Saturday, 28 March 2009

MaltaStar: Am I bothered? Yes, I am.
27.3.9 by Sandro Mangion

As 6 June draws closer and the European Parliament election campaigns gather momentum, I wonder how many of the candidates will be courageous enough to endorse a ten-point pledge that will soon be presented to them.

The Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM), the voice of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people on the island, will in the coming weeks be inviting all aspirant MEPs to declare that, if elected, they will promote equality and combat discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. This is part of a Europe-wide campaign, entitled ‘Be Bothered. Vote for a Human Rights Friendly European Parliament’ which was launched yesterday (Wednesday, 25 March) by the Brussels-based European branch of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA-Europe).

Approaching candidates in the run up to general or EP elections so as to ensure that the LGBT community’s choice at the polls is an informed one is not new to MGRM. During the last few election campaigns, questionnaires have been sent out to candidates with the aim of obtaining their views vis-à-vis matters concerning LGBT. Of course, in the Maltese political context, getting candidates to sign a pledge or declare their position for equality and non-discrimination is in itself no guarantee that they would in fact be pro-active on these issues once they clinch power. Our politicians have got used to being allowed to get away with murder by an apathetic electorate. That is why MGRM should not merely content itself with candidates’ endorsement of the pledge. After their election to the EP, it should continue monitoring their performance on a regular basis and making its observations public.

The ideal situation would be that of having as many candidates and political parties as possible commit themselves to building an inclusive society as a result of their genuine convinction that this is the right thing to do. However, the currency used in the political game is called votes and, if it does want to speed up the process of change, the gay lobby must convince politicians that the pink vote is really worth investing in. If well organised and intelligently mobilised, the gay vote would be an extremely valuable card in the LGBT community's hands. Due to the huge number of LGBTs who, for various reasons, remain in the closet, it is hard to determinate the precise voting power of LGBTs. However, it is estimated to be somewhere around or over 5% of the total electorate, and that's quite something in a country where a few hundred votes are enough to tip the balance in favour of one candidate or another.

No stone should be left unturned in the gay lobby’s bid to rally LGBT voters on 6 June, and to ensure that their vote goes to those candidates who are sincerely committed to the promotion of human rights and equality. For LGBT people, this is not a power game. It’s a much needed response to a dire need for change. Citizens of this democratic European country, whilst being required to fulfil their obligations to the State just like any other citizen are in turn still denied their fundamental human rights simply because their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression is different to that of the majority. I read on Maltese media that gays are still being made to pay higher life insurance premiums. Life-long same-sex partners of a dying person may still be denied the right to be at their loved one’s bedside in hospital as he/she is not considered his/her next of kin. Maltese gays and lesbians who marry their same-sex partners in more inclusive EU countries remain "exiled" there unless they are willing to accept their marriage being automatically declared null should they decide to return to Malta as a couple. Three cheers to freedom of movement. One could go on ad nauseam.

Let us wait and see which candidates will endorse the ten-point pledge. This will be far from a private meeting with MGRM behind closed doors, or from a small-print, vaguely-written declaration on some website, which would enable candidates to court the pink vote while taking the appropriate safeguards not to ruffle the feathers of pro-discrimination supporters. It will be a declaration which the MGRM will undoubtedly publicise. The signatories' names will be placed on an interactive map of the EU on ILGA-Europe's website. It’s time for candidates, or political parties where candidates are bound by party discipline not to make individual promises, to stand up and be counted.

For further information on the ten-point pledge click

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