LGBT rights in East Timor

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StatusLegal since 1975[1]
Gender identityNo
Discrimination protectionsNo
Family rights
Recognition of relationshipsNo

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in East Timor (Timor-Leste) may face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Both male and female same-sex sexual activity are legal in East Timor, but same-sex couples and households headed by same-sex couples are not eligible for the same legal protections available to opposite-sex married couples.[1]

East Timor is considered a leader on human rights including LGBT rights in Southeast Asia,[2] although no legal protections for LGBT citizens have been enacted into law yet.[3] In 2011, the country signed the "joint statement on ending acts of violence and related human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity" at the United Nations, condemning violence and discrimination against LGBT people.[4] In July 2017, just 15 years after independence, the nation's first ever pride march was conducted with the support of the Timorese Government.[5] Among the participants of the pride march were LGBT citizens, nuns, religious ministers, tribal folks, students, and government officials.[6][7] The event has been held annually ever since.

Law regarding same-sex sexual activity[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity has been legal since 1975.[1] The age of consent is 14 regardless of sexual orientation or gender.[8]

Recognition of same-sex relationships[edit]

There is no legal recognition of same-sex unions in East Timor.

Discrimination protections[edit]

There is no legal protection based on sexual orientation or gender identity. There was a clause against discrimination based on sexual orientation included in the original draft of the Timorese Constitution but it was voted out by 52 out of 88 MPs before the Constitution took effect in 2002.[9]

However, since 2009, bias on the basis of sexual orientation has been considered to be an aggravating circumstance in the case of crimes (alongside ethnicity, gender, religion, disability, etc.).[10]

In April 2019, the Timorese Minister of Legislative Reform and Parliamentary Affairs called for an end to discrimination against LGBT people saying, "Barbaric laws and discriminatory treatment of marginalized groups have to end". Moreover, in response to allegations made in the National Parliament by two MPs, he announced that he would request an official inquiry into allegations of ill-treatment of disabled and LGBT patients at the national hospital in Dili.[11][12]

Living conditions[edit]

The Roman Catholic Church has a strong influence in the country and was the main opponent to the constitutional clause to protect LGBT people from discrimination. In 2002, when the clause was discussed in Parliament, a prominent Christian politician argued there weren't any gay people in Timor-Leste and called homosexuality a "disease".[13] However, in recent years, many LGBT individuals have also found support within the Catholic Church. While the Church has not taken an official stance in support of LGBT rights, many congregations have got involved to support the community. A Catholic nun volunteered to officiate the 2017 Pride parade with a prayer.[14]

Discrimination and violence from family members and the broader society continue to affect LGBT people.[7] A 2017 survey of 57 young lesbian, bisexual and transgender women co-authored by activist Bella Galhos found that 86% of the respondents had experienced both physical and psychological violence, including domestic violence, forced marriages and attempts by family members to change their sexual orientation or gender identity.[15][11][12]

Advocacy and activism[edit]

Pride March 2019 in Dili

LGBT advocacy groups in East Timor include: Hatutan, CODIVA (Coalition on Diversity and Action), and Arco Iris.[16]

On 29 June 2017, the first pride parade in East Timor took place in the capital city of Dili with reportedly 500 people in attendance.[17] A Catholic nun spoke at the beginning of the event.[2] The same week, Prime Minister Rui Maria de Araújo declared that "discrimination, disrespect and abuse towards people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity does not provide any benefit to our nation" and that "every person has the potential to contribute to the development of our nation, including the LGBTQ community", thus becoming the first Southeast Asian leader to publicly support LGBT rights.[2][18]

Activists continue to speak about violence against LGBT people on a regular basis.[19][20] In April 2018, the Timorese LGBT organization Hatutan launched a documentary on acceptance of LGBT people within their families, entitled Dalan ba Simu Malu in Tetum (The Road to Acceptance). The launch was attended by former President and former Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão and representatives of several embassies and organizations.[21][7]

The second pride parade was held on 20 July 2018 in Dili. About 1,500 people participated, three times that of the previous year. The event began with a screening of the aforementioned documentary "Dalan ba Simu Malu", and followed with a march led by a local band who played traditional Timorese resistance songs.[22]

The third pride parade was held on 12 July 2019 in Dili. About 3,000 people participated, double of that of the previous year, and six times the number of people who took part in the first such event in 2017. Minister of Social Solidarity and Inclusion Armanda Berta dos Santos supported the event. President Francisco Guterres released a statement in support of the event, writing "I am a President for all people! I respect everyone! Respect and love tie us as family, as community, as a people. I ask everyone to see diversity as our nation's wealth. Together we strengthen collective power and knowledge. Together we fight for a society which is more just. Together we build a Nation which is full with respect and love to all."[23][24][25][26]

Human rights reports[edit]

2017 United States Department of State report[edit]

In 2017, the United States Department of State reported the following, concerning the status of LGBT rights in East Timor:

  • Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
    "The constitution and law are silent on same-sex relations and other matters of sexual orientation and gender identity. The PDHJ [Office of the Provedor for Human Rights and Justice] worked with civil society organization CODIVA (Coalition on Diversity and Action) to increase awareness in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community regarding processes available for human rights complaints. While physical abuse in public or by public authorities was uncommon, LGBTI persons were often verbally abused and discriminated against in some public services, including medical centers. CODIVA noted that transgender members of the community were particularly vulnerable to harassment and discrimination. A November study conducted for Rede Feto, a national women’s advocacy network, with lesbian and bisexual women and transgender men in Dili and Bobonaro documented the use by family members of corrective rape, physical and psychological abuse, ostracism, discrimination, and marginalization against LGBTI individuals. Access to education was limited for some LGBTI persons who were removed from the family home or who feared abuse at school. Transgender students were more likely to experience bullying and drop out of school at the secondary level. In June members of civil society organized Timor-Leste’s first-ever Pride March in Dili. The march included participation from students, activists, and a representative of the Prime Minister’s Office. Then prime minister Araujo met with LGBTI organizations and called for acceptance of LGBTI individuals on his official Facebook and Twitter accounts."[27]
  • Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
    "There is no specific protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation."[27]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal Yes (Since 1975)
Equal age of consent (14) Yes (Since 1975)
Anti-discrimination laws in employment only No
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services No
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (Incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) No
Hate crime laws include sexual orientation Yes (Since 2009)
Same-sex marriages No
Recognition of same-sex couples No
Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples No
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No
LGBT people allowed to serve openly in the military Emblem-question.svg
Right to change legal gender No
Access to IVF for lesbians No
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No
MSMs allowed to donate blood No

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c State-sponsored Homophobia A world survey of laws prohibiting same sex activity between consenting adults Archived 19 July 2013 at WebCite
  2. ^ a b c Timor Leste PM comes out supporting LGBTI rights GayStarNews
  3. ^ Reuters. "East Timor Offers Hope for LGBT Rights". VOA. Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  4. ^ "Over 80 Nations Support Statement at Human Rights Council on LGBT Rights » US Mission Geneva".
  5. ^ Beh Lih Yi (20 July 2017). "Asia's youngest nation offers glimmer of hope for LGBT rights". Reuters.
  6. ^ "This tiny Southern Asian country just held its first pride parade". Mashable. 4 July 2017.
  7. ^ a b c Raynor, Sophie. "Behind Timor-Leste's Pride - New Naratif". New Naratif. Retrieved 12 June 2018.
  8. ^ "What is the East Timor Age of Consent?".
  9. ^ "Sexual Orientation Clause Removed From Constitution".
  10. ^ Article 52 of the Penal Code, p. 3
  11. ^ a b "Timor-Leste: Governo exige inquérito a hospital por maus-tratos a deficientes e LGBTI". e-Global (in Portuguese). 3 April 2019.
  12. ^ a b "Governo timorense vai exigir inquérito a hospital por maus-tratos a deficientes e LGBTI - ministro". Diário de Notícias (in Portuguese). 2 April 2019.
  13. ^ "Homosexuality in East Timor". Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  14. ^ Renaldi, Adi (22 May 2019). "Asia's Newest Nation of Timor-Leste Is Fighting for LGBTQ Rights". Vice News.
  15. ^ Galhos, Bella; Saeed, Iram. "A Research Report on the Lives of Lesbian and Bisexual Women and Transgender Men in Timor-Leste". ASEAN SOGIE CAUCUS. Retrieved 12 June 2018.
  16. ^ "This is Me". Daily Emerald. 29 January 2019.
  17. ^ Ng, Yi Shu. "This tiny Southeast Asian country just held its first pride parade". Mashable. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  18. ^ "East Timor holds first LGBTQ pride parade". NBC News. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  19. ^ One Young World (25 October 2017), From hatred to acceptance: ending violence against LGBTI persons in Timor Leste | Natalino Gutterres, retrieved 13 April 2018
  20. ^ TEDx Talks (18 October 2017), Why we seldom hear about LGBTI Women in a male-dominated society? | Bella Galhos | TEDxDili, retrieved 13 April 2018
  21. ^ Power, Shannon (13 April 2018). "East Timor's LGBTI community keeps getting stronger together". Gay Star News. Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  22. ^ Asia's Youngest Nation Celebrates 2nd LGBT Parade, Voice of America News, 25 July 2018
  23. ^ "Komunidade LGBTI Timor-Leste Sei Halo Marsa Diversidade Datoluk". Timor News (in Tetum). 12 June 2019.
  24. ^ "Ema Rihun Marsa ba Diversidade iha Dili". The Dili Weekly (in Tetum). 25 July 2018.
  25. ^ "PRIDE 2019 Parade, Timor Leste - South East Asia". Travel Inspired. 13 July 2019.
  26. ^ Potts, Andrew (19 July 2019). "East Timor Celebrates Third LGBTQI Pride Parade". Star Observer.
  27. ^ a b "Wayback Machine" (PDF). 21 April 2018. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 April 2018. Cite uses generic title (help)

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