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Crowdfunding campaign brings first Timor-Leste float to Sydney Mardi Gras parade

Yahoo News - March 2, 2024

Jordyn Beazley and Luca Ittimani – Natalino Guterres likens getting the chance to march down Oxford Street in pure queer pride to the feeling he had when he was 12 and Timor-Leste achieved independence after a brutal occupation.

"It's really emotional for me," he said. "It's one of those moments when you're really happy and get to look forward to having some momentum."

Guterres has travelled from Timor-Leste with 10 others to march in Sydney's Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade as part of the first ever Timor-Leste float, which will be one of 200.

They only found out they were coming two weeks ago after a successful GoFundMe was set up by Nuno Carrascalao – who came to Australia in 1975 as a refugee from Timor-Leste – raised more than $6,500 to help cover expenses.

"It's incredible how fast it moved; there were so many people that came on board with immense support," Carrascalao said, who has a drag and entertainment career in Australia under the name Ashley Swift.

Guterres has been at the forefront of building acceptance for Timor-Leste's queer community since he began an annual pride march in the country in 2017.

Numbers have grown from 500 marchers in the first year to more than 5,000.

"There is a conservative culture in the country with 97% of the population Catholic, many of us are also Catholic," Guterres said. "There's still a lot of stigma, a lot of discrimination, people still don't really feel comfortable coming out."

But there has been growing support among sections of the church. At the start of each pride march, the attendees begin with a Catholic prayer.

It was this synchronicity between the church and queer community that struck Carrascalao when he travelled to Timor-Leste last year to join the pride march.

The visit came shortly after his first trip to Timor-Leste since he fled with his family when Indonesia invaded in 1975.

As many as 200,000 people are thought to have perished in fighting, massacres and forced starvation during Indonesia's occupation before a landmark referendum in 1999 in which 78.5% of the population chose independence.

"Timor-Leste, with all the trauma that it has been through to the fact that through grassroots coordination have been able to hold their own Mardi Gras, is quite remarkable," Carrascalao said. "There is a common thread that the fight for independence is the same fight for equality."

During Carrascalao's visit, he met with the president – Jose Ramos-Horta – and helped organise for the next year's Timor-Leste pride parade to end at the presidential palace.

Despite these advances, LGBTQ+ people still face a frequent lack of acceptance, violence and discrimination, Guterres said, something he hoped having a Timor-Leste float as part of Sydney's Mardi Gras could change.

"It's just the visibility that we will get not just for the queer community from our country but the country in general."

Source: https://uk.news.yahoo.com/crowdfunding-campaign-brings-first-timor-034211678.htm