Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Times: 'Gays, lesbians still experience discrimination'
Wednesday, 1st April 2009 by Ivan Camilleri, Brussels

Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Malta still feel they are victims of discrimination, according to an EU report issued yesterday in Brussels.

The discrimination is felt particularly in areas such as health services and education.

The report was drawn up by the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) and based on country reports and an EU-wide survey.

The research found that many in Malta still conceal their sexual orientation from relatives, fearing a negative reaction. However, the majority of those who decide to be open are generally met with acceptance within their family.

Nearly a third of LGBT people in Malta say they conceal their sexual orientation when accessing health services, again fearing discrimination.

As for education, information gathered locally on homophobic bullying, harassment and violence shows that Maltese transgender students are particularly affected by prejudice. Many drop out of school or skip classes because of bullying, harassment or lack of understanding by teachers and students.

The report also highlights the fact that the Maltese gay lobby is finding it very difficult to improve its rights as "calls... have invariably been met with negative responses from some politicians and representatives of religious institutions or groups".

While the Maltese were found to be quite comfortable with having LGBT persons as their neighbours, only 18 per cent agreed with the statement that LGBT couples should have a legal right to get married and only seven per cent - the lowest level among the EU 27 member states - agreed that these couples should be permitted to adopt children.

According to the report, the promotion of diversity regarding sexual orientation is often difficult in environments controlled by religious organisations hostile to LGBT issues. It claims that Maltese LGBT NGOs have been blocked or ignored by school authorities when attempting to raise awareness and combat homophobia in schools.

"In Malta, where the Catholic Church administers around one third of the schools, the Malta Gay Rights Movement has reportedly been barred from disseminating leaflets of education materials that present LGBT issues," the report says.

On a general EU level, despite considerable advances in recent years, the social situation for LGBT people throughout the European Union is still considered to be a problem, particularly in the eastern member states.

Discrimination, bullying, harass-ment and attacks take place across the EU while politicians in a number of eastern member states seem to side with or turn a blind eye to the perpetrators, according to the report.

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