An Open Letter to the Prime Minister of Timor Leste
Timor Leste’s well respected LGBT activist, Bella Galhos, wrote an open letter addressed to her country’s Prime Minister, urging his government to undertake “proper measures to protect, to be impartial with everyone without discrimination”. Bella further lamented how the situation of LGBT persons in her country remains problematic; many still face violence, sexual abuse and even denial of social services.
Her letter further emphasized how vital is social inclusion of LGBT persons towards nation building. According to her, “no country is able to reach their full potential, without giving the importance to its people, particularly vulnerable groups to participate in the process of development… [t]o isolate some group[s] of people is to negatively affect their lives, and resulting in a fragile nation that is without resources, without opportunities, life under constant discrimination, violence and ignorance.”
The full text of her open letter can be read below.
To His Excellency Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak Of Timor Leste.
Your Excellency Prime-Minister of Timor-Leste, Taur Matan Ruak:
To begin, I would like to congratulate you on being elected by the people as the Prime-Minister of VIII Constitutional Government.
As a member and counselor of PLP Women political party, I have the hope and dream for your Excellency Taur Matan Ruak to lead this newly elected government for years to come. I am aware that your Excellency knows the people of this nation extremely well. The people of this country put their faith and trust upon your Excellency’s shoulder, in your heart, words, and all your actions, in order to bring about changes and progress to all the people. I believe that under your leadership, no one will be left behind, in darkness or in pain. Everyone’s voice will be heard, weighed, and answered.
For nearly five years, I myself have worked alongside your Excellency Taur Matan Ruak as an Advisor in External Affairs and Civil Society, and it was such a great honor and rich experience for me, and it is something that I will carry with me throughout my life.
Not only that I have the assurance in your Excellency Taur Matan Ruak’s leadership, which has proven through your long struggle for the independence of this country, but I also know that your Excellency is a man of virtue, a great humanitarian with a big heart, full of respect, benevolent, with simplicity, honesty, integrity and served this country wholeheartedly.
As a Timorese, a woman, a mother, and a citizen that is actively engaging in the society, I do my duty by trying to change the lives of people living in poverty and hardships. I have also witnessed the struggle that some people in this nation have to go through to make it to another day, like a cross that they have to carry day and night, in order to sustain their family and keep them alive.
I continue to thank all the hard work that your Excellency, Taur Matan Ruak, has accomplished during your Presidential term, when you saw, listened and felt those who needed you. You have inspired many, including myself, to continue to believe, be hopeful, and to dream that one day, their lives will be better off, and their sorrow will be lifted.
Your Excellency Prime-Minister, Taur Matan Ruak,
We have reached sixteen years of restoration of independence. During those years, we have built many things, and have achieved so many things in the name of the ‘development’ Many things were accomplished, but some needed to be strengthened, with some still needed to be put in place, and some are forgotten or being ignored.
Timor-Leste, as a nation and a Democratic State, we hold in high regards the fundamental values of human rights. It is a State that holds the principle of social inclusion, which as far as I am concerned, is an idea that there is no room for social exclusion; which are to distant, to separate, or to isolate a person or group of people from the process of development of the larger society.
Everyone has the right to access the resources and opportunities without discrimination. The term social inclusion indicates that everyone has the right for participation, contribution, to feel secure, to live a better life, with peace, justice, equality, and living with dignity in the place they call home.
Here, I am urging that we revisit the principles of social inclusion since it allows us to look at the principle of human rights in a more profound approach. Social inclusion helps to foster the development in the country that is strong and sustainable for everyone; to build up everyone, and everyone is being built up.
As a member of the LGBTI community, we are continuing to live in bitter and obscurity for many years, in ways how society treats us and feels about us. Many of us are still living in darkness, being isolated, discriminated, and violated to an extent where words cannot describe these treatments against us.
The lives of LGBTI community during these past sixteen years after the independence, is yet to be considered in the social inclusion that this Government will be promoting and implementing nationwide.
The view of the society towards the LGBTI community is too simple and full of stigma. Those perspectives mostly are not well-grounded. I do understand that our society still needs time to learn and to deepen their knowledge about the LGBTI community.
At the same time, we must recognize that we lack the adequate resources such as information, with an extension of scientific pieces of information. We lack the culture to read, and we continue to distant people from having an open mind to learn more about this issue. This results in the misperception in the society to think that LGBTI people “choose to be this way.” People are only experts by being judgmental to others, being prejudiced and devaluing others.
Very often, we face people who are so good at judging, devaluing us and our identities, due to their ignorance and homophobia.
We fight to be treated like human beings, not for marriage. We fight to stop the violence and discrimination based on our sexual orientation, not for marriage. We fight to have the access for resources and opportunities as people and citizens, not for marriage. We fight so that parents can accept, love, protect, and invest in us, not for marriage.
We ask to be treated like human beings, just like others are being treated. We ask that opportunities are being given to us based on our intelligence and our capacity, and not by measuring the identity that we do not choose, we are not culpable of, and we cannot change. If only we have the chance to choose our identity, we would not choose to be born this way. No one gets to choose this life, the kind of life where his or her parents despise them, spat on by his or her community, labeled, humiliated, dehumanize, and live in fear. No one chooses this life.
Your Excellency Prime-Minister, Taur Matan Ruak
I would like to explain a little bit more about the concept of LGBTI, and why we are raising this question.
LGBTI is not a new thing in Timor-Leste. The term is probably new, but this sexual orientation exists at the conception of life at the beginning of time.
Many countries are starting to recognize and continue to recognize as time goes and changes occur. There are some countries whom leaders identify as LGBTI. In Timor-Leste, we refer to LGBTI as “Panleiro, Bifeto/Maufeto, Bere-manek, Feto Mane.” These terms are obviously degrading terms, dehumanizing, condescending, and take away the dignity of people. But the existence of these terms simply shows that group of people that identify as LGBT are not unfamiliar, and it is not the product from the foreign countries just like a lot of people think. Do not look far away for examples. LGBTI people exist in every institution, whether it is in the church, in the public office, NGOs, from the village to the city.
LGBTI is short for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex. However, in Timor-Leste, this term is derogatorily termed without deep understanding. Most uninformed people would simply call it “Women attracted to women or men attracted to men.” But they do not know why that phenomenon occurs. Even within the LGBTI community, many are still clueless why they are the way they are. And why they feel the way they feel. Many have no words to speak or explain when they are being attacked, discriminated against and get beaten.
It is the most obvious thing for them not to be aware of their sexuality due to lack of information and scientific knowledge that provide in-depth explanations regarding sexual orientation. Most of them did not attend school resulting in illiteracy due to the fact that they were being neglected by their family, and did not invest in them.
Another example would be how in Timor-Leste, many people are aware of the fact that there are people who are born with two genders, known as intersex and hermaphrodite. There are some people who are born without genitalia. Some are missing breasts or ovaries. Others are missing menstruation and unable to produce sperm. There are some women who are born with some male features in parts of their body, namely beard, mustache, male-sounding voice and other male-attributed identities.
The heteronormative society simply determines the letter “V” is for women, and “P” for men, but never consider how one acts that is contrary to their sex, including body features that demonstrate so.
Your Excellency Prime-Minister, Taur Matan Ruak,
For years, we choose to hide. We choose to disguise ourselves so that our family can accept us. For many years, we closeted ourselves, no happiness, tranquility, forced to deny ourselves with our true identity, just so that we can be accepted.
When we accept ourselves and choose to live with our identity, our family would disown us, even though we are their children. Our families would do everything, from beating us days and nights, labeled us, force us to marry, and have children. For some, their own relatives sexually abuse them for the so-called “corrective rape,” burn their bodies, abandon them and sell them to other people. We are expelled from our own house with no love, respect, and no consideration to us as human beings. Our family thinks we bring shame to them.
Your Excellency Prime-Minister, Taur Matan Ruak,
Recently there was a research published where I myself involved in the process, and we survey three municipalities (Manututu, Dili, and Maliana), and it shows that 57 of LGBTI-identified people are living in darkness, something that shocks many consciences. A lot of people try to find out, want to hear more about the research, and some parents reopen the door for their LGBTI children that they have denied, expelled, abused, and violated. Many of them don’t seem to have a prospective future, with no education and strength to sustain themselves. This research was launched in Timor and other ASEAN countries, as one of the first steps to show the reality of lives of LGBTI in Timor-Leste.
The release of this research, we cooperated with Hatutan, Rede Feto and CODIVA, and we also get a present from our country’s father KayRala Xanana Gusmao as a witness to see the dark reality of LGBTI community in Timor-Leste. I still remember the hopeful message from our country’s father Xanana during the event, in which he said: “Do not be afraid and feel small, for you are not alone in this.”
Even though it was short, it meant a lot for the LGBTI community in the country. His words are full of hopes to live, hope for changes. Furthermore, during his mandate, the former Prime-Minister Dr. Rui Araujo conveyed a strong appeal for the community to accept their children that identify as LGBTI, encouraging parents and the community to accept and embrace their children’s differences with love, and invest for their children without discrimination. A change for everyone, and everyone for a change.
Your excellency Prime-Minister, Taur Matan Ruak,
I, the activist and the defender for human rights, will work hard with my ability and will continue to fight for this in the years to come, and I have all the hope that this fight will not be mine alone but of all of us.
Currently, with my will and love, despite the hardships and risks for myself, and the well-being of my own family, I have opened the door for several young people between 18-37 years old, provide them a shelter to learn, increase their literacy skills, learn a new language, learn to speak in public, and do variety of activities in business, sport, music, and singing.
LGBTI youth have no future, no education, no hope for life, no dream to be stars, and citizens that can sustain themselves and their family through some sort of contribution. It’s sad but this is the reality, as nobody stands for them. LGBTI youth in Timor-Leste, not only they are lack of opportunities and resources but lack the empowerment to move forward.
I know it’s hard, and I acknowledge that this is a long fight, but I continue to believe and hope through all the things I have done for them. I urge that we must not let them feel like no one is interested in them. We must not let them feel like they are only half human and half beast. We must not let them live in the veil of ignorance. We must not let them into thinking that they are not welcomed in their own homeland. We must not let them go to the Portuguese embassy and try to seek a different identity to escape their homeland since they don’t have a home here.
Timor-Leste needs her children, men, women, people with disabilities, LGBTI-identified people to continue to hold this nation to the highest regard, a strong nation, secure, prosperous, and her people are intelligent, healthy and proud of her.
I will continue to be in this fight through my actions, and I ask that this Government takes proper measures to protect, to be impartial with everyone without discrimination.
No country is able to reach their full potential, without giving the importance to its people, particularly vulnerable groups to participate in the process of development that will give the advantage to the progress of the nation. To isolate some group of people is to negatively affect their lives, and resulting in a fragile nation that is without resources, without opportunities, life under constant discrimination, violence and ignorance.
My respect to Your Excellency Prime-Minister Taur Matan Ruak
Dili, 3 July 2018,
Co-Founder of Eskola Verde Leublora, Maubisse.