Supported by our Community Partner – APTN
My name is Bhoomi Harendran and I am a transgender activist in Sri Lanka openly fighting for my community’s rights. I am also a television personality and an actress.
Answering the question of who I am is difficult to do if I separate myself from my work because, for the last 11 years, I have been an active member of the community. My coming out and transitioning happened parallel to the work I have been doing as a transgender woman. My pride is with the work I do for the community.
I am a very sensitive person and the courage of others who strive to live each day despite the difficulties they face move me deeply. I have a very close relationship with my mother, though at first, I only had the unconditional love and support from my beloved, late father. I owe him the courage and strength I have in me to fight for what’s right and true.
As an individual, I have these deep-rooted personal goals of working for the rights of children and for the protection of nature. My first priority, however, has always been with my beautiful community.
I am a simple human being who loves deeply and cares for everything and everyone in my life.
Please briefly let us know about your work
I am the Founder and Executive Director of the National Transgender Network (NTN) in Sri Lanka, one of the leading Non-Governmental Organizations for LGBTIQ+ rights. We started this organisation in 2018. Though the organisation has a very recent history, my work for the community dates back a little more than a decade. I have been an active member of the community for 11 years now.
I am also a subcommittee member of the Human rights commission for LGBTIQ people, a steering committee member of the children’s parliament, and an ambassador for the “Stop Child Cruelty” foundation.
Currently, NTN is involved in the work of spreading awareness about HIV, working to support the rights of LGBTIQ persons in Sri Lanka. NTN is also involved in a project towards the designing of a protection bill for transgenders in Sri Lanka.
When I’m not an Executive Director or an activist, I am a television personality and an actress. Both these platforms have given me the chance to create better and more awareness about our community among the society.
What one achievement you’ve accomplished that you’re most proud of
The biggest achievement in my life is the recognition I received for the part I played in the movie ‘Frangipani’. I was given the award for the best male actor at the SAARC film festival in 2017.
Receiving that award was the proudest moment of life because of the awareness it received for the transgender community in Sri Lanka. To my knowledge, I was first South-East Asian transgender woman to receive such an award. While it gave me such pride, it also gave me more chances to talk about our community and normalise the understanding of being transgender.
What do you find most challenging about your work
There are three things that I find challenging about the work I do.
● Mobilising the transgender community
● Acceptance of the transgender community
● The platforms that allow me to strengthen the systems that are put in place to support the trans persons
This is mainly because of the lack of opportunities to support the transgender community. The issues our community faces every day aren’t regarded as important. We are a highly marginalised community and 99% of our community members are regarded as outcasts by their own family.
So, it creates a vicious cycle. When we are not accepted, we are cast away and are left to fend for ourselves. Our first priority becomes survival, and working for the betterment of the community, for our rights are given a last row seat. So, the fight for our rights and our survival has been a long-fought battle.
What do you do to recharge your battery
I am a very spiritual person. My spiritual and religious beliefs guide me to be resilient every day. It brings me the strength and the courage I need to keep moving forward.
I also enjoy a nice cup of tea every evening when I go back home. Sitting on my balcony with a warm cup of tea always helps me to rejuvenate and prepare for my next day.
I also have this habit of reading motivational quotes to keep me inspired and hopeful. I have a personal collection that I turn to most times when I I have doubts and need encouragement.
What is your vulnerability and how do you overcome it
As I said earlier, I am a very sensitive person. While this trait helps me to keep fighting for the plight of my beautiful community, it also breaks me down.
At times when my emotions get the best of me, I push myself into work and focus on the tasks at hand. I remind myself about what tomorrow brings and about my career goals. This helps me to keep me grounded.
What was your reaction to being named one of the honourees for the Transgender Hero category
I was genuinely surprised, happy, and humbly honored. In my entire career of 11 years, I felt like someone acknowledged me for the work I’ve done for my community.
I felt like I am on the right path, knowing that people have noticed the work I have been doing and that I have made an impact. That is everything I’ve ever wanted: for others to recognise this beautiful community that struggles every day to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Whoever nominated me, I wish I could thank them in person for the recognition you gave. Even if I don’t win this award, I am now convinced that we are doing something to let transgender people in this country know that they matter and that they aren’t alone.
Despite the fact that the COVID-19 is still with us, what is a message that you would like to share with the communities in the Asia Pacific
This is a time that nature and the universe has given us time to pause and rethink about the work we have done, the life we have lived, and to replan.
We shouldn’t let the pandemic demotivate us. We must take it as a challenge that has come our way to test our strength, resilience, and courage.
This is just another obstacle. Like some obstacles in our life, we were unaware of the nature and scale of this battle but we did endure. We found solutions and we didn’t give up. So, let’s march forward and find strength, within, to stand up stronger than ever.