Sunday, 13 June 2010

Times: Beyond myths and rhetoric
Friday, 11th June 2010 by Michael Briguglio

LGBT is a relatively new term in political discourse referring to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender identities. Despite its "newness", it refers to struggles for recognition and rights on the basis of one's sexual orientation.

In this regard, it is now recognised by many sociologists, psychologists, political activists, policy makers and others that sexuality is not simply about nature and biology. As much as sexuality
has to do with hormones and the like, it is also a question of how it is defined by different people, different groups and different societies. Indeed, definitions of what is "right" or "wrong" in terms
of sexuality are put forward by power structures in the economic, political, religious, cultural and scientific realms, among others.

If one looks at homosexuality, one can note different meanings given to this term across time and space. For example, many social policy regimes in various societies assume and advocate heterosexuality and discriminate against other sexualities, both directly and indirectly.

In European societies in the late 19th century, homosexuality was considered to be morally wrong and a threat to the family.

Homosexuality was punishable by law and discourses were propagated against it.

Later on, it the post-war years, homosexuality was considered by dominant structures to be a disease, a mental disorder or an abnormality. In the 1960s and 1970s, however, various societies,
including Britain and Malta, started to decriminalise homosexual acts, though this was quite a bumpy ride. Such decriminalisation was influenced by the sexual revolution and courageous people who stood up to be counted.

As the Gay Liberation Movement of Britain put it in the 1970s, "every person has the right to develop and extend their character and explore their sexuality through relationships with any other human being, without moral, social or political pressure... we demand honour,
identity and liberation".

The revival of conservative ideology in the late 1980s brought about a new backlash against gay and lesbian rights and the AIDS issue led to opposition by right-wingers against some victories previously achieved.

Yet, as social theorist Michel Foucault teaches us, for power there is resistance. Various gay rights movements became even more active in their appeal for equality and respect, resulting in a political constituency that was also supported by people whose values became
more open on sexuality.

Since then, various societies have introduced various social reforms - from anti-discrimination at work to recognition of gay marriages - and being gay, lesbian, transsexual or bisexual became recognised identities among others in post-traditional societies.

The LGBT community has made many victories, yet, many challenges remain. In some societies, such as Uganda and Iran, basic gay rights are still inexistent and being gay can actually lead to death. In others, such as the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Britain, Denmark, South Africa, and Canada, to name a few, various rights exist, including marriage and forming civil unions, depending on the country.

In Malta, homosexuality was decriminalised in the 1970s and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation at work was made illegal following Malta's EU accession. Yet, people with an LGBT identity are being discriminated in various other areas, most notably when it comes to family policy.

Green parties have always been the most progressive parties when it comes to LGBT rights. The track record of the Greens in the European Parliament is a case in point. Greens are also the most ardent supporters of LGBT NGOs.

Malta is no exception. Alternattiva Demokratika - the Green party's principles are not for sale. We have always been against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and, unlike the
other political parties in Malta, we fully support the proposed anti-discrimination directive being proposed within the EU.

Besides, we are the only party with a clear declared stand in favour of civil partnerships.
Some may want us to go further and others believe that we are too radical. We invite all those who wish to contribute to our policy-making to take part in our forthcoming debates concerning our electoral manifesto.

If one takes a look at the other political parties in Malta, one can immediately note the difference.

The Nationalist Party keeps ignoring the fact we form part of a secular modern world and opposes the introduction of various LGBT rights. The track record of Nationalist members of the European Parliament is a case in point.

Labour, on the other hand, is once again characterised by its "moderate" and "progressive" balancing act. On the one hand, it has its own LGBT section within the party, which, to date, is conspicuous by its silence in the public sphere. On the other hand, it has members of Parliament in its ranks whose opposition to LGBT rights is notorious. Some tabled parliamentary questions are shameful indeed.

The struggle of LGBT activists and movements is ultimately part of the struggle for a more equal and inclusive society, which is ultimately what democracy should be all about.

The author is chairman of Alternattiva Demokratika - the Green party.

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

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