Last edited: July 16, 2004

Gays Hopeful Law Will Be Changed

South China Morning Post, October 15, 1998
Hong Kong

By Susannah Price

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA — Gay rights activists say they are optimistic laws making homosexuality a criminal offence punishable by a prison term will soon be repealed.

The group, Companions on a Journey, set up three years ago, is campaigning for the repeal of Section 365 of the penal code, brought in by the British more than a century ago.

"We are confident this section outlawing homosexuality will be scrapped very soon," said the director and founder of the group, Sherman de Rose.

No one can remember the last time anyone was prosecuted under the law - a fact the Government has used to argue there are more important issues than repealing legislation that has fallen into disuse.

However, Mr. de Rose says there is widespread discrimination against gays in Sri Lanka.

He has been assaulted and the organisation’s Colombo centre has received threatening telephone calls.

There are no bars or clubs where the gay community can meet freely and some resort to beaches, railway stations or toilets to pick up partners.

The organisation is planning to lobby MPs, religious leaders and other figures in authority.

"At present police use the law to blackmail homosexuals - ironically enough they often try to force them to have sex," said Rohan Edirisinghe, a lawyer involved in the project.

"We are just trying to decriminalise homosexuality, we are not asking for a chapter on gay rights."

Last time the Government tried to decriminalise gay rights it was blocked by a Muslim and a Catholic MP. It was then noticed that the law only applied to men - and so was extended to include women.

Companions on a Journey, which is funded by the Dutch Government, has only 550 members at present but has branches round the island. It is actively involved in other aspects of gay life and is working to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS, which has so far killed more than 60 people.

There are only three clinics for HIV testing, none of which is thought to be confidential.

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