Transgender people in Sri Lanka are rarely able to obtain a national identity card and other official documents that reflect their preferred name and gender, exposing them to constant and humiliating scrutiny about their gender identity—including from police at checkpoints, staff at public hospitals, employers, airport staff, and bank tellers.
Transgender people who wish to change the gender designation on their official identity documents face a bewildering array of bureaucratic obstacles.
Government officials handle such applications in an ad-hoc manner, even summarily rejecting applications to change gender on official documents, according to interviewees.
In other cases, agencies subject them to arbitrary, invasive, or onerous procedures—including having to produce evidence of gender transition and reassignment surgery, procuring letters from parents explaining how they acted as a child, and having to repeat explanations for different officials of their experience of transitioning.
LGBTI people in general may face stigma and discrimination in housing, employment, and health care, in both the public and private sectors.
“Their words are more piercing than needles,” one transgender man said of staff at public hospitals and clinics who asked unnecessary personal questions.
They included individuals from Sri Lanka’s various ethnic groups: 46 were ethnic Sinhalese, 11 were ethnic Tamil, and 4 others were Muslim, Burgher, Sinhalese/Tamil, and Sinhalese/Indian.
Human Rights Watch also spoke with 17 government officials, human rights activists, lawyers, medical professionals, and social services practitioners, and with other marginalized people, including sex workers and drug users, to understand the context and obstacles facing transgender people and MSM.It is the government’s responsibility to ensure the safety of all people within its borders, including by more effectively addressing the violence and insecurity that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people face.Authorities need to send an unambiguous message to law enforcement officials as well as ordinary citizens that all Sri Lankans, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation, deserve the same respect, protection, and realization of their rights.Research was conducted with the support of Sri Lankan activists and nongovernmental organizations that work with LGBTI people, including EQUAL GROUND, Heart2Heart, and the Family Planning Association.Additional information was gathered from published sources, including laws, United Nations documents, academic research, and media accounts.*** an opportunity to expressly incorporate gender identity and sexual orientation into the constitution’s equal protection clause, and other fundamental rights protected under international law that are currently absent from constitutional text, including the rights to life, health, and privacy.