HERO Awards 2023: The Honourees

By September 29, 2023 November 28th, 2023 Regional, What We Do

Young Achiever
Award Recipient

Angel Queentus

Sri Lanka

My name is Angel Queentus and I am 27 years old. I live in Jaffna in Northern Sri Lanka. I am a transgender, youth, and feminist activist. I realized and asserted my transgender identity from a young age when I was in school. As a result, I faced a lot of challenges which impacted my education. However, I resolved to make sure that others did not face the hurdles I faced. Therefore, I started the Jaffna Transgender Network in 2019 to work for the rights, livelihood, and cultural expression of Tamil-speaking LGBTIQ+ people in Sri Lanka.

I belong to the ethnic minority Tamils in Sri Lanka. Tamil society is conservative, and it is difficult to openly live as an LGBTIQ+ person. I have overcome the hardships of living in a conservative society, and I am now a nationally recognized activist. I organized the first-ever pride walk in Jaffna which was also the first time LGBTIQ+ people walked on the streets for pride in Sri Lanka. I draw strength from my community. I am a feminist and youth activist who works across other issues, and I dream of a better future for all marginalized people.    

Instagram: @angelqueentus @jaffnatgn @Jaffnapride 

Facebook: 

Twitter: @angelqueentus1 @Jaffnatgn @JaffnaPride 

Tell us about your work

I am the founder and director of the Jaffna Transgender Network (JTN), an organization working with Tamil-speaking LGBTIQ+ persons in the North and East of Sri Lanka. JTN is a trans-led LGBTQI+ community organization based in Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka working to affirm rights, build sustainable community livelihoods, and provide avenues for cultural expression in the region. I conduct workshops and sensitization programmes on LGBTIQ+ rights for government employees including police personnels, students, and members of the media. I have authored several print media articles, interviews, and other media appearances. 

I have worked with Equal Ground (Colombo). In 2021, using the British Council’s SRP grant, I kick-started a collaborative arts programme that engages queer/trans cultural production. Since 2022, I have organized annual pride events in Jaffna, the first of its kind in Tamil-speaking regions of Sri Lanka. As a part of pride events, I have organized panel discussions on LGBTIQ+ rights, short film competitions, fashion shows, workshops for university students, and other events. I am also working on the ongoing efforts to decriminalize homosexuality in Sri Lanka. I am also one of the organizers of the Jaffna Queer Festival, an annual film and arts festival in Jaffna.

What one achievement you’ve accomplished that you’re most proud of? Why?

I am most proud of organizing the first-ever pride walk in Jaffna in 2022 which was also the first time people walked on the streets for pride in Sri Lanka. It was a historical moment. I am most proud of this achievement because until then there was no public expression of LGBT people on such a scale in Jaffna. Due to a long civil war that ended only in 2009, LGBTIQ+ visibility has been low in Jaffna, and I am happy to have played a key role in creating an avenue for visibility and change through pride events. The pride events were widely celebrated nationally and in the Tamil diaspora across countries.    

What do you find most challenging about your work? Why?

My work is difficult given the resistance from a conservative society daily. It is challenging to change people’s minds which firmly believe in the gender binary and heterosexuality. For instance, I had to struggle a lot to even get police permission to organize the pride march in 2022. While things are changing slowly amongst Tamil-speaking people, we still have a long way to go before Tamil-speaking LGBTIQ+ people are fully accepted as equal citizens in Sri Lanka.   

What do you do to recharge your battery?

My community gives me the strength to overcome all challenges and their friendship recharges me. I enjoy traveling to new places with my friends. Recently, I completed a hiking session with Summit Equality, a group that fosters diversity and inclusion through hiking. I enjoyed being amidst nature which was very rejuvenating. I also get inspired by artistic expressions and I find time to immerse myself in artistic and cultural practices.  

What is your vulnerability and how do you overcome it?

It is difficult to work amidst daily resistance to who you are as a person. As mentioned earlier, even minor tasks like getting police permission for a pride walk take much longer while working with and as an LGBTIQ+ person. I overcame these difficulties by working with my friends and building a community. When we stand united, we can overcome days when we feel low.

You have been nominated for the Young Achiever category. What was your reaction and please, tell us why?

I was thrilled to find out that I was nominated for the Young Achievers Award. I felt a lot of joy as my hard work was recognized through this nomination. It makes me determined to work harder.  

What warm/hopeful message that you would like to share with the communities in the Asia Pacific?

I am very optimistic about the future. Our actions today will determine the future for the generations to come. The time to act is now!

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