Sunday, 17 July 2011

Times: Gay community marches with pride

Two of the gay campaigners in Valletta yesterday. Photo Chris Sant Fournier

Around 300 people withstood the blistering heat and walked through Valletta’s main streets in the annual gay pride parade to raise awareness about gay and lesbian rights.

Under an arch of balloons with all the colours of the rainbow, gays, lesbians and heterosexuals made their presence felt with whistles and flags when they set off from St George’s Square and walked up through Republic Street and Merchants Street.

The walk called ‘I Am Pride’, organised by the Malta Gay Rights Movement, was also attended by Nationalist and Labour MPs, Alternattiva Demokratika and NGOs. Waving the rainbow flag, which has become affiliated with gay rights movements, campaigners held placards calling for equal rights and an end to discrimination.

Sliema PN councillor Cyrus Engerer, who was among those leading the gay parade, and openly gay Nationalist MP Karl Gouder took part in the walk, while opposition leader Joseph Muscat and Labour MPs Evarist Bartolo and Owen Bonnici left early to take part in a parliamentary committee hearing on divorce.

Mr Bartolo said he was glad to see new faces among the crowd: “It is a sign that society is changing and for the better and it needs to be changed.” However, a lot more work was left to be done. “Gay and lesbian rights are human rights and any society that gives them fewer rights is not democratic or just – the fight will go on,” Mr Bartolo said.

Mr Engerer said he was satisfied at this year’s turnout, which was much higher than last year.

“It shows there is an increasing wave for civil liberties – the time for change has come,” he said.

However, not everything changed as Mr Engerer said the turnout did not reflect the reality of thousands of gay Maltese people.

“There are many gays and lesbians who did not turn up out of fear of disclosure and discrimination – they told us that they could not be seen in these places but would be there with us in spirit,” he said.

The main message they wanted to send out was that “gay rights are still lagging behind,” Mr Engerer said.

Meanwhile, Alternattiva Demo­kratika appealed to Parliament to legislate the sectors of cohabitation and civil unions which should form part of Maltese law and social policy.

The walk was one of a series of activities that marked Gay Pride Week, between July 4 and 13. After the walk, movement coordinator Gabi Calleja was presented with an award to commemorate her work in fighting for gay, lesbian and transgender rights.

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