^ "Status of LGBTIQ persons within Sri Lanka's legal framework". Daily News. Retrieved 2017-08-31. 
  7. ^ a b "Sodomy Laws, Sri Lanka". Retrieved 2011-02-05. 
  8. ^ Sri Lanka Keeps Homosexuality A Crime, But Bans Anti-LGBT Discrimination NewNowNext
  9. ^ Campaign, Human Rights. "Sri Lanka Pressured to Remove Anti-LGBTQ Laws by E.U. Trade Deal | Human Rights Campaign". Human Rights Campaign. Retrieved 2017-08-31. 
  10. ^ Sri Lanka promises to decriminalize homosexuality and to protect LGBTI people
  11. ^ brian (2014-10-20). "Sri Lanka Government Says LGBT Rights Are Constitutionally Protected". OutRight. Retrieved 2017-08-31. 
  13. ^ "Sri Lanka Keeps Homosexuality A Crime, But Bans Anti-LGBT Discrimination". LOGO News. Retrieved 2017-08-31. 
  14. ^ "Gender Diversity and Transgender Issues". Retrieved 2011-02-05. 
  15. ^ a b Jayasinha, Anukshi (2016-10-05). "What It Means To Be Transgender In Sri Lanka". Roar Reports. Retrieved 2017-08-31. 
  16. ^ "Who am I?". Retrieved 2017-08-31. 
  17. ^ a b "HIV/AIDS" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 July 2012. Retrieved 5 February 2011. 
  18. ^ "Sri Lanka's gays share their journey". BBC. 20 May 2005. Retrieved 2011-02-05. 
  19. ^ Equal Ground has 'Nothing But Pride' for Sri Lanka's LGBT community

External links[edit]