Tuesday, 27 October 2009

MaltaToday: Europe’s gay community tackles religion in Malta conference

25.10.9 by MATTHEW VELLA

The International Lesbian Gay Association’s (Europe) annual conference will convene in Malta for the very first time, where Malta’s gay community will play host to high-profile attendees such as former Italian MP Vladimir Luxoria.

The ILGA-Europe annual conference is organised every year in a different European country. In 2007, the Malta Gay Rights Movement decided to bid for the hosting of the 2009 conference, which is entitled “Overcoming Religious and Cultural Barriers to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi- and transsexual) Equality”.

“It was felt that bringing such a high-calibre conference to Malta would encourage a more active discussion of gay issues, which are often cast aside in favour of less controversial ones. Being a proactive organisation, MGRM decided that instead of waiting for change to start happening on its own, organising the conference in Malta could help raise the profile of LGBT rights locally,” spokesperson Bernard Muscat told MaltaToday.

The conference will allow local Maltese participants to attend various workshops and discussion sessions taking place and interact directly with gay rights activists from all over Europe and beyond.

Participants will be addressed MEP Ulrike Lunacek, Vladimir Luxuria, Juris Calitis, pastor of the Anglican Church of Latvia, Francis Agius, head of Maltese delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and Frits Huffnagel, Alderman of Hague City Council.

“The possibility to network with people facing similar barriers in other countries allows one to gain perspectives that are critical to the attainment of LGBT equality goals,” Muscat said.

Religion and culture will be tackled through the conference as two important determinants that directly influence the way a country deals with minority issues. Participants will share their experiences with regards to religious and cultural barriers faced in their countries.

“Participants from a mix of cultures and a number of religions will be present during the conference, with activists coming from as far as Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and Georgia. A number of participants from Northern Africa and the Middle East will also be participating,” Muscat said.

Political message

MGRM hope that the conference will send a direct message to political parties to get up to speed on minority rights. “The impression is that elected officials often lag behind the general public’s views on such issues. MGRM feels that a lot more needs to be done with regards to equality for LGBT people in Malta. It is no longer acceptable for local politicians to state they are against discrimination in the broad sense of the term, but then continue to ignore more direct discrimination faced by LGBT people,” Muscat said.

“The message that we want to put forward to the Maltese public – and not just by means of the conference, but every single day – is that LGBT people are equal to the heterosexual majority and should be treated as such. There is absolutely no reason to deny LGBT people rights and obligations that other segments of society take for granted.”

MGRM is currently involved in pressing for equal recognition from the State to same-sex couples as it does to opposite-sex ones. The group says it is not acceptable to continue to actively ignore the realities of same-sex couples as if these did not exist. “We would like there to be legal protection against discrimination in the provision of goods and services. For example, a same-sex couple cannot be denied the possibility to rent out a flat because the owner realises they are gay,” Muscat said.

In talks with political party representatives MGRM has also discussed the formal extension of the remit of National Commission for the Promotion of Equality to also include sexual orientation. The NCPE’s remit currently includes only race and gender issues.

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