Tuesday, 21 July 2009

MaltaStar: Tardare si, scappare no

21 July 2009 by Sandro Mangion

If only there was no more need for Gay Pride marches.

I've just come back home after a week in Malta where I had the opportunity to walk alongside gay, lesbian, bisexual and straight people through Valletta's main thoroughfares in the island's sixth gay pride march.

Taken in themselves, the number of those who actually turned up was nothing to write home about. Seen in the context of Malta's closely-knit community, on the other hand, it was breathtaking to see such an overt manifestation of solidarity between individuals hailing from different backgrounds and walks of life. What united them was one thing: the vision of a fair society where everyone is treated equally.

There were young people and older ones, Maltese nationals and visitors from other countries, the country's most popular MEP Simon Busuttil, Government and Opposition MPs (David Agius, Evarist Bartolo, Owen Bonnici, Gino Cauchi), PN and MLP local councillors, journalists and newspaper columnists, persons with disability, civil service employees and professional practitioners, religious and non-religious individuals... There were also a good number of NGOs such as Graffitti, the General Workers' Union Youths, the Forum Zghazagh Laburisti (which has gone as far as to set up an LGBT group within itself), the Moviment Zghazagh Partit Nazzjonalista and the Christian Gay Group DRACHMA.

Surfing through the online press reports of the event, I have noticed several comments by (presumably) straight readers in the online press who fail to see why gay people need to parade holding rainbow flags and colourful balloons. "Why shouldn't gays keep their sexuality to themselves?" they argue. "Straight people don't go about flaunting their sexuality, after all." How mistaken they are. One's sexuality cannot be confined to the bedroom, as some (presumably straight) people opine. One's sexuality determines not only who one is intimate with, but also whom one falls in love with, gets into a relationship with and/or, where it is possible, gets married to. This is where the social, public aspect comes in.

Heterosexuality is flaunted all the time, everywhere. Certainly, straight people do not need an annual parade for their sexual orientation to be acknowledged. Hetero people talk about their husbands and wives, sport marriage rings, appear in all adverts aimed at the family, in school books... In our society, you are presumed to be straight. A society which overlooks the fact that between 5 and 10% of its population has a sexual orientation that differs from that of the majority, is bound to discriminate against this sizeable minority.

Gay people are discriminated against both for being different - e.g. through lack of protection against unfair treatment as a result of other people's prejudices, in not being allowed to donate blood, in being charged higher health insurance premiums in certain cases etc - as well as a result of their relationships not being sanctioned by the Law. Gays are not only denied the opportunity to partake in the riches of marriage - inheritance rights, joint tax computations, eligibility for housing schemes etc - but also in its richness. The message they get from the State and from society is that their love is not as valid as heterosexual love.

A few years ago, I was chatting with a former prominent Nationalist politician about the need for change in the local civil liberties sphere. He threw at me a saying in Italian: "Tardare si, scappare no." He had no doubt that, in spite of the opposition by those who favour a society that discriminates between its own citizens, we should go on believing that things will eventually change, and strive towards that noble goal. We are already seeing things budge. Who would have foretold the presence of two PN politicians in Saturday's gay pride march? It was only in 2003 when the reply the Malta Gay Rights Movement got from the PN to its request for a bilateral meeting was that the party-in-government felt the time was not yet ripe for such a meeting to take place.

We have a dream of a country - eventually a whole world - where everyone is treated equally. Until that dream comes true, the Valletta Gay Pride march will remain an annual rendez-vous.

[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on MaltaStar's website.]

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