In search of an identity
By Vihanga Perera
"People ask 'why be homosexual?' It's just how things are; just how we're born," says Sherman De Rose, the founder of Companions On a Journey.

Criticism and commentary have come hand in hand with a little appreciation as Companions On a Journey, the first society of homosexuals in Sri Lanka marked its ninth anniversary on September 27.

It all started in 1995, involving a small group. "The conflict was one to do with identity. It was both within and without ourselves; it was a deep wound that needed healing and the last nine years have been a proper healing process," De Rose explains.

Their main problem was the discrimination gay people face. "The 'practice' of sex is different from the 'identity' of sex" and the Companions are concerned with the latter.

The current social environment is such that being gay could place you under severe emotional pressure; it could very well strip you of employment, see your promotions being turned down and make you a target of condemnation and abuse.

"People get thrown out of their houses," a student of the University of Peradeniya points out. "This happening in Oscar Wilde's time, a century ago, can be accepted. But surely, we have progressed since then?"

One of the main agendas of the Companions is to get the homosexual community on their feet with a sense of self-esteem. Ten programmes, in fact, are under way for the current year, dealing with a host of issues such as AIDS, prisoners and sanitation, as well as female sex-workers.

"Sexually transmitted diseases are caused mainly by the want of precaution. With state assistance, we are promoting safe-sex and sanitation," says De Rose.

"Our initial funding came from a Dutch-based NGO called HIVOS," De Rose continues."We've since had aid from the UN, donors and the Government. We have also had the support of prominent personalities like Sunethra Bandaranaike, Dr. Kamalika Abeyratne and Sir Arthur C. Clarke.”

A collection of paper clippings at the Companions' office shows the offensive attacks made upon them by politicians, religious sources and other agencies throughout the years. "Yeah, the criticism is obvious…but, marking our ninth year in service, I make a call to look upon us as humans not as criminals. More than anything, we have kept the topic open, alive and under discussion," De Rose adds.

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