28.7.8; by Francesca Vella
Patrick Attard is the only declared gay candidate to have contested a general election in Malta. He is also the only political spokesman for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender/transsexual (LGBT) issues. Dr Ing. Attard spoke to Francesca Vella about the need for Malta to address issues such as same-sex civil partnerships, urgent family leave and bereavement leave for everyone. Malta stands to gain from becoming more gay-friendly, and often enough it is just about being more sensitive, he explained.
Dr Ing. Attard contested the general election on the Alternattiva Demokratika (AD) ticket, the only political party in Malta that has openly declared itself to be in favour of same-sex civil partnerships.
Although Labour leader Joseph Muscat has been speaking openly about the importance of establishing some form of civil partnerships for gay couples, he has, so far, stopped short of going into further detail.
The AD spokesman said Dr Muscat has to elaborate on the matter and explain what exactly he means by “some form of civil partnerships”.
“Allowing same-sex civil partnerships is not about being cool, or copying other countries. It is about human issues; it is about urgent family leave, inheritance rights, survivors’ pension, bereavement leave and the right for a non-EU citizen to live and work in Malta… it incorporates all these legal issues that do not apply, as yet, to gay couples.”
Dr Ing. Attard recalled a situation of a gay man who had been with his partner for 26 years and could not see him at the hospital after a serious traffic accident and the victim succumbed to his injuries after a few days without his partner being at his deathbed because he was not a family member. And if a gay person’s partner dies, s/he is not entitled to bereavement leave or to be included in the organisation of the funeral. This is about fundamental human rights, he said.
“Such situations are traumatic in themselves. Imagine not being able to see your partner at his deathbed – this has caused people long-term, devastating psychological effects,” said Dr Ing. Attard.
Although politicians often act according to the direction in which public opinion is swinging, AD has always spoken about issues like gay rights and divorce, even when they were much less popular in Malta.
Dr Ing. Attard said that before the 8 March general election, AD candidates all signed the Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM) petition.
This calls on political parties to address, among others, the inclusion in the Criminal Code of an article regarding homophobic and transphobic violence, as well as the inclusion of gender reassignment surgery and hormone therapy for transgender persons as part of the public health services.
The AD spokesman pointed out that often enough, it is just about being more sensitive and it would not cost much to introduce more gay-friendly measures.
He mentioned a situation where a transsexual woman had to stay in a men’s ward when she was admitted to hospital.
“This is downright humiliating. It really would not have taken much for the hospital to allow her to stay in a women’s ward.”
Speaking about urgent family leave and bereavement leave for gay people, Dr Ing. Attard said that this too, would not be a costly measure.
Failing to allow gay people to take this type of leave from work could take them longer to recover from the trauma they would have been through, and they would be less productive at work.
He said that when Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi was the minister responsible for social policy, he refused the introduction of urgent family leave for gay couples.
Dr Gonzi had also been against the introduction of an industrial law against discrimination on the grounds of sexual discrimination, said Dr Ing. Attard, and this was only included after the European Commission’s intervention.
He insisted that Malta had a lot to gain by being more gay-friendly, particularly since gay couples’ spending patterns are different and they tend to spend more on travelling.
“There is what is referred to as the DINK (dual income, no kids) household – couples living in a DINK household are thought to have more disposable income because they do not have the added expenses that come with children.
“The country could look into the possibilities of becoming a gay tourist destination, particularly during the shoulder months. The value of the “pink euro” or the “pink pound” is underestimated in this country. Gay tourism is booming in small cities like Graz in Austria. The cultural scene in places that are more gay-friendly has flourished.”
Dr Ing. Attard said he believes there needs to be a separation of Church and State. The country prides itself in supposedly being a modern, secular State.
And yet the Constitution of Malta states: “The religion of Malta is the Roman Catholic Apostolic Religion… The authorities of the Roman Catholic Apostolic Church have the duty and the right to teach which principles are right and which are wrong… Religious teaching of the Roman Catholic Apostolic Faith shall be provided in all State schools as part of compulsory education”.
The AD spokesman said that statistics have shown that generally speaking, the incidence of suicide among the LGBTs is eight times higher in Christian societies than it is in other societies.
“Unfortunately, in the run-up to this year’s general election, there was a priest in Msida who told people, during his Sunday Mass homily, not to vote AD because it had spoken out in favour of same-sex civil partnerships.”
This is outrageous, especially if he understood the real plea of the LGBT community – that people are suffering because of inequality in this country, he said.
Dr Ing. Attard said he met with the Archbishop, Mgr Paul Cremona, OP, last year and told him that he wished that people with different beliefs would be able to live in the same country in harmony.
He said he told Archbishop Cremona that he knew many families that have not had a meal with their gay son for years. He said he knew a lesbian who has not had a meal with her family for more than 15 years.
“I suggested that in his recorded Easter message, Mgr Cremona should encourage housewives to invite their separated neighbour for afternoon tea and their gay son for Sunday lunch.
“He refused, but I’d like to make this appeal again, so that we will truly build bridges,” said the AD spokesman, clearly referring to the archbishop’s intention to be close to the people by “building bridges” with a sense of good will.
And this is not just about the LGBT community. He said that when it comes to certain issues, the local Church cannot be considered to be our moral compass. For instance, there have been situations where separated people were asked to go and receive Holy Communion in another parish far away from their locality just because they are cohabiting with someone else.
Also, separated people are not allowed to work as teachers or facilitators in Church schools – this only worsens their trauma as they try to rebuild their lives.
The AD spokesman said that these confusing teachings could result in sad situations – a man on his deathbed refusing to talk to his gay son, a woman admitting she would have had an abortion had she known that her son would turn out to be gay, or the father of a gay boy saying he would have preferred his son having cancer than turning out to be gay.
Dr Ing. Attard referred to the Pope’s World Day of Peace message, given on 1 January this year. He said the Pope’s attack on the LGBT community was evident.
That day, Pope Benedict XVI said: “…everything that serves to weaken the family based on the marriage of a man and a woman, everything that directly or indirectly stands in the way of its openness to the responsible acceptance of a new life, everything that obstructs its right to be primarily responsible for the education of its children, constitutes an objective obstacle on the road to peace”.
The AD spokesman said the Church should review its teachings regarding sexuality and celibacy for priests; many of its teachings are based on judicative biblical text such as the book of Leviticus, which condemns homosexuality, but it condones slavery, and says that people working on the Sabbath should be killed.
In fact, Leviticus 18:22 reads: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination”.
And Leviticus 20:13: “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them”.
Most Maltese Catholics probably do not follow some of Leviticus’ teachings, yet they are unable to accept that there is nothing wrong in being gay, said Dr Ing. Attard.
Going back to politics, he said it was a shame that Nationalist MEPs David Casa and Simon Busuttil had abstained from voting for a European Parliament resolution regarding an EU anti-discrimination directive granting protection in the provision of goods and services. In previous resolutions, they even abstained from condemning torture and gay killings.
Particularly, he said, when Mr Casa had been to a number of clubs and bars in Brussels in support of the fight against anti-gay discrimination.
So LGBT rights unfortunately remain somewhat low on the political agenda. But Dr Ing. Attard believes that public opinion is slowly shifting, particularly since there has been a relatively strong gay presence in many Maltese and foreign soap operas on television over the past five to 10 years.
But have people really started to think pink? Dr Ing. Attard said he thinks many have; as with other things, it requires a culture change, he argues, but more people are starting to be more open-minded.
After all thinking pink does no harm. Allowing same-sex civil partnerships, for instance, will not do any harm whatsoever to people who disagree with the concept and they can still live their lives in peace; it is just about making more people’s lives slightly easier and happier.
Patrick Attard blogs at http://patrickattard.blogspot.com
See related article here.