In an act described as a ‘breath of hope in the region’, Timor Leste’s Prime Minister has made a definitive statement in support of LGBTI rights.
Rui Maria De Araujo is the Prime Minister of Timor Leste (East Timor) and is now the first Southeast Asian leader to publicly support LGBTI rights. The small country is located in the Timor Sea between Indonesia, Australia and Papua New Guinea.
It gained independence from Indonesia in 2002 and has since worked to build itself as an autonomous nation-state in the region. Timor Leste is known as a region leader on human rights and the PM’s statement confirms that.
‘Everyone has the potential to contribute to the development of the nation, including members of the LGBT community,’ De Araujo said in a video last week.
‘Discrimination, disrespect and abuse towards people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity does not provide any benefit to our nation.’
De Argujo argued for the young nation to develop its people needed to live free from violence and discrimination.
‘For a nation to develop well, every young person needs to be able to grow up in an environment that provides them with protection, love, and opportunities for personal growth – regardless of their differences,’ he said.
‘Parents need to accept their children, and schools need to create an environment where all students are protected.
‘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.
‘One for all, all for one.’
LGBTI advocates in Asia and Timor Leste celebrated the PM’s statement including Natalino Ornai Guterres who helped orchestrate the historic moment.
Ornai Guterres heads the organization Hatutan Youth and he wrote to the PM asking him to become involved in the LGBTI awareness initiative. Only hours after reaching out to him the PM agreed to record the video. The prompt response shows a willingness to promote LGBTI rights in Timor Leste.
‘It means a lot because throughout this whole time, none of the government officials, let alone a Prime Minister has said anything on the issue,’ he told Gay Star News.
‘The country seems to promoting human rights in the region and the UN, we keep voting yes for every resolution about LGBTI rights, but on the ground there’s still quite a few problems we need to tackle.
‘The Prime Minister is a family man with an open mind… he is also aware of the issue and knows of the problem.’
The ASEAN SOGIE Caucus (Association of Southeast Asian Nations and sexual orientations and gender identity expression) also welcomed the PM’s statement.
‘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,’ said Ryan Silverio, regional coordinator, ASEAN SOGIE Caucus.
‘We are glad that Timor Leste is becoming a breathe of hope in the region. We hope that his action creates positive ripples, inspire more leaders in our region to take a stand for inclusion and human rights.’
Timor Leste’s first Pride march
The PM’s statement came during a very big week for Timor Leste’s LGBTI community.
Last week the capital, Dili, hosted a huge LGBTI Pride event and the country’s first Pride parade. A Catholic nun who runs a shelter for vulnerable people, including LGBTI people, opened the proceedings with a prayer.
‘We marched with a marching band and everyone came with their signs about diversity and inclusiveness and equality,’ Ornai Guterres said.
The march ended in a concert with many of Timor Leste’s leading musicians performing.
Check out the best photos from the first Pride Parade here.