Timor-Leste’s Pride Week 2017Hatutan
Being surrounded by regional conservative giants hasn’t stopped this country from supporting LGBTQ rights.
More than 500 people came together in Timor Leste’s capital, Dili, for the country’s first pride parade, after the country’s prime minister announced his support for LGBTQ rights in the country.
The 15-year-old nation — a former Portuguese colony — became independent in 2002 after a quarter-century struggle against its larger neighbour, Indonesia. The country has over one million people.
The parade — which was held on June 29 — was supported by local organisations like Hatutan, a local youth group, along with international organisations like UN Women and the US Embassy, according to Gay Star News. Groups in the country held a pride event last year.
The pride parade occurred as Rui Maria De Araujo, Timor Leste’s prime minister, publicly stated his support for LGBTQ rights, becoming one of the first few statesmen in Asia to do so.
"Everyone has the potential to contribute to the development of the nation, including members of the LGBT community," De Araujo said. "Discrimination, disrespect and abuse towards people because of their sexual orientation does not provide any benefit to our nation."
"This is how we can create an inclusive nation, where everyone can participate in the development process and make the most of the independence we all fought for," De Araujo added. "One for all, all for one."
Same-sex marriage remains unrecognised in the country.
"[The statement] means a lot because throughout this whole time, none of the government officials have said anything on [LGBTQ] issues," Natalino Ornai Guterres told Gay Star News. "On the ground, there’s still quite a few problems we need to tackle."
"Assurance and positive encouragement from high level government officials is crucial in order to make LGBTIQ people feel accepted and welcomed in their own home countries," Ryan Silverio, a regional coordinator of ASEAN’s SOGIE (sexual orientations and gender identity expression) Caucus — a network of rights activists in Southeast Asia — said in a statement.
"We are glad that Timor Leste is becoming a breath of hope in the region."
De Araujo’s remarks come as the LGBTQ community in the region faces a rising tide of religious conservatism.
Conservatives in neighbouring Indonesia and Malaysia called for a boycott of coffee giant Starbucks over its diversity policy over the weekend, while Singapore’s government barred foreigners and foreign sponsorship of the city’s only pride event.