Monday, 26 January 2009

NCPE Report: The issue of sexual orientation is still a taboo subject in Malta

[Not available online sofar.]
23.1.9 National Commission for the Promotion of Equality (NCPE) Report.

[The following is an extract taken from "The Voice for All (VS20070477) Reseach Study", developed within the border framework of the Voice for All Project coordinated by the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality (NCPE) and co-funded by the European Community for Employment and Social Solidarity ­ PROGRESS (2007-2013). The study, launched on Friday, 23rd January 2009, comprises a transnational analysis on six grounds of discrimination, namely Race Ethinicity, Gender, Sexual Orientation, Disability, Religion and Age, carried out in Malta, Northern Ireland, Italy and Cyprus. The Maltese Research Report was compiled by Mr. Neville Borg from the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality.]

The issue of sexual orientation is still a somewhat taboo subject in Malta, where religious beliefs still exude a strong moral, and legislative, authority. In fact, the discussion on Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, and Transgender (LGBT) rights is often cast under the light of sexual deviance rather than human rights. Authorities often appear unwilling to partecipate in the discussion on LGBT rights, regularly expressing their reservations on the issue, and neither of the two main political parties place LGBT issues high on their agenda during the 2008 electoral campaign.


Sexual orientation is not mentioned in the Constitution, as opposed to other potential causes of discriminatory treatment such as race, gender, disability and religion. The only legal provision towards the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was introduced through Legal Notice 461, which amended the Employment and Industrial Relations Act to include sexual orientation as a ground upon which discrimination is prohibited.

However, since the Act only deals with the sphere of employment and occupation, Maltese legislation still does not completely prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in other aspects of social life such as healthcare, housing and education, Maltese legislation has also been criticized for not overtly prohibiting demonstrations or hate speech that incite discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Same-sex partnerships is not currently permitted by law, and although transgender persons are able to change their identification documents in accordance with their new gender identity, this provision appear not to apply to official social functions such as marriage. This conundrum has been highly publicized through the case of a Civil Court invalidated a previous ruling allowing a transgender woman to marry her male partner, accusing the woman to be in breach of Malta¹s Marriage Act, which prohibits the union between persons of the same sex.


There is currently very little empirical data dealing with the issue of sexual orientation, particularly in light of the fact that a person¹s sexuality is considered a private affair. The State does not gather statistics on the prevalence or size of the Maltese LGBT community, and there have been no formal large-scale studies of this social group.

The only empirical data on the LGBT community available is that resulting from studies carried out by the Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM). One particular study found that 50.2% of all respondents had suffered some form of harassment due to their sexual orientation, with 3% stating that they were denied a job and a further 4% suspecting that this was the case. 39.5% of respondents stated that they were harassed at work, 12.5% experienced discrimination in accommodation, and 34% had suffered discriminatory treatment in the bars, discotheques, restaurants or other similar locales. An important finding of this study was that 73.5% of respondents claimed that, as a result of the discrimination they had suffered, they would choose to emigrate if it were practical for them to do so.

A survey carried out by a local newspaper found that only 29% of respondents favoured the introduction of same-sex marriages. However, there was a clear discrepancy in views according to the respondents¹ age group ­ 54% of respondents under the age of 34 supported gay marriage, but over 82% of those over the age of 55 oppose it.

An Eurobarometer study found that 59% of Maltese believe that discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation is widespread, and that ­ contrary to the studies cited above, as well as perceived knowledge ­ the Maltese are very comfortable with the idea of having a gay person as their next door neighbour (8.4 on the scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most comfortable and 1 being the least comfortable).


Although Maltese legislation prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the field of employment, studies have shown that discrimination in the workplace persists. The situation may be particularly precarious for the persons who are transgender, since "many trans people are found within the lower-skilled jobs, not necessary because they are less skilled but for the simple fact that they are not hired".

It is not uncommon for LGBT persons to be the victims of degrading jokes or teasing at the workplace, and an MGRM study found that 39.5% of respondents felt the need to conceal their sexual orientation in at least some jobs, whilst a further 36.5% chose to hide their sexual orientation in all jobs. These statistics indicate that "the homosexual often cannot afford to express his or her true personality because in so doing she would be exposing him herself to hostile reactions".

MGRM, in an effort to sensitise employers on transgender issues in the workplace, has recently published guidelines for employers detailing the way in which they can aid transgender persons in the workplace. These guidelines include a glossary listing a series of terms related to transgender issues, besides providing a brief summary of the legal provisions and recommendations on how an employer can protect LGBT persons in the workplace. Furthermore, a series of training sessions were held with representatives of various organizations (in both the private and the public sector), as well as trade unions, equality bodies and employment corporations, where the guidelines were distributed and transgender issues were discussed directly with employers.

Civil Society

Discourse on LGBT issues in civil society are primary raised through the work of MGRM, which has conducted a number of initiatives aimed at combating discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. MGRM runs a National Gay Helpline, as well as face-to-face support for persons who are facing any problems due to their sexual orientation. In 2007, a monthly e-newsletter titled Alegre was launched, containing information on the MGRM¹s activities, as well as any milestones related to LGBT issues across the world.

Furthermore, MGRM also issued two information booklets ­ one aimed at LGBTQ youth and the other at parents and friends of LGBTQ youth ­ that were aimed at dispelling myths and misconceptions on LGBTQ issues, as well as providing help to persons seeking to come to terms with their own sexual orientation or that of those around them. These booklets contained brief personal accounts of the experiences of a number of LGBTQ youths living in Malta. The information booklets were distributed to teachers, counselors, social workers, and psychologists, as well as the general public.

Another organization working towards ensuring equality for LGBT persons is DRACHMA, which organizes weekly meetings for Catholic LGBT persons. During these meetings, LGBT issues are discussed within a Catholic context and a prayer session is carried out. DRACHMA also organizes specific meetings for parents, relatives and friends of LGBT persons, where LGBT and non-LGBT persons alike come together to express their faith.

Recently, DRACHMA has organized a number of awareness-raising events, including public talks by foreign speakers renowned for their involvement in LGBT issues and the Catholic Church (these speakers included a theologian, a Roman Catholic nun prominent for her work with the Catholic LGBT community, and an artist). These events garnered considerable media attention, and encouraged a more open public discourse on the relationship between LGBT issues and religion.


The issue of sexual orientation discrimination has not yet succeeded in obtaining a similar degree of visibility ­ and subsequent social mobilization ­ as other forms of discrimination. Although MGRM has conducted numerous awareness raising initiatives, relatively few other social bodies have adopted the issue of discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation and organized activities based specifically on this issue.

This lack of initiative can be partly seen as a result of a set of traditional values strongly influenced b the moral authority enjoyed by the Catholic faith. These values, although not static, are felt throughout Maltese society, particularly in the lack of political will to regularize the legislative measures prohibiting discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation to cover all aspects of social life, and to introduce provisions to counter this discrimination. Organizations such as DRACHMA seek to act as bridge between religious values and the LGBT community by demonstrating how a person¹s faith need not negatively influence their self-perception, or their perception of other people¹s sexual orientation or gender identity.

However, there is the need for a more widespread effort to promote information about, and acceptance of LGBT issues into different spheres of social life. It is believed that there is a degree of confusion on LGBT issues and that "there is a lack of information on what transgender is". This lack of information may lead to unwillingness on behalf of employers to employ LGBT persons, therefore forcing a number of LGBT persons to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity.

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