Discover Gay Sri Lanka with local boy Kaluu from Colombo

Discover Gay Sri Lanka with local boy Kaluu from Colombo

Funny Boy is a Sri Lankan book Stefan grew up with and loved (written by Shyam Selvadurai and highly recommended to any LGBT traveller visiting Sri Lanka).

It tells the story of a young Tamil gay boy called Arjy growing up in 1980s Sri Lanka during the civil war era, struggling to come to grips with his homosexuality in a very religious and traditional family and society.

Funny Boy book about gay Sri Lanka

Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai

But coming here some 30 years later in late 2014, we wondered if much has changed.

GAY SRI LANKA: THE LEGAL PERSPECTIVE

Gays in Sri Lanka are pretty much regarded as criminals, like gays in India or gays in the Maldives. The draconian laws from the British colonial era (sections 365 of the Sri Lankan Penal Code 1886) criminalising gay sex (“carnal intercourse”) with up to 10 years in prison and a fine are still in place unfortunately.

in 1995 the Sri Lankan judiciary threw gay Sri Lanka backwards by amending this law to criminalise acts of “gross indecency” with a fine and up to 2 years in prison (section 365A). There is no guidance as to what exactly “gross indecency” is or isn’t, which leaves it open to abuse by the police to victimise the LGBT community.

GAY SRI LANKA: THE POLITICAL PERSPECTIVE

Despite attempts by the UN and various Sri Lankan LGBT protest groups to question and repeal these laws, the government has not historically been the most obliging:

The recent former President Rajapaksa, stated gay marriage would ruin the Buddhist heritage of the nation. He also opposed Norway’s ambassador to Sri Lanka (Grete Lochen) bringing her wife into Sri Lanka arguing that lesbian marriages are not legal in Sri Lanka, so allowing *them* in would encourage Sri Lankan women to want to behave in this manner!

Gay politician Grete Lochen former President Mahinda Rajapaksa

Grete Lochen, Norway’s ambassador to Sri Lanka with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa – is that a fake smile….??!!

The recent surprise result in the Sri Lankan elections removed Rajapaksa from power and saw Maithripala Sirisena elected. Whilst this brings an end to the homophobic government of Rajapaksa, it remains to be seen if Sirisena’s will be any more welcoming to the hidden gay Sri Lanka community than his predecessor was.

As foreigners in Sri Lanka, we had a lovely time, completely trouble free and found the locals to be very friendly, kind-hearted people. But as we found in the Maldives, as foreigners, we will always enjoy a different level of treatment, whether straight or gay.

Princess Seby being gay in Sri Lanka

Princess Seby camping it up in Nuwara Eliya, hill country of Sri Lanka

SO, WHAT IS IT ACTUALLY LIKE BEING GAY IN SRI LANKA?

We met a Sinhalese author in Colombo, Kaluu, who has published various books and poetry, some with a LGBT theme. He has asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal from family and his work, so we will refer to him just as – “Kaluu” (it means black in Sinhalese, his nickname because he has darker skin than your average Sri Lankan).

#1 Ayubowan Kaluu, please introduce yourself:

Good afternoon Nomadic Boys. I am Sri Lankan born, 34 years old, living in Colombo. I’m also a son, a friend, a gay, a Buddhist, a writer, and a poet. Above all, a human.

Tamil boys gay life in Sri Lanka

Two Tamil boys being very docile with each other on the bus in Nuwara Eliya

#2 You’ve asked us to keep your name anonymous on our blog, why?

Sri Lankans do not possess positive attitudes towards homosexuality. Exposing my sexual identity could affect my job, embarrass my family and could even be life threatening. My friends have faced such bitter experience for being “out”, particularly in rural areas.

For example, one friend was beaten by his older brother when he came out to him until he bled. He ran away and now lives alone.

Another friend came out to his family and his father had a heart attack when he found out. He decided to marry and live a “good” heterosexual life to please his parents and cut off all contact with his gay friends, including me.

#3 We are in our 30s and almost the same age as Arjy, in “Funny Boy”. What was it like growing up in 1980s Sri Lanka with the civil war in the background?

I am from a Sinhalese lower middle class family in Colombo and Arjy is from an upper middle class Tamil family, also in Colombo. Tamils are a minority in Sri Lanka, as is being gay, so not an easy life for Arjy.

Growing up in Colombo in the 1980s, my family lived with continuous fear of bomb attacks. Suicide bombers killed hundreds of people in Colombo. Sometimes our parents had to take turns to guard us at the school gates. At school it was decided we had to use see through bags for a period of time for security.

When travelling on public transport there was an intense paranoia and everyone suspected everyone of being a suicide bomber. If a suspicious bag was found without an owner, people panicked and ran away.

Several politicians have been victims of suicide bombers, including former President Premadasa. We watched war on TV news at nights. The news readers were reporting deaths as “This many of soldiers gave their lives for the motherland”….and “This many Tamil tigers were killed” Death was everywhere. It was far more severe in war-affected areas like Tamil in the north.

Former President Premadasa assassinated in 1993

Former President Premadasa assassinated in 1993 by a suicide bomber

#4 Are you out to anyone in your family or your friends?

Nobody in my family knows about me being gay. If they were to find out, it would cause a lot of problems and I don’t want to sour relations with my family.

My close friends (mix of gay and straight) know about me though and are ok with it.

#5 How did you meet other gays growing up?

Growing up without internet was hard for gays to meet, so popular meeting places were on the beach or through friends of friends.

Colombo doesn’t have gay places as such, but the growth of internet usage in Sri Lanka has allowed the LGBT community to connect easier with each other via sites like Lanka Love and Gay Romeo and more recently, Grindr. Unfortunately, many men hide their identity on these sites.

Gay Sri Lanka Seb posing by Slave Island in Colombo

Slave Island – wonder what goes on here!!

#6 Do you know anyone who was victimised by the police because of their sexuality?

I’ve not heard of anyone ever being convicted under sections 365 or 365A. But the police often harass gays. For example they target places gays use to meet like parks, beaches and public toilets and frighten them into paying a bribe, sometimes physically assaulting them.

Once I witnessed an assault by a group of three tuk tuk drivers in Colombo victimising a transgender. His lip was bleeding. I was helpless. It was painful to be there and do nothing. If I tried to help the transgender, they would have definitely beaten me up too.

So you see, whilst no one has ever been convicted under the anti gay laws, they are still used as a means to encourage fear and hate towards gays.

#7 Do you get asked a lot by family when you’re going to get married? How do you deal with this?

I do not want to cheat an innocent woman just to please my family. My family do of course dream about their future daughter in law and grandchildren. Sri Lankans don’t have positive attitudes about bachelors.

Many of my gay friends have married women to relieve them from family pressure, but in doing so they create more problems resulting in divorce, fleeing the country and in more extreme cases, suicides. Even in the UK this is a common problem amongst some Asian communities.

Gay life in Sri Lanka hard for locals

Forced marriages common amongst gay men to avoid problems with their families – even in the UK!

#8 How gay friendly do you think the new president Sirisena is: the dawn of a new era for gay Sri Lankan community? 

In his policy statement, Sirisena made no mention of gay rights. But the people around him are believed to be open-minded.

But, however open-minded Sirisena’s government is, change will not happen over night. A significant cultural change is needed before anything can happen, not to mention a repeal of the old colonial laws, which pretty much label us as criminals!

Despite the politics, I must clearly state that the majority religion in Sri Lanka (Buddhism) holds no negative attitudes towards homosexuality, despite some of our political leaders trying to use our religions as a means to justify a homophobic culture.

Gay life in Sri Lanka better under new President Sirisena

Is that a feather boa President Sirisena is wearing, ready for Colombo Pride 2015…??!!

#9 Are there any popular gay bars or clubs in Sri Lanka?

There is no gay scene in Sri Lanka. But tourism is considered as a large income generator for Sri Lanka that a blind eye is turned to the anti gay laws in relation to foreigners.

For example, gay friendly hotels are allowed to openly market to gay tourists, like in Negombo, which has become quite popular with gay tourists over the past few years. There are also several “beach boys” (male prostitutes) working on Negombo’s beaches, both straight and gay.

Seby being gay in Sri Lanka

This particular beach boy is not for sale 🙂

#10 Can you recommend any gay friendly places to stay in Colombo or Sri Lanka generally?

In Colombo, my foreigner friends usually stay at the following hotels:

THE HILTON   Book online

  • Hilton is a popular hotel chain for LGBT tourists.
  • It is walking distance to the Fort district and Pettah Bazard.
  • Prices start from $145 / £100 a night.

THE TAJ SAMUDRA   Book online

  • This high end hotel has a fitness centre and a large swimming pool.
  • Most of the international airlines cabin crews stay there so get ready for your Grindr to crash!
  • Prices start from $185 / £128 for a room with breakfast.

Negombo is a small and relaxed gay paradise on the indian ocean. The hotels are usually very welcoming towards the gay tourists. Those two are particularly well-known among the gay community:

DICKMAN RESORT   Book online

  • Yes, this is the real name….
  • Private resort for adults with a great swimming pool.
  • Prices start from $135 / £92 fro a double room with breakfast.

GOMEZ PLACE   Book online

  • Beautiful gay friendly resort, great for some relaxing time.
  • Close to the beach, excellent breakfast.
  • Prices start from $55 / £38 for a double bed.
gay hotels in Sri Lanka banner

#11 Finally, Stefan found this lovely hat in Negombo to ward off those ever so strong sun rays. If he was to wear this on Unawatuna beach holding Sebastien’s hand, would we run the risk of getting arrested under the “gross indecency” laws?

Hey love birds. I don’t think so. If I could I’d love to arrest your lovely Seb and keep him in my place. Maybe you both. Ha ha ha…

Stefan beach hat being gay in Sri Lanka

Stefan’s new hat for keeping the strong sun rays at bay at Negombo beach

Watch our Sri Lanka travel video:

For more inspiration:

Sri Lanka travel recommendations

 

Transportation: First, there is no need to stress about getting taxis around the capital. Uber is heavily used in Colombo airport as well as Colombo city and if you've never used it before, we give you your 1st ride for free using this link. To go to Kandy, Nuwara Elya or Ella, just take the train: the landscapes are stunning, tickets are cheap and it is an amazing adventure.

Travel insurance: Whether you go on a safari in Yala National Park, scuba diving in Unawatuna, hiking in Ella or just lay on the beach all day long in Negombo, you need travel insurance. We use World Nomads because they offer considerable coverage especially for adventure travellers. They also make it easy to make a claim as it’s all done online.

Flights: Flying domestically in Sri Lanka doesn't make much sense, you're better off taking the train. For international flights, flying to Sri Lanka can be expensive, Google flights can help you find cheap fares and Momondo is our favourite website to book airfares. In addition, flights from Sri Lanka to India and The Maldives are cheap so don't miss out on the opportunity.

Hotels: Sri Lanka has a huge diversity of accommodation options. Make sure you check out our Sri Lanka content for hotel recommendations first. Tripadvisor is also a good place to start researching places to stay and activities to do. Going to the hotel in person and negotiating the price face to face will most of the time result in cheaper prices compared to what you would get online. But if like us, you're a bit of a control freak and like planning ahead, we recommend using Booking.com to find the best deals and book your accommodation online.

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41 Comments

  1. Actually there are more problems that you have face if you a gay guy in sri lanka. Sri lanka call as a buddhist country and the place which people believe their cultural norms highly. In sr lankan law system gay practices has to be a point of criminal behavior. But we have to ask how being gay can be a criminal offence. In practice majority of Sri lankan people use to think being a gay is a criminal thing,abnormal thing, psychological issue, personality disorder, brake down the cultural norms, the thing cut down social values, destroying parents and relatives dreams.

    But it is not value gay people’s thoughts, feelings, relationships in there, because of non confirming behavior. I have argued with my straight friends and some of anty gay friends above these. ” how can be human feeling a criminal offence or abnormal behavior? then they said it. is not confirming thing in sri lanka. But then I asked again is there any deference for people in country vice? then they said it is not match for our culture. according to peoples thoughts about gay I think in Sri Lanka there is no common reason to be despite for gays. But in practice there are more gay guys living in sri lanka majority for sexual purposes and some are for relationships. For relationships it is not a value. because they have to fulfill parents dreams and hopes with marrying a woman .

    I have a nice affair with a guy over four years and we are facing these kind of incidents badly. We have fight over three years with our families and relatives to solve this problem. Since last three years we are force to get marry a woman. Finally we decide to tell our gay identity for our families. After hear these massage they got this affair as an abnormal thing and also a psychological problem. some of them use to think it as a shit thing and some of started to hate us. How ever still we are argue with them to find a way to settle with them happily.

    Finally we thought to migrate to another country which people living in free minded for gays. then we applied for Canada for Federal skilled working visa and after get to PR. But unfortunately our documents failed for second time and now we are waiting for applying another country. This is very impressionable situation in Sri Lanka. According to these barriers most of gay guys use to express their feelings only with gay sex practicing, because they know one day they have to marry a woman.making a children to fulfill parents dreams.
    But as a human Sri Lankan gay people living in a dilemma with seeking a better way. But for sex it is going as badly. risky sex ( with out using condoms), can be caught to police, bribe, physical and psychological harms could be occur.

    Me and my partner looking an opportunity to work or study any where we can living together happily. Because we did not stop our relationship and every time we use our time to find something for our future. But most of gay guys not like us.

    thank you for a sharing ideas with me

    cheers

    Thushara.

    Reply
    • Hi Thushara,

      Thanks so much for reading our post and for your comment. It is very sad to read this and we wish you the best of luck in trying to emigrate somewhere more open to your relationship.

      Do you think there is any hope for change with Sirisena’s new government?

      Regards,

      Stefan.

      Reply
  2. I think you guys should put together a book of all these interviews, they’re so interesting. Of course, it is very sad too to hear about people living in such oppression and secrecy.

    Reply
    • Thanks Amy! A book you say? Hmmmmmmm…

      Reply
  3. Quite fortunately, my life since coming out at 19 has been one that got better by the day. I was born to a Buddhist family in Kandy and moved to Colombo for work and studies after school. I’ve always stood my ground and valued my human life just as much as anyone else values their own. I have gone through tough times with my family since coming out but they thankfully could open their minds eventually. I’m open at my workplace too and never have I had any trouble or prejudice – I see myself as a role model for gay people around me – change starts from you they say! It’s been a long process. I once sat down with Amma for tea at home and she asked about my bf whom I was seeing back then. She was sweet enough to finally admit that she doesn’t have anything against me but the society and that I would better fit in a more progressive western country. Just shared my story to say that it isn’t all that bad but having said that, I think I’m one of those very fortunate ones! Keep smiling 🙂

    Reply
    • Hi Declan. Thanks for reading and what a lovely story to read 🙂

      What’s your job out of interest? Great you can be open at work and with family.

      Reply
      • Sorry, quite a late reply. I’m an accountant

        Reply
        • Awesome 🙂

          Reply
    • Great positive post Declan, a role model indeed. Really interesting articles guys. I live in London and came out to my parents who live in Colombo many years ago. Although they weren’t hostile they never acknowledge my sexuality. That is a small price to pay I guess as they are always very welcoming to any partners I have introduced to them.
      I have never met any other Sri Lankan gay guys and always wonderd what it is like to be gay in that society.

      Reply
      • Lovely to meet you Desh and thanks a lot for your comment. Definitely doesn’t seem to be the easiest place for a young gay boy to grow up in 🙁

        Reply
  4. This is a very interesting article. I am an American gay man, who is in a relationship with a Sri Lankan man who has lived here for the past 24 years. (I’m 27 and he’s 41) We have been together for almost a year. He is out to his brothers, but not his parents or any family back home. This does not trouble me really, but his mother is setting up dates with women for him here in New York, and this is becoming an issue in our relationship. He only gets to see her once a year when he goes home for the holidays, and does not know how or even if he should tell her. This is very frustrating for me, because he wants to meet this girl, he says to keep his mother happy, but no matter how much I say I understand his situation, I cannot say I approve or am OK with it. I don’t know what to do- Am I being an unsupportive boyfriend if I stand my ground on this (We’re talking about a partner going on dates with other people here, come on, I’m not crazy, right?) or should I be more sensitive and flexible to the filial piety that is expected of a first son?

    Reply
    • Hi Gabriel and thanks for your comment. I agree it’s awkward, but wouldn’t really call him meeting people he’s not attracted to a date from our gay point of view right? Coming from a Greek family which is similar in its lack of approach to gays, I can empathise but to a limited extent as I was fortunate to grow up in place like London.

      I asked Kaluu what he thought and he replied with:

      “His boyfriend is lovely. He is trying to understand it and is very honest with his feelings. I think they should talk with each other honestly and be honest with their feelings”.

      Reply
    • I wanna speak to you. I’m from Sri Lanka and 24 years. Let me know and I will give you my contact details via the Nomadic Boys.

      Reply
      • Hope you and Gabriel get in touch.

        Reply
        • shani you can contract me use full l.am working saudi.arabia riyadh ok just call me to my phone other wise better whats.app also same number my job his medical tecknology my e mail not working call me ho imo ho other soon assposiable phone 966554375401

          Reply
    • It’s really sad to hear these stories. I’m a srilankan girl and I have similar problem too. So I understand how hard this situation is. I’m working in abroad so I can stay away from the society. Now a days my family wants me to get married. I even don’t like to hurt their feelings. If anybody wants to married juat to make parents happy ur most welcome to contact me. We can be a good friends too.. My email: help02016@gmail.com
      Thank you!

      Reply
      • Awwww thanks Shani. So sad to read!

        Reply
      • well i have the same issue as SHANi … well my parents too force me to get married .. looking for a gay couple to get married with my partner please contact me we can be best friends by helping each other amenda.fernando4u@gmail.com

        Reply
  5. Many thanks to you and “Kaluu” for sharing his experiences and insights of contemporary LGBT life in Sri Lanka. Really interesting. And thanks too for blogging about “Funny Boy” – I’ll add that to my reading list for when I visit Sri Lanka later this month.

    Reply
    • Our pleasure Dave! Definitely recommend reading Funny Boy.

      Reply
      • I enjoyed Funny Boy so much that I then read Cinnamon Gardens also by Shyam Selvadurai. A really interesting novel about various Sri Lankans living in 1930s Colombo who struggle with family and social expectations at odds with how they might choose to live. Particularly challenging for a gay man having to conceal his sexuality. Well worth reading, especially if visiting Sri Lanka.

        Reply
        • I like & enjoy

          Reply
          • Thanks Sakya.

  6. i like you

    Reply
  7. Thank you for all these touching testimonies and nice comments… Having traveled several times for long stays in SL since 2012, I didn’t find the gay issues in this country very different than what they are in other neighboring countries (like India for instance). Officially, laws, religious codes, social / family constraints, etc. are obviously a relatively big part of the picture and, if, as a gay foreign tourist, I always felt very relaxed, it was not the case for my friends/partners… But, having said that, there is another part of the picture, surely much more hidden and not very clear for short time tourists : the reality of the day to day sexual life of Sri Lankan guys, before and after marriage, is an important presence of same-sex activities and, sometimes, relationships… This phenomenon seems well known by big portions of the population (more men than women apparently) even if not mentionned, refered or told… Like in many other developing countries, it can be partialy explained by the difficulty for young men to have sex with girls whose virginity is regarded as part of their family’s honor and a condition for them marrying properly one day. But, this explanation is insufficient and, actually, same-sex activities/relations take place and are even seeken in a relative climate of acceptance as part of a kind of “never expressed underground culture”…. No doubt that we are very far from the western gay culture and a SL guy will rarely define himself as “gay” even if there’s no girl in his sexual life… But no doubt also that this “traditional” same sex activities/relationships is nowadays very much disturbed by the irruption of this western gay culture through the growing number of western gays visiting Lanka as well as by the huge sources of information provided by social medias and the Net in general… Despite what we could attend at the present, I have the strong feeling that things will change very, very fast in the coming years for gays in this country : 1) Neighboring mastodon India is changing its rules in this regard (just check the statements done this week by Union finances minister Arun Jaitley about section 377 of the Penal code) and such a change will necessarily concen SL. 2) One of the top Sri Lankan leaders is gay (I don’t name him by discretion but all SL gays know who he is) and, if he will probably not take the lead of legal changes, he will certainly favor them. 3) Tourism industry is in its fast growing phase and none of its big men wants the country to be regarded as an homophobic bastion surrounded by opened-minded competitors in this business. 4) Last but not least, mentalities are changing very fast in this country which main religions, Buddhism and Hinduism, are not amongst the more homophobic in this planet … To make it short, when a young guy writes in the main picture of his facebook page “My life, my rules” believe me or not, it’s a bomb and it will blow out centuries of bigotry, male chauvinism and paternalism…

    Reply
    • This is amazing – thanks so much for your comment Santiago. I can’t wait to see these changes unfold in both India and Sri Lanka 🙂

      Reply
  8. hi, im chathuranga, and 22 years old. It is pleasure to talking about Sri Lankan gays. I’m also a gay lover who live in Sri Lanka. actually it is so sad here situation for gay lovers. still we don’t know what happened to our affair, but still we are together here. my some of straight friends know about me that I am a gay, some one are accept it and some guys tharally reject it. but I don’t want to marry a girl never. lot of guys finally select this way to live with their family and friends. but I believe we should live together, we are trying to go overseas country to live where it is acceptable. but it is not easy to go there, we will try it. it is the my wish. I love him so much and i need him. i have no life without him.

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comment Chathuranga. Very sad story – I wish you guys all the best.

      Reply
      • Chathuranga,

        I read your story. You have a lot of self courage. Like to meet you to talk. If you like send me a message.

        Reply
        • Hope you guys get to meet 🙂

          Reply
  9. Hi Stephan and Sebastian,
    Great post!Love how you guys encourage your own community while most of the gay people try to hide their interest in homosexuality .Glad to hear that you had a great time and folks treated you well in Sri Lanka.

    Just wanted to mention ,though the people who making law in Sri Lanka,consider LGBT relationship as a crime,my religion(Buddhism) hasn’t stated it as a crime or a sin,in order to remove a misunderstanding about my religion(Buddhism)
    As I feel,lack open minds of the people who follow the religion blindly is the reason of these rules but the Buddhism.
    Happy travels!

    Reply
    • Thanks for your message Sheli. Kaluu is in fact a passionate Buddhist, but was slightly confused why you think we implied Buddhism states it’s a crime or sin?

      Reply
      • Not you guys.It’s something Sri Lankan people do to justify our rules but there is no such teaching in Buddhism.

        Reply
        • Noted

          Reply
  10. Hi Steph and Sebs,
    Great post. What ever kaluu was mentioned with you correct. Me too I am a gay, and from beautiful city of Galle. My dad was so strict. And I was grown up with 2 lovely beautiful sister’s. Until I became 15yrs I used to sleep inbetween them. I was so interested with young guys since age of 11 years. I felt being with elder brothers I can find love, warmth, kindness etc. So my story started with my relation great looking brother who lived just next door. He started to treat me very differently, with love, warmth and of course his touch. So of course I do not need to mention any other feelings to you guys.
    No one knows who I am until todate except few of my close friends. They still forcing me to get married, but as Kalu said that I really don’t want to put another innocent girl in a difficult situation. Twice I got cought with CID (criminal Investigation Department) officers..luckily they did not file a case in the court but I had to pay huge amount of money for them according to release me.
    It is so bad. Everyone in this world are allowed to feel love without any boundries. I understand religious or any other public places should be control with or not to be happen anything related to same sex or opposite sex. And I missed my beautiful country with beautiful guys, since I started new life in this Beautiful Vancouver city.

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing your story buddy 🙂

      Reply
  11. Bit late to be saying this but this post is great, and it makes me sad that I learned more about gay people in my country from reading it than by having lived here my whole life. It’s all rooted in the strange cultural view that a man is only a man if he can penetrate a woman and have a kids. I know that’s vulgar but aaarrgh.

    Reply
    • Glad to be informative, but agreed, that is truly sad 🙁

      Reply
  12. Wow, these interviews are my favorite part of your blog. It’s so fascinating to read and learn about gay lives in other countries. it’s so sad to hear about it, but at the same time very important for us to learn. Sometimes we get too comfortable in our little bubbles where it’s safe.

    Reply
    • Thanks

      Reply

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