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UK soap star announces engagement in Sri Lanka, where gay sex is illegal

UK soap star announces engagement in Sri Lanka, where gay sex is illegal

Jimmy Essex [right] and fiance Charles | Photo: Instagram/jimmy_essex

Actor Jimmy Essex, who starred on British soap Hollyoaks until last year, has gotten engaged to his musician boyfriend of six years.

Sharing the news on social media yesterday, Jimmy said in a romantic Instagram announcement: ’So… this happened.’

His partner Charles did the same, with captions like ‘he said yes…’ and ‘engagement party pending.’

It’s great to see two men shouting from the rooftops about their love for each other. But there’s a but.  

They’ve tagged their posts in Sri Lanka, where gay sex is illegal.

Although rarely enforced, the act of same-sex sex is indeed deemed an ‘unnatural offence’ and ‘an act of gross indecency between persons’ under Articles 365 of the 1885 Penal Code.

 

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Engagement party pending…

A post shared by Charles (@charlesmusic_) on

‘I don’t think they’re bad people’

My guess is Jimmy and Charles aren’t aware of the legals. That’s risky in and of itself; I’ve contacted a rep for Jimmy to clear this and a few other things up and am yet to hear back.

If that’s the case, it’s certainly preferable to whatever the alternative is. (Shameless flaunting of privilege?) Although I do struggle to believe a same-sex couple could spend days in a country like Sri Lanka and it not come up.

Either way, it’s not that I think Jimmy and Charles are bad people for not highlighting the lack of privilege of others. (Or, for that matter, Paris Jackson). But I do think they’re complacent. And that worries me.

Complacency can’t become the new normal.

It takes literally 10 seconds to look up the state of LGBTI rights in any given country. Ignorance isn’t an excuse.

‘Think about how we live and love’

Five minutes’ research also shows the work of local activists like Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, who are trying to reverse the law. While there have been positive steps forward, there has also been a lot unfortunate news in recent years.

Asked about the engagement by Gay Star News, Rosanna – Executive Director of EQUAL GROUND – congratulated the couple and said on behalf of the organization: ‘We celebrate with Jimmy and Charles and wish them well.

‘Their engagement in Sri Lanka is an occasion for them to celebrate no doubt.

‘However, when publicizing this so broadly, one must also give some thought to the many LGBT Sri Lankans who are unable to express their love and commitment as this couple have.’

‘What is taken for granted in the UK, is certainly not the norm in my country,’ she furthermore said. ‘While wishing them well, I would like to ask that care is taken that others who wish to do the same, think about how we live and love – under the yoke of criminalization, discrimination and marginalization.’

 

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The Last Supper

A post shared by Charles (@charlesmusic_) on

‘News outlets covering the engagement make no reference to Sri Lankan legals’

Far be it from me to put a dark cloud over someone’s holiday/engagement. I’d sooner have not known and not written anything, but the guys promoted it online – and now I want to point out the missed opportunity.

The pair’s engagement has been covered by news outlets far and wide in the UK – few, if any, mention Sri Lankan legals.

This is a complex issue. Nobody has to justify their travel plans to me. But that won’t stop me having an (ever-evolving) point of view.

If an LGBTI person vacations in an LGBTI-unfriendly country, but connects with local LGBTIs to show support, and/or donates to relevant causes, fair enough. Even if you don’t, I accept your presence in that country alone is arguably moving the needle.

But for an influential celebrity to go somewhere like Sri Lanka, generate news then not use their platform to cast some light on the experience of their less fortunate peers? That does not sit well with me. As it stands, Jimmy’s 160k Instagram followers seem none the wiser. Don’t tell me that’s not disappointing.

Granted, Jimmy and Charles are under no obligation to turn their engagement into a political statement. But aren’t all LGBTIs who enjoy privilege – especially rich, cis gay men, descriptors that may or may not apply to the guys in question – responsible in paying that forward in some way?

Regardless, sparing a thought – or an Instagram caption – for Sri Lankan LGBTIs when you’re living the high life in their country is hardly activism, is it? 

See also: 

Gay Hollyoaks star Nathan Sussex on why straight men can play gay roles (and vice versa)

Hollyoaks star Kieron Richardson and partner Carl Hyland welcome twins