Zelia da Costa (left), Joker da Silva and little Neurgia pose for a portrait in their house, located in the neighborhood of Has-Laram, Dili, capital of East-Timor. Living together as a same-sex couple in East-Timor has its challenges. Even though Joker wants to be treated as a man, many people see him as a woman. Da Costa and Joker face discrimination, stigma and violence for being a non-traditional couple. Many Timorese people describe them as monsters and a curse of God. "The society comes up with norms, like: A man has to wear man’s clothes, and work like a man. That is why there’s discrimination against us," Joker said. “When I go to the church, many people keep staring at me, like I am a criminal. If I wear these kinds of clothes [like shorts and shirts], why should I go?” Da Costa is Neurgia’s biological mother from a man she never loved. Da Costa fall in love with Joker, despite the pressures coming from her own family. "I felt so much secured with her, there was peace and joy, I just wanted to be with her," Da Costa said.
Joker da Silva, 31, poses for a portrait. As a transman in East-Timor, Joker never had an easy life. Joker said, during the times of his childhood, he was always afraid to get beaten just because of his masculine character. "I had my own family members who had the experience of being beaten just like my older sister," Joker said. "when they caught her with a boyfriend, my brothers would beat her until she was bloody." Joker decided then to run away from home and find a better life while living with other transgender. "There were 59 of us who stayed together in a huge room," Joker said. "We slept together because we were just looking for a place where we could stay and just sleep." Although Joker faced many life struggles, he is today accepted by his family and together with her partner Zelia da Costa and their daughter Neurgia.
Joker watches two men slaughtering a cow, while other men prepare the rest of the meat in a table behind. In order to make enough money to support her family, Joker has to have many jobs. For this one, he usually wakes up at 3 a.m. to go to the slaughterhouse, which is located on the same street where Joker and Ateli live. Although Joker is in a more defensive position within this men’s environment, he tries helping other men in everything needed: slaughtering, cutting and preparing meat that is going to be sold later in Taibessi market.
Joker da Silva (right) and two of her closest friends from The Tomboy group, Mucho Leite (left) and Lula Sequeira (center), laugh right before they drive to Arco Iris, where they are going to leave materials used in a public event. Joker said, “We were together because our parents couldn’t accept us for who we were. They couldn’t admit the reality. … As we stayed together, our lives were always on the street. We looked for some drinks; when there were parties, [and] if there was crowd, we would always be there. From Becora to Likintai, Likintai to Delta, we just walked. Every day just like this.” However, nowadays it’s different and while the movement is growing and many organizations like Arco Iris are being established, people like Joker and his friends find a safe place and guidance to become active members in East-Timor.
Domingos Barros, who assumes himself as gay, hears a classmate during a class at Dili Institute of Technology. As a LGBT member in East-Timor, Barros went through a difficult childhood, suffering from discrimination and violence at school. However, Barros said, the university is one of the two places (the other one is the model agency) where he feels safe, because other students understand his personality and respect his sexual orientation. Barros dreams on studying abroad in the US, where he wants to get a degree in fashion designing.
Domingos Barros sews a top at Look Dili Modeling Agency. Despite being a student in Business at Dili Institute of Technology, Barros’ dream is to live as fashion designer. He said, he got the passion while growing up, because he used to make dresses for his dolls with materials like plastic. Barros said, making dresses for a model agency makes him feel great as he works together with Timorese models and use Timorese textile.
Domingos Barros, 22, poses for a portrait at the 2018 Gay Pride, which happened in Dili. "When I was a kid, it was hurting so much, being bullied by someone," Barros said. "I felt intimidated; I felt I couldn’t defend myself. ... But now, I’m not intimidated by those people anymore." For the second year, about 500 people marched on the streets of Dili, capital of East-Timor, to celebrate and support the existence of the LGBT community. Natalino Guterres, the main person behind the Gay Pride, said visibility is important. “We know that people like us exist, but nobody wants to talk about it," Guterres said. "We know that there’s a problem, but people don’t want to address it.”
Young people watch the 2018 Gay Pride parade from the side of the road, while members of the transgender marching band wait to start playing music. Hundreds of people came out on the streets of Dili to support the cause of the LGBT community. The main person behind the pride, Natalino Guterres, said, “People see it in different ways, some people see it as a protest, some people see it as a celebration of our existence. … we exist, and we are part of this country and a lot of us are also contributing to the development of this country.”
Natalino Guterres, 28, poses for a portrait. As someone who grew up with a more feminine character, Guterres felt alone in the Timorese society. He said his parents never discriminated him, although they pressured him to change. “I was always told that if I keep being the way I was, I wouldn’t go far in life,” Guterres said. He left East-Timor to study abroad and exposed himself to more progressive societies. “I fully realized: ‘This is who I am; I shouldn’t hate myself; [and] I shouldn’t hide.” Nowadays, Guterres is one of the main leaders within the Timorese LGBT community. He runs Hatutan, a group who promotes social inclusion, and he’s the main person behind the Gay Pride.
Romi Aty smokes a cigarette at her house’s door in the neighborhood of Kampung Alor, Dili. From all the LGBT members in East-Timor, Aty was most likely the first to came out in public and face stereotypes. She came out as transgender in 2005, just around three years after the independence of the country, in a time where no one in the Timorese society knew about transgender. Nowadays, she got the respect of the people, for being not only an active member within the LGBT community, but as an active citizen in East-Timor.
At the Colmera Shopping Center’s nightclub, Romi Aty smokes a cigarette while having a conversation with a bartender. Growing up as transgender in a time where the LGBT movement wasn’t established, it was challenging. In 2009, Aty became a sex worker, and even though she didn’t do it for a long time, it was necessary to live an independent life.
In the room where Romi Aty lives located in Kampung Alor neighborhood, Dili, she prepares for the day. Housing in East-Timor is expensive, despite being one of the poorest countries in the world. A small apartment with all the western amenities can cost over $300 per month, which for the Timorese people who get the minimum wage ($115 per month), it’s an impossible way of living. The solutions are either to live with the family, or to rent a room with not much conditions. Aty said, she pays $50 for the room, which for her is too expensive. In her room, she has figures of Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, which she uses as a spiritual area. Before leaving home, Aty prays every morning. Catholicism represents 97% of the Timorese believers.
At CODIVA Foundation, Romi Aty takes care of papers for a financial report. CODIVA (Coalition for Diversity and Action) is one of the most important Timorese institutions to support minorities like LGBT. This foundation started with a HIV/AIDS focus, but nowadays established as one of the main supporters of the Timorese LGBT. Aty is the only staff member. She said, the primary challenge of CODIVA is to get enough funding to support several events for the community. CODIVA is only supported by ISEAN Hivos, a Southeast Asian program supporting communities like MSM (Man who have sex with man) and transgender.
In a meeting at the Provedoria dos Direitos Humanos e Justiça (The Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights and Justice), Romi Aty listen the Ombudsman Dr. Silverio Pinto Baptista speaking, while other LGBT members and of the PDHJ staff are in the same meeting. The PDHJ office has the role to protect and promote topics related to human rights. Recently, with the increase of the LGBT community in East-Timor, the ombudsman showed concern about stories related to discrimination and violence, so the office organizes meetings and events that are aimed to address those issues. People like Aty, which is one of the LGBT leaders and represents CODIVA Foundation, are currently present in these meetings.
Zizi Belo, 30, poses for a portrait. As a transwoman, Belo has been suffering discrimination in East-Timor, but she is already a unique personality within the LGBT community. She is consular at a public clinic where HIV/AIDS testing is performed. Belo gets training from doctors, but she is not a doctor, neither a nurse. She said, she dreams on becoming the first transgender doctor in East-Timor. By looking to the future, Belo also wants to become a transsexual, despite being too hard. Hormones are not available in East-Timor and the Timorese heath system doesn’t provide help for SRS (sex reassignment surgery). For transsexuality to happen, transgenders in East-Timor would have to travel abroad in countries like South-Korea, but those costs are too high for most of the transgenders living in East-Timor.
At a clinic run by the Ministry of Health, Zizi Belo does HIV testing to a young male patient. Despite not having medical studies at a higher level in the university, Belo was always interested in health and she started taking workshops to be an HIV/AIDS consular. She’s one of the members within the HIV team at the clinic. She said, her dream is to become the first transgender doctor in East-Timor. She said, “As we know, there is discrimination at the [Timorese] universities. The barrier is that many times there is a huge stigma or discrimination and the university is the higher education institution, but they know that the LGBT [community] are very low [class]. So, that becomes a barrier, because I really want to study and I just can’t.”
Bella Galhos, 45, poses for a portrait at her house in Dili, capital of East-Timor. Galhos is one of the most prominent members of the LGBT movement in East-Timor and an inspiration for many LBT members. She is the daughter of a man who sold her to the Indonesian for $5 when she was 4-year-old. Today, Galhos is living in Dili with her partner Iram Saeed and a daughter Irabella. Together, they run Arco Iris (rainbow), an organization that helps mistreated lesbian, bisexual and transgender women in East-Timor. In addition to that, Galhos is one of the only LGBT members who are influent among politicians; she worked as the adviser of the former President Taur Matan Ruak. Galhos considers herself a bisexual human rights activist.
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