Lesbian and gay sexual intercourse is still prohibited in Sri Lanka (December 2023). Article 365A of the penal code criminalizes "carnal intercourse against the order of nature" and provides for a penalty of up to ten years in prison. However, this article is treated as a dormant law, because the Sri Lankan supreme court decided that the article 365A is unenforceable and the president declared that he has no intention to veto a reform bill, if it finds a majority in parliament. Previous presidents of both major parties stated that in their opinion discrimination against LGBT people was unconstitutional. A legislative reform of the respective penal code (article 365A) introduced by British colonial rule in the 19th century is on the way, after such an abolishment of sexual bans imposed by western imperialism (due to Christian values alien to South Asian traditions) has already been successful in India.
However, a potential risk remains. Serious cases of discriminatory criminal prosecution and police brutality with gross violation of human rights occured in recent years. A lesbians couple from Sri Lanka and India was arrested after expressing a desire to marry and were ordered to be examined by a psychiatric doctor. Several males under suspicion of anal intercourse were maltreated by police and had to undergo humiliating anal examination. Except from this Indian woman, foreign citizens were not affected by acts of LGTBQ+ persecution. Until now, other cases of legal action against LGBTQ+ foreign nationals have not referred to the same-sex aspect of their relationships but to minors being victimized. Police conduct concerning Sri Lankan and foreign nationals differs not only concerning same-sex relationships, Sri Lankan police in general is eager to avoid negative media coverage of human rights violations or other criminal acts affecting tourists and treats foreigners as guests to be protected with double efforts of professionalism when compared to international standards. Unfriendly police behaviour against foreign nationals mainly affects suspects of illegal drug abuse and trafficking.
However, let’s not deny that LGBTQ+ travelers should be aware of a remaining potential risk of prosecution, until the colonial ban of lesbian and gay sex is abolished by the legislative body.
Mainly due to the cases of police brutality against lesbian and gay locals and public discrimination of transgender and non-binary people, Sri Lanka has a low ranking concerning LGBTQ+ rights. The Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy of the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law, ranks Sri Lanka only on position 129 of 175 countries, with Iceland on 1 and Azerbaijan on 175. For comparison, Thailand ranks 40, India 51, and Indonesia 147. Sri Lanka ranks almost equal to Tanzania and Palestine. Another reasons for the low ranking of Sri Lanka is the absence of legal reforms such as: anti-discrimination laws, marriage rights or other registered partnerships of same-sex couples, access of openly gay persons to military service, removal of homosexual orientation as mental disorder, banning of conversion therapy. The National Blood Transfusion Service (NBTS) classifies male same-sex intercourse as a risky behavior that bans people from donating blood. The existence of a third gender is not recognized by law. But transgender persons may change legal gender. This has been permitted since 2016, following advice from the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka.
Cultural Aspects & Traveling
There is an organized LGBTQ+ community in Sri Lanka, for example "Equal Ground" founded by Rosanna Flamer-Caldera. But a first gay pride parade was held only recently.
Sri Lanka has no explicitly gay or lesbian bars, though there are many bars to socialize in general. But be aware that in the Sri Lankan culture local women do not visit bars and that bars are prohibited to sell alcoholic beverages to women. Inofficially, it's no problem for female travelers to purchase alcohol in bars in tourist areas. However, the bar owners theoretically risk their licences by conforming to non-discriminatory international practices.
Hostile behaviour against lesbian or gay people is comparatively rare in Sri Lanka, though LGBT locals face issues particularly in rural areas and activists observe increasingly vulnerable living conditions. Anti-LGBT resentments are said to originate mainly from the colonial period and to be instrumentalized by religious fanatics as in many other countries of the developing world.
Concerning LGBTQ+ travelers, hotel staff or travel agents or drivers do not tend to be concerned whether guests sharing a room are lesbian or gay or not. It’s impolite or almost tabu to disturb couples of any kind by watching or by critical looks or making comments. When compared to Western cultures, there is a tendency to keeping privacy in both respects: In Sri Lanka it’s a less relevant talking point what happens inside rooms, but the culture is more restraint in public areas, though by far not as rigidly as in most Muslim countries. The restraints also apply to straight sexuality, of course. Even wifes and husbands do not kiss each other on lips in front of many unknown people, although customs have been slightly changing in this respect in recent years. Physical contact of males and females is avoided in the public arena, but when women are welcoming women or men are greeting men or while they are talking, it’s common in Sri Lanka, also in public, that they are shortly touching each other at the shoulder or hands or back, but not with erotical connotations and never at private parts. In contrast to Middle East cultures, customs such as kisses on cheeks and holding hands of adults of the same sex are rarely seen in Sri Lanka, only very good friends do so in public and school children of the same sex do so pretty often.
Our team is fully educated, neither do we try to find out sexual orientations nor is their any need to hide. If you after a while also like to communicate private preferences, it’s appreciated as trust, but of course there is no expectation in this regard.
Lanka Excursions Holidays will NOT help you to find lesbian or gay partners, this is the same policy as for straight travelers.