Sri Lankans’ perceptions of LGBT persons

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28 June 2021
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Sri Lankans’ perceptions of LGBT persons
The Social Scientists Association undertook a survey of the knowledge, attitudes, and perceptions of Sri Lankans about Sri Lankan LGBT persons.

A structured questionnaire, available in Sinhala, Tamil and English, was administered in late 2020 among 2130 people in all of Sri Lanka’s 25 districts. The sample was composed of respondents from different gender, age, education and religious groups. [1]

The survey revealed a mixed picture: the vast majority of people think that LGBT people face discrimination, violence and or/abuse because they are LGBT, and a majority do not agree that they should be punished. However, positive and negative perceptions are held depending on a particular issue and context, which suggests there is work to be done to address stigma and stereotypes and build knowledge and awareness.

The resulting report examines and shares findings from the survey. The findings hold potential for further in-depth analyses for academics, policy makers, legislators and civil society.  They provide a snapshot of how Sri Lankans understand and view a range of matters related to the LGBT community. It is hoped this report will inform policy makers, advocacy groups and scholars in their strategic and specific interventions to safeguard and respect the rights of Sri Lankan LGBT persons.

The final report is available here.

Key Findings

Respondents’ awareness and knowledge of LGBT

  • A reasonable percentage said they had heard the identifiers transgender (39.9%), lesbian and gay (25.6%) and bisexual (16.1%) but just over half of respondents (55%) said they had not heard of any of the LGBT identifiers.
  • Awareness of LGBT identifiers is slightly higher among younger, urban populations with tertiary education
  • A significant percentage said they personally knew someone who was transgender (27%) or lesbian or gay (24%)

Respondents’ attitudes towards LGBT

  • Many respondents had positive attitudes towards LGBT persons in varied contexts. For instance, 59.7% said they will not be ashamed to travel next to a gay or lesbian person.
  • Attitudes were mixed or negative in some contexts. On whether it would be shameful for a transgender person to be President of Sri Lanka, 49.5% agreed and 48% disagreed.

Respondents’ perceptions of and prejudices against LGBT

  • Respondents’ perceptions of LGBT persons varies depending on the context.
  • Positive perceptions are evident in some contexts. A majority of people (72.5%) said a person living life as a LGBT person should not be punished for their sexual identity; 65% said a LGBT person can do a job as well as any other person; and just over half (51.4%) said they would support legislation to ensure the rights of LGBT persons.
  • However, negative perceptions are evident in some contexts closer or more personally relevant to a respondent. 59.5% said renting their house to a LGBT person would be a problem.
  • 48.6% said it would not be shameful to have a LGBT child; 44.4% said it would.
  • Respondents subscribe to many social prejudices against Sri Lankan LGBT persons. For instance, 51.4% said they go against my religion and 52.3% said association encourages a person to become like them; although upwards of 40% disagreed.

Which Sri Lankans are more likely to have a more positive attitude towards LGBT persons?

Respondents likely to have more positive attitudes towards and perceptions of LGBT persons

Respondents likely to have more negative attitudes towards and perceptions of LGBT persons

  • Are under 30 years old
  • Are over 30 years old
  • Live mainly in urban areas
  • Live mainly in rural areas
  • Are educated to tertiary levels or higher
  • Are educated to secondary levels or lower
  • Have higher level of awareness of LGBT identities
  • Have lower level of awareness of LGBT identities
  • Report more interactions with LGBT persons
  • Report fewer interactions with LGBT persons
  • Are more likely to be followers of Buddhism and Hinduism
  • Are more likely to be followers of Islam and Christianity

The vast majority of respondents acknowledge discrimination is experienced by LGBT persons in different public and private contexts in Sri Lanka, irrespective of the respondents’ awareness, attitudes, and perceptions of LGBT. Examples of percentages of respondents who said Sri Lankan LGBT persons are discriminated or harassed because they are LGBT persons include:

  • 89% said LGBT persons face violence and abuse on social media because they are LGBT
  • 87% said LGBT persons face discrimination in finding rental housing and/or in school because they are LGBT
  • 69% said LGBT persons face discrimination by the police because they are LGBT

[1] The survey was commissioned by Westminster Foundation for Democracy under the Commonwealth Equality Project as part of a series of initiatives to fill gaps in research and evidence and work with and support the rights of LGBT communities and allies in Sri Lanka. Due to time and resource constraints, the survey focused specifically on LGBT rather than LGBTIQ+.