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
"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
"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."