24 July 2011 by Elaine Attard
A report on the social situation concerning homophobia and discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation commissioned by the Fundamental Rights Agency indicated that 40 per cent of Maltese LGBT respondents experienced harassment at their place of work.
In addition, 73 per cent of Maltese think that it is proper for the Church to speak out against homosexuality compared to the European average of 40 per cent.
The people who were interviewed in this survey were asked to rate how they would feel about having a homosexual person as a neighbour. They were asked to rate their feelings between 1, meaning 'very uncomfortable', and 10, meaning 'very comfortable'. The figure in Malta was 8.4 compared with an EU average of 7.9. Romania ranked the lowest with 4.8.
Only 18 per cent of Maltese citizens agree that same-sex marriages should be allowed throughout Europe. Only seven per cent agree on adoption by same-sex couples, the lowest score among member states along with Poland.
Quoting an MGRM survey, the report indicated that more than one in 10 respondents claimed that they had been subjected to some form of violence due to their sexual orientation. Furthermore, half of the respondents claimed that they had experienced harassment, with many reporting that it happened on more than one occasion. A considerable number of cases also involved children being bullied in schools due to their sexual orientation.
These are just a few of many issues affecting the local LGBT community that the research brought to the fore.
The research, entitled, "Discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity in Europe", was conducted in all 47 member states of the Council of Europe. Independent national experts or consultants from each Council of Europe member state prepared a legal report and a sociological/social report.
The country thematic studies relating to the 27 EU member states were shared with the Council of Europe by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA). These were commissioned by the FRA to serve as background material for the 2010 update of its comparative legal analysis on discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity across the EU member States.
The report contents were locally jointly drawn up by four sources: law professor Ian Refalo from the Organisation for the Promotion of Human Rights and lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia wrote the legal country report; a sociological country report was drawn up by Dr Marceline Naudi from data collected through interviews held with the Malta Gay Rights Movements (MGRM), the Education, Employment and Family Ministry and the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality (NCPE). Data was also collected from an online questionnaire that was sent to the stakeholders.
The reports present key findings on attitudes taken towards LGBT people, criminal law and hate crime, freedom of assembly, family and other social issues, the labour market, education, religion, sports, media, asylum and subsidiary protection, family reunification, transgender issues and multiple discrimination.
The report underlines that although there are many state welfare agencies in Malta, the Church is still highly influential and active in Maltese society. It adds that "with Malta being a strongly Catholic and traditional society, some suggestions for equal opportunity and non-discriminatory practice, including LGBT issues, are still considered controversial. These issues are yet to be mainstreamed and are generally characterised by limited awareness. While the general attitude is still not one of acceptance, there is now a certain visibility of LGBT issues developing, especially among the younger and more educated generations. Yet same-sex partnerships are not recognised in Maltese law."
Dr Naudi pointed out, "There are many gaps and data which are not available because it is not recorded. This is due to several reasons. Firstly, if same sex partnerships are not legally recognised then official information relating to LGBT couples is almost impossible to collect; secondly, as long as Maltese society remains hostile towards LGBT persons, they will tend not to disclose their sexual orientation, and hence remain 'invisible'; thirdly, if incidents are not reported then data is not available. There is also, to date, no official central point to address these issues."
The legal report indicates, among other matters, that issues related to services such as housing, life insurance, banking facilities such as mortgages, social protection and taxation require consideration to ensure a more holistic approach in the eradication of homophobia. Since same-sex partnerships or marriages are not allowed or recognised under Maltese law, this impinges on the treatment of LGBT persons on a number of issues related to freedom of movement.