Ryan Dagur – Timor-Leste President Jose Ramos-Horta has urged citizens to respect and not discriminate against the Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.
"Timor-Leste must show a model or example about respect, tolerance to our children, to our brothers involved in this community," he said in a statement on his official Facebook page on Aug. 3.
The statement comes within days of the president joining the Pride Parade organized by the LGBT community in the capital Dili on July 29. It concluded at the Presidential Palace.
"It is an excellent community, its members are intelligent and love their country," he said.
Ramos-Horta also pledged to defend the rights of all citizens and to combat violence and all forms of discrimination against vulnerable people.
"For the community or members who have suffered violence, as I said before, I read a short version of its history. As a Timorese, as President of the Republic, I was very sad, because this land has suffered a lot in history, it has suffered from domestic violence, so we must contribute to combating violence in our country," he stated.
Timor-Leste is considered a leader in human rights including LGBT rights in Southeast Asia, although no legal protections for the vulnerable groups have been enacted into law yet.
In 2011, the country signed a joint statement at the United Nations on "ending acts of violence and related human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity."
In July 2017, the nation's first-ever Pride Parade was held with the support of the government.
However, discrimination and violence by family members and the broader society continue to affect LGBT people.
A 2017 survey of 57 young lesbians, bisexual and transgender women found that 86 percent 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.
Acceptance of the vulnerable group by Catholics, who form a majority in the nation, still remains a serious issue. Ramos-Horta's support for LGBTs too has met with some criticism.
Buka Lia Los, a Facebook user, quoting scriptures wrote that homosexuals will not receive the inheritance of the kingdom of God.
"Both lust and homosexuality are condemned in the Bible, so it's clear that same-sex relations are not God's will and must be a sin," he wrote.
Zelindo Joao Lay said he respected the existence of the LGBT community, but there should be no recognition of same-sex marriage.
"When the state or church allows it, our country will face a great disaster. Punishment comes from God," he wrote on Facebook.
Commenting on the Pride Parade, Cannosian Sister Guilhermina Marcal, a humanitarian who actively supported East Timor's independence movement, said she was not aware of the event.
"Even if I had known, I wouldn't have joined it," she told UCA News.