Advocates in Timor-Leste bring up marginalized voices trough the EU-UN spotlight initiative


Laura Afonso de Jesus. Photo: UN Women/Helio Miguel

Despite the progress made towards LGBTI rights in Timor-Leste, discrimination is still extremely high against people from the LGBTI community in family, social and institutional settings. To address discrimination, civil society organizations (CSO) and human rights activists persistently advocate to ensure LGBTI persons are not left behind. 

Human rights activist Laura Afonso de Jesus is a frontline advocate for LGBTI rights. She is now the Executive Director for CODIVA (the LGBTI umbrella network in Timor-Leste) and has been advocating for LGBTI rights across the country. 

During the COVID-19 crisis, through her active enrollment in the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative Civil Society National Reference Group, she has been ensuring that LGBTI rights are not left behind in Spotlight Initiative’s response to the recent pandemic. Together with the reference group, they highlighted that there must be an inclusive response to the COVID-19 crisis, with key public messages to recognize the experiences of the LGTBI community.   

She emphasized that in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the LGBTI community is much more vulnerable psychologically and financially, as most of them have precarious jobs. “It has brought on financial issues and affected their ability to afford basic needs, especially for those who live alone and are dependent on others because they have been kicked out of their house. Those who are isolated and live with their family at home may face increased violence if their identity is not fully accepted. They might be forced to behave in a way that their family expects them to. To address this pandemic, everyone needs to come together and treat each other equally.

Given hostile public opinions and judgements, addressing this form of violence requires raising awareness about the LGBTI community. As well as her advocacy with CODIVA, Laura has also been tirelessly joining the youth group Hatutan’s Road to Acceptance campaign. She has travelled around the country, meeting over a thousand people during outreach to raise awareness on LGBTI lives and rights. 

She said, “generally speaking, communities in Timor-Leste are still not fully accepting the existence of the LGBTI community. As a result, access to the job market is one big challenge. They are categorically a vulnerable community. Being part of the Spotlight Initiative NRG, I like to share and engage with others to raise society’s awareness and understanding around LGBTI issues. I believe that once people are more aware of these issues, there will be less stigma and discrimination. The campaign is still ongoing, and we will keep it going to reach more people.

Laura also has mobilized community activism through her lead role in the BuiMau advocacy movement in Timor-Leste and serves as an aldeia (hamlet) chief, a role that only a few women across the country have.