The Dec 26 tsunami killed 36 members of the Sri Lankan gay organization Companions On A Journey. Twelve additional members remain unaccounted for. Homes of 112 group members were destroyed by the waves.
“These are numbers that we have received so far,” says Sherman de Rose, the group’s executive director. “The coastal line which the tourists frequent is destroyed entirely. So, along with it, whatever the gay-friendly places were, were destroyed as well. Mind you, we didn’t have any out and open gay/lesbian spaces, although it was accepted in tourist areas where a lot of LGB [lesbian, gay, bisexual] tourists from Western Europe and Scandinavian countries visit for holidays.
“Fortunately for the gay community,” de Rose says, “the tsunami didn’t make its appearance in the evening; otherwise lots of gays cruising along the beaches would have perished.”
Companions has received many requests for assistance and offers of help.
“It’s amazing how the gays and lesbians responded to the calamity,” de Rose says. “Many volunteered with relief work and donated to relief programs. We have received many calls from gay/lesbian people who wanted to support the affected in any possible way.
“We have also received lots of requests from affected members to assist them with building their destroyed shelters. We have donated clothing, dry rations, cooked food, water and medicine. Our principal donor, Hivos-Netherlands, has informed us that we could utilize some of the funds they have provided for HIV/AIDS and sexuality-related activities for relief purposes.”
In Indonesia, like in India, queer groups have been unable to get any information from the most-affected areas.
“We don’t know about the effect of the tsunami on gay people in Aceh and North Sumatra,” says Dédé Oetomo, head of GAYa NUSANTARA. “We never had any organized contact in Aceh or the island of Nias in North Sumatra, which have been hardest-hit.
“Medan, the major city on the eastern coast with a sizeable gay population, was spared due to its distance from the epicentre,” Oetomo says. “The good news is that gay organizations are involved in fundraising and collecting donations together with other community groups.”
In Thailand, the resort area of Phuket was hard-hit. It has many gay guest houses, restaurants, bars, shops and coffeehouses. But according to Ulf Mikaelsson and Börje Carlsson, two Swedes who run the Connect Guest House
and Coffee Bar, most of the gay businesses are “far enough from the beach to be untouched by the tragedy.
“The day of the tsunami disaster, the Connect, with its satellite television connection, was one of the only sources of news coverage of the tragedy as it unfolded,” the couple wrote in an e-mail. “Scores of native and foreign gays gathered around the mounted television and ate, drank and bonded with each other as news came in.
“Right now, the Phuket gay community is busy raising funds for those Thais and foreigners who suffered injury and loss due to the tidal wave,” the couple wrote. “It will take some months to clean up and rebuild the beach area, but everything else on the island, 500 yards or more from the beach, is exactly as it was – untouched by the tsunami…. If you want to help us in Patong, do not cancel your tour to Patong Beach. Now more than ever we
need your support.” They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.