An alarming majority of lesbian, bisexual and trans (LBT) people in East Timor have faced violence.
Many women and trans men reported facing extreme homophobic violence, often at the hands of family members.
The worrying findings were revealed in ‘A Research Report on the Lives of Lesbian and Bisexual Women and Transgender Men in Timor-Leste’.
The ASEAN SOGIE Caucus released the report this week. It is the first report of its kind to document the lives of LBT people in East Timor.
‘I was tied up in the back of the car and dragged across the road for everyone to see,’ said one of the survey respondents.
Some recalled the violence they faced at the hands of their own siblings.
‘For so long, I suffered at the hand of my oldest brother and sister. I ended up in a hospital three times. My chest was bleeding due to a hard kick from my sister with her high heels on,’ one woman said.
‘I was tied up and pulled by the car by my brother, strangled with a hose, and pushed inside a water tank for hours. I tried to end my life a few times. My biggest dream is to continue my education.’
‘I was hit with a machete by my sisters. I still have scars on my face,’ another person said.
Timor Leste or East Timor in English, is a young nation which lies in between Australia and Indonesia.
The country held its first pride parade in July which attracted international attention.
In the lead-up to the parade, Prime Minister Rui Maria De Araujo became the first Southeast Asian leader to publicly support LGBTI rights.
‘Discrimination, disrespect and abuse towards people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity does not provide any benefit to our nation,’ he said at the time.
The report’s authors said while East Timor has a history of voting in favour of ending discrimination against LGBTI people, there was still a long way to go.
‘While there are ongoing advocacy efforts to advance rights of LGBTIQ persons, we realize that lesbian, bisexual and queer women, and transgender men are sidelined,’ said Ryan Silverio, regional coordinator, ASEAN SOGIE Caucus.
Many of the women in the study described ways in which their families had try to convert them to heterosexuality or their assigned birth gender.
Often the tactics were cruel and unusual. Some women were forced to drink chicken’s blood to ‘cleanse’ them. Many of the women bore children after enduring corrective rape.
‘I was raped by my own uncle who believed he can change my sexual orientation by pushing me into (a) heterosexual relationship. I got pregnant but I (found) traditional medicine to get it aborted. After that I left my home and live with friends,’ one woman said.
Corrective rape is a form of sexual assault against an LGBT person in order to make that person straight or gender-conforming.
‘I was forced by my family to have sex with a man, which happened when one day they pushed me inside the room with him and locked it from the outside,’ another woman said.
‘He sexually assaulted me. My family believed that by doing so it will ‘correct’ my sexual orientation.’
The women in the survey relied heavily on their families for financial support.
Even among the women in the research who had jobs, 66% of them earned less than US$100. Many wanted a chance to improve their education to find better work. But almost all the women had face barriers to their education.
Some said their families discouraged them from going to school. Their families argued there was no point in getting an education because nobody would hire them.
One teacher even refused to sign one of the respondents’ school credits because he did not like her ‘short haircut’.
What comes next?
The report includes a number of recommendations to East Timor’s government and civil society. Including to facilitate leadership-building opportunities and support groups.
It also called for ‘opportunities to enhance their own capacities to help make them active and capable advocates for their own rights.’
‘It is envisaged to use the findings in various national and regional platform to raise awareness about LBT rights issues,’ said Irma Saeed, one of the report’s authors.
‘This will help us in initiating advocacy… to support members in living a dignified life without fear of violence, discrimination and prejudices towards them due to their non-conformist gender identity and sexual orientation.’