Timor Leste: Asia's youngest nation offers glimmer of hope for LGBT rights

Marching through the streets of East Timor's capital Dili with a rainbow flag in his hand, Natalino Guterres was overwhelmed with emotion, reminding him of how he felt 15 years ago when he saw the Timorese flag raised for the first time.

"It was an emotional moment," he said of the pride parade.

"The sense of euphoria ... I saw happiness written on people's faces and some teared up. It reminds me of Independence Day in 2002."

Guterres was among some 500 people taking part in East Timor's first-ever pride parade. The atmosphere was carnival-like, with participants waving colorful rainbow flags, cheering and beating drums in the capital.

Campaigners say the parade last month was a milestone for the tiny, half-island nation - Asia's youngest democracy - and a beacon of hope for a region where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights are under increasing attack.

LGBT rights in the nation of 1.2 million people have not been a major focus. International headlines about the country have been dominated by its 24-year resistance to occupation by neighboring Indonesia, which eventually led to East Timor's independence in 2002.

However activists say social stigma and discrimination are common for LGBT people.

Same-sex behavior is not criminalized under East Timor's laws but they also do not offer protection against discrimination.


Guterres, a development consultant who runs a youth group that organized the parade, said many like him grew up feeling "lonely" and do not know where to turn when they suffer discrimination. Read more via Thomson Reuters Foundation