Inclusion rolling! Raising awareness of LGBT+ issues through film in Sri Lanka

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04 April 2022
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Inclusion rolling! Raising awareness of LGBT+ issues through film in Sri Lanka
To help build awareness of the realities of LGBT+ peoples’ lives in Sri Lanka, WFD provided funding for a series of fictional short films, which premiered in the country in late 2021 and will go on tour around the country in 2022.

Building the case for inclusion reaches beyond making sure people understand hard cold facts about the ruinous costs of discrimination. Art and culture can be a positive transformative force, helping to build understanding and empathy. To help build awareness of the realities of LGBT+ peoples’ lives in Sri Lanka, WFD provided funding for a series of fictional short films, which premiered in the country in late 2021 and will go on tour around the country in 2022.

WFD's programme on equality in Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, WFD is working on a programme to ensure women, girls, members of the LGBT+ community, and other intersectionally disadvantaged groups are more included in decision-making. The project is funded by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and implemented in partnership with Kaleidoscope Trust (KT).

The programme is working along three avenues to inclusion: firstly, building evidence of the costs of discrimination and increasing incentives for decision-makers to act; secondly, strengthening skills and providing tools to those working for inclusion; and thirdly, building links and relationships between decision-makers and civil society.

KT’s local CSO partner, Equal Ground has focused on developing evidence on the impacts of social economic discriminatory regulation and practices towards LGBT+ people and engaging with CSOs to promote more diversity and inclusive work practices importance. As part of this work, Equal Ground has conducted research on the social and economic costs of sections 365 and 365A of the Sri Lankan Penal Code and developed a subsequent policy brief for Parliamentarians, as well as hosted 3 webinars on Diversity and Inclusion on the Workplace.

Incentives for inclusion

But building the case for inclusion reaches beyond understanding cold hard facts. Art and culture can be a positive transformative force. To help build awareness of the realities of LGBT+ peoples’ lives in Sri Lanka, WFD also provided funding to a film maker called Anomaa Rajakaruna. Using the money, Anomaa wrote and directed a series of short films focusing on LGBT+ Sri Lankan stories which featured LGBT+ storylines, which were developed in consultation with Sri Lankan LGBT+ rights activists.

For example, one film showed a popular politician attending the birthday party of one of his university friends, who happens to be a lesbian. During the birthday dinner her close friends are questioning the politician about his commitment to reform the existing laws which prohibit same sex acts in Sri Lanka.

Another explored the tension between identity and societal and familial pressures. An actor who plays the female lead in traditional theatre in Northern Sri Lanka shares his life story with a female documentary filmmaker. After realising the difficulties that the actor faces in his conservative home and his society, due to his sexual orientation, the journalist offers to help the actor to find a transit home as a way of escape. The actor refuses her help, insisting that he should try to survive in his own environment because his struggle is not an individual struggle.

WFD spoke to film maker, Anomaa, who told us: “These films were produced during a time of uncertainty, based on research information highlighted in the gap report on the LGBT+ community in Sri Lanka presented by WFD. I have been using film as a medium to open conversations with communities for over 25 years. My experience is art and culture, especially audio-visual forms, can play a role in creating conversations across borders.”

Provoking and providing space for discussion

The films were launched in November 2011 and have been screened for nearly 1,000 people across 14 districts. Audiences have included youth leaders, university students, members of the LGBT+ community, free trade zone workers, war widows, civil society, dramatists and artists, sex workers, schoolteachers, women’s groups and police officers. Post-screening discussions have been conducted in Sinhala and Tamil.