LGBT rights leader to speak at Westminster College




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LGBT rights leader to speak at Westminster College

As she sees it, there are some similarities between Fulton and Lusitania Savio's home country of East Timor.

Both are tiny: East Timor is a Southeast Asian island nation of 1.2 million people. Both have a high population of Christians and are generally conservative. And both have locals who are working hard to achieve acceptance and support for the LGBT population.

"It wasn't normal to come out at home," Savio said.

Savio, director of Westminster College's Office for Intercultural Engagement, has invited one of East Timor's LGBT rights activists to speak at the college Oct. 26. Natalino Soares Ornai Guterres will deliver a lecture about his journey toward becoming a leader in LGBT rights activism at noon in the Herman Lounge (second floor of Hunter Activity Center); a lunch of Indian food will be served.

The public is welcome to come.

"The more people, the better," Savio said. "For people in the Fulton community, they can see that there are people out in the world trying to fight for acceptance in their communities. You're not fighting alone — there are many people out there fighting for the same cause."

Guterres' lecture will be part of Westminster's Pride Week celebration, a time for people in the LGBT community and their allies to celebrate their identity and reflect on their history. While many parts of the U.S. have pride celebrations annually, some decades old, that wasn't the case in East Timor.

The country is more than 90 percent Catholic, Savio said, and until recently, the existence of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people simply wasn't discussed.

"There are actually a lot of transgender people and people who cross-dress, but it wasn't something people came out about," Savio said, adding many simply didn't know the terminology.

Additionally, the country only won its independence from Indonesia in 2002, following decades of bloodshed. Violence broke out again during the run-up to the nation's 2007 presidential election.

A young Guterres was inspired to work toward peace and improving conditions for Timorese children. He gained a bachelor degree at Luther College in Iowa, and earned a master's degree in responsible management and sustainable economic development at the United Nations mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica.

It was there, Savio said, he first became acquainted with people in the LGBT community.

"At the University for Peace, there are 200 students from 90 countries," said Savio, who attended the University for Peace in Italy. "You're exposed to so many cultures and identities."

Upon returning home to East Timor, Guterres co-founded Movimento de Adolescentes e Crianas, an organization to create social change by educating and protecting children. He also founded Hatutan, which means "to spread the word," an organization that advocates for equality.

In 2017, Guterres and Hatutan organized East Timor's first Pride Parade. He expected 300 attendees — and got 500.

"We saw it as such an inspirational moment," Savio said.