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