Gunning for social acceptance

Gunning for social acceptance

17 February 2019 04:11 am

Firon, a resident of Homagama, currently works as a human rights activist along with Young Out Here. Firon initially declared his sexuality to his schoolmates. He explained: “It was during my O/Levels that I told my schoolmates that I was gay. They were all heterosexuals and they accepted me for who I was. I also told them that I intend to share this with my parents. Naturally, my friends panicked and advised me to not tell my family.”

Firon’s friends told him that his family might not take the news that well, and that he would have to leave home, should he decide to come out. During the same time, Firon’s neighbour met with an accident and Firon volunteered to tend to his neighbour.

“I attended to him daily and would spend a lot of time at his house. My family speculated about my friendship with my neighbour. I sensed that they were suspecting me. Therefore, I decided to tell my mother that I was attracted to men and that I never felt that way towards women.”

Upon hearing this from Firon, his mother informed him that she had sensed it for a long time and that she was glad that he finally decided to share how he felt with her.

“My mother was very understanding and she said that there are enough and more people who are attracted to those of the same gender. She also said that no matter whom I decide to be or who I decide to fall in love with, she will never disown me. But she advised me to conduct myself in a respectable manner and told me that they would never force me to marry or choose a different way of life.”

According to Firon, his father, after discovering that Firon was in a relationship with another man, openly discussed Firon’s life choices. “My father advised me that I should ensure that no person would be able to question my life choices and advised me to build my personality. By now, everyone in my family, my friends, and colleagues came to know about me. They were very supportive towards me and have never marginalised me at any moment.”

Firon is a firm believer in educating the masses about LGBT persons. He recalls that whenever there were incidents of people bullying him, he would always educate them about whom LGBT people were and that they should accept them as part of society.

“Most of the time, people start bullying our community, purely based on false notions. Time and time again, I have informed them that – be it a transgender or gay person – they are equally talented and contribute to society with their skills. My activism too has helped spread awareness about the community.”

Sidelined by authorities

When questioned about the human rights violations against the LGBTIQA community, Firon noted that it was mostly at state institutions that they get sidelined.

“There are quite a few occasions on which our community gets marginalised, especially at hospitals. When a gay person goes for STI screening, there have been times where the attendants/nurses would suggest that we behave like heterosexuals and they would tell us to dress properly and walk/talk properly. It is very insensitive to do so. Not all gay persons would look effeminate, and they turn our community into a joke.”

Firon further noted that there were times when they would announce a person’s name loudly and also announce the treatment that they were subjected to, which made the gay and transgender people uncomfortable and would also cause them embarrassment.

“At present, about 80% of the hospitals have been educated about sexual and reproductive health rights for all gender identities, but around 20% of them are yet to break away from their conservative thinking. This 20% is creating a bad reputation, and chances of a gay person not going to a doctor due to their conservative views can increase the risk of STIs spreading,” Firon explained.

Much of the bullying takes place because many are not aware about who an LGBT person is, Firon noted. He further stated that society should be sensitised to LGBTQIA persons, adding that no one could ever identify a man as being gay or not, judging by the way he dresses.

“During a recent research programme, two university students said: ‘The gay people we have come across are easily identifiable. But it was difficult to say that some of you were gay’. That statement itself goes to show how ignorant our society is. There is a stereotype. They assume that all gay people should look effeminate, they should crossdress, and that there is a certain way they carry themselves in society.”

Sensitising society

He also stated that since he did not look effeminate, it was easy for him to operate in society, but a more effeminate person would be subjected to constant ridicule and catcalling. He further elaborated that even the portrayal of a gay person in movies is often used for amusement in a comical way.

“I still see that even through the media, the portrayal of LGBT persons should be done in a sensitive manner. If the character is used in a comical way, then society would interpret the message as ‘one should laugh it out when they see a gay person in real life’. We have to change this. Only a very few film directors have managed to portray LGBT persons in a positive note.”

The biggest issue that the LGBT community is facing nowadays is social acceptance, and Firon said that while some less-educated families can be more accepting about their child’s sexual orientation, some well-educated urban families can be far less accepting.

He further noted that this was mainly due to the social stigma that surrounds LGBT persons. Be it a religious matter, cultural matter, or simply trying to safeguard their status, society should be sensitised on a larger scale.

“It might be that they already are aware, but are refusing to accept the fact that their child is a gay person. I hope that our fight to secure a place in society really pulls through and that the authorities and public become more accepting of us, and would treat us as humans – not criminals or aliens,” Firon remarked.

Written by Sarah Hannan | Photo by Saman Abesiriwardana

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