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36 gay activists perish in tsunami: Thai gay tourist venues spared


Washington Blade - January 7, 2005

The tsunami that has killed more than 140,000 people in Southeast Asia also made an impact on gay tourists and residents. The Dec. 26 tsunami killed 36 members of the Sri Lankan gay organization Companions on a Journey and another 12 remain missing. The rising ocean waters destroyed 112 of the group members' homes.

"The coastal line which the tourists frequent is destroyed entirely," said Sherman de Rose, the group's executive director, by e-mail. "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 tourists from Western Europe and Scandinavian countries visit for holidays.

"Fortunately for the gay community, the tsunami didn't make its appearance in the evening; otherwise lots of gays cruising along the beaches would have perished." The Companions group has received many requests for assistance and offers of help.

"It's amazing how the gays and lesbians responded to the calamity," de Rose said. "Many volunteered with relief work and donated to relief programs. We have received many calls from gay and 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." Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, executive director of the Sri Lanka-based gay rights organization Equal Ground, said, "The magnitude of the catastrophe that affected Sri Lanka on Boxing Day is something that is hardly describable.

"Members of Equal Ground have not only given of their time and energy to volunteer for relief efforts, but also have spent their own monies buying essentials like medicine and food, and donating it to the larger organizations sending the trucks to the north, east and south." Flamer-Caldera said "many of the gay �spaces' in the south and also in Negombo to the north of Colombo were damaged or wiped out by the tsunami. ... This horrible, horrible disaster has knocked Sri Lanka so bad that it will take years and years to rebuild." Information scarce from Indonesia In Indonesia, gay 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," said D�d� 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 epicenter," Oetomo said. "The good news is that gay organizations are involved in fund-raising and collecting donations together with other community groups." Most Phuket gay businesses spared In Thailand, the resort area of Phuket, which is popular with gay tourists, was hit hard. It has many gay guesthouses, restaurants, bars, shops and coffeehouses. But, according to Ulf Mikaelsson and Borje 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 as to the losses being sustained.

"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 said. "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." Carlsson described his own experience of the tsunami.

"It was a clear blue sky and we were having our morning coffee at Connect when we heard people screaming that the beach had disappeared," he said. "When I got close to the beach I heard more screaming and suddenly I saw this huge wave, taller than the palm trees, coming to crash down on us. ...

"We rushed into a hotel as the huge wave rolled into Patong Beach," he said. "The giant wave flooded the lobby within seconds and dragged furniture onto the street. I had to wrap myself around a pillar to avoid being swept away. As I was standing there, a car actually floated into the lobby and overturned because the current was so strong. The water was up to my chest, and I was holding on to my boyfriend's hand because he can't swim." "It's a strange feeling to walk from one side of Rath-U-Thit road to the other," Carlsson said. "On one side it looks like a war zone and on the other side nothing had changed."


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Information in this article was accurate in January 7, 2005. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.