22nd September 2011 by Charles Bayliss
In this article, I have decided to tackle the issue of the next General Elections which are due in approx. two years' time.
We have come to an age that we cannot identify ourselves as lifelong followers of one party or another, but we have to evaluate the actual situation we, as private citizens, stand at. There were times when there was fear of Malta losing its democracy, but ever since Malta has come of age and there is no more fear of this to actually happen (although some of our politicians tend or wish (with their attitude) to lead our beloved country that way). We have to become “floating” voters and evaluate with responsibility the actual situation within the country, every time an election is due, depending on immediate issues.
I for one started voting way back in 1981 at a time (without trying to offend anybody); Malta was going through one of its worst periods in its history. At that time I always had the interest of our country in mind before my own interests and voted accordingly. But now that Malta has progressed to the stage of full democracy and full members within the European Union (with all its good and bad), the need of considering our Country’s democratic process is not an issue anymore. Today’s issue is Civil Rights within a 21st Century Malta. (And hopefully a liberal Malta).
Now is the time for people, as free citizens to look around ourselves and start standing up for our own rights within a democratic country. This year, Malta has broken ground in introducing the first civil right in the form of Divorce, a minority’s civil right – an issue which was discussed at length and needs no further comments. This issue has shown the thirst of the Maltese citizens for civil rights. There are various other civil rights which are still to be dealt with, hopefully only those which have a positive effect in a person’s life will come into force. I am in favour of all rights that celebrate life and not destroy it. That is why I get angry when some of our politicians put Gay Rights in the same basket with Abortion and Euthanasia. Whilst the first celebrates life, the other two are the destruction of it.
As a gay activist, obviously my priority is that of Gay Rights, which other European Citizens enjoy, some to certain extent and others to the fullest. Unfortunately our country still has to go a long way for such civil rights to be implemented. First of all, the local mentality has to change further. I cannot fully complain that as regards to mentality we are still backwards, because I feel there is support from a good number of “straight” citizens toward gay folk (especially the younger generations, although it is amazing how many people over 60 are supportive too), but on the other hand, due to, for example, some hate blogging from one of the country’s supposedly liberal persons, the insecurity and hatred that some locals have for the gay community is coming to face and is an unfortunate reality. I feel the fault behind their comments is ignorance and deep rooted hate. I really feel sorry for the shallow mentality in today’s permissive world. Mind you, this is not just only in Malta, one can find it throughout other countries (even in Europe) and this is referenced as “homophobia”. Although this can be checked through necessary laws, like Hate Crime legislation, it a reality fact that this cannot be eradicated totally because we are people with different minds and thoughts.
Notwithstanding this, we gay people are still citizens of our beloved country, thus we are equal to all citizens. Gay people still have to abide by the country’s laws, still have to pay taxes and so on and so forth. Thus what’s all this political lethargy? Why this distinction between citizens by our representatives, the politicians? I remember our country condemning apartheid, but still we condone an apartheid within our own country. Why is it that heterosexuals are first class citizens whilst gay people are not even considered as second class citizens? Why have we got to organise Gay Pride Marches to protest? (Many countries organise Gay Prides as a colourful celebration of life and not to protest anymore!) Heterosexuals do not do such events as they take their rights as for granted.
It has to be us to bring up this issue if we want to become equal citizens, because as the Maltese saying goes “Ħadd ma jaħsillek wiċċek biex tkun aħjar minnu”.
Our issue is not with the common person in the street, because as I said before, there is a general feeling that a good percentage of Maltese citizens have a sympathetic eye towards the gay community. I for one have been approached by many people showing support and offering time to volunteer for our cause and I am sure that other activists have experienced the same. In fact, some of these people managed to even be present in this year’s Gay Pride March in full support of our community. Here I must not forget the support we get from most of our proud parents and families.
Mentioning Gay Pride, yes we do have politicians who make a presence. Some are there just to be present or for their own agenda, whilst others come with good intentions. Presence is not a necessity if these politicians do not have any respect for our community. A speech by one of the politicians this year made us wonder how much certain politicians are up to-date with today’s situation. It has been a known fact that BEING GAY IS NOT A MENTAL ILLNESS, and this was stated decades ago by the American Psychiatric Association and acknowledged by other bodies. No reparative treatment can change one’s sexual orientation. This can only do mental harm and in certain cases even lead to suicidal behaviour. But this politician seems to have just found out that being gay is not an illness. How many years will it take him (and perhaps others) to understand that we are equal citizens?
In today’s society, we the gay community, have to see what our politicians have to say about gay issues. We should see what is of interest to us as a group and not as individuals. We have to forget that we come from a family of a colour or other and think with our heads. What are our parties offering? Should we vote because we have always voted for this or that party, or vote for equal rights to that party or parties that actually offer us the best possible deal?
Going back in history, there were only two instances where gay issues were brought up in parliament. One was a request by the government of the time and the other was after the government was pressured to legislate it (!). Way back to January 1973, the then Prime Minister, Dom Mintoff (MLP) decriminalised homosexuality. (When asked why, he stated because he believed in human rights.) One has to say that he had a strong opposition from the Nationalist Party and the Catholic Church, but knowing Mintoff, he was a stubborn person and went on to introduce this law no matter what. In 2002 the law regarding Discrimination on the Place of Work with regards to Sexual Orientation was enforced. At that time, the minister responsible was today’s Prime Minister, Dr Lawrence Gonzi. He was adamant that this act would not be processed. It came about only because of pressures made by the European Union, through the intervention of Mr Michael Cashman MEP ((Labour UK).
In today’s situation it is quite evident that like most Right Wing parties, the Nationalist Party in Malta is not open to the idea that we gay people, citizens of Malta, should have equal rights. (When I was an active member I had a meeting with an ex-high official were I suggested a form of LGBT PN group. Although he agreed in principle, he told me straight and plain that I would be facing total opposition, and this was in Dr Eddie Fenech Adami’s era). In fact, as a party they laugh at and ridicule the idea. I do not understand how they rally an out gay MP amongst them! Do they rally him to catch some votes? Come on, we are not stupid people! Remember that this person, in an interview was quoted as saying “It is ridiculous to mention Gay Marriage when ....” (Although I wish to question him on this, I will not bother to do so today.) I know I might bring about controversy but one has to be realistic. If a gay person loves himself, he has no place within a party that does not recognise him/her as an equal citizen. I know I am going to be on the bad books of some friends. Once entering our gay bar during July, I was stopped by a “friend” who blatantly told me “I do not like the way you are expressing yourself politically recently” to which I replied “first and foremost I am a Gay citizen, and my interest is gay rights and not political affiliation”. Please do not be blinded by partisan politics. I used to believe and defended the fact that the Nationalist Party had a social heart, and they used to profess this; but now I believe that there is one way of saying so and another way of acting upon it. Judge me by what I do and not by what I say, is the common saying nowadays And we should act upon these words when it comes to gay (human) rights. We should heed these words, compare them and judge by the track record on gay issues within the Nationalist Party. Isn’t it the priority of every gay person (being blue, red or green) that we are treated as equals? Are we to blind as not to accept the factual situation in Malta? Or do we want to continue to be treated as the lesser citizen? Do we want our politicians to continue using us and then disposing of us until a convenient time?
I have made up my mind were my vote is going and I am very active to see that gay issues are enshrined within the electoral manifesto of a certain party, but I do not want to influence the reader. It is your decision on how to vote. My only advice is, use your vote wisely in the best of your own and your community’s future interests as a gay person. There are two other parties which, there line of thought is clear on what they want for the gay community. Please do not fall for the ever present “the vote catching” phrase. For me this sounds like a distorted bell. All parties go to hell and back for every single vote that they can acquire. Each side accuses the other of this. Unfortunately, we Maltese are believing (and to some extent it is true) that politics is dirty. If we continue to think in that way, why should we bother to vote at all, but we still do and with a big majority (in the figures of 93%+). So think with your heads, the present government would have been in power for 25 years and the gay community almost got nothing out of it. A gay Nationalist supporter might say, what did we get from Labour’s 16 years in power. Admittingly, yes not much, apart from the most important piece of legislation which I listed above and which should have opened the door for further improvements. Remember that the mentality of the Maltese in the 70s and early 80s wasn’t what it is today. Today we believe we are Europeans and should think and act likewise. We should test the waters and see what the other two parties are offering, evaluate and act upon it. If for any reason there is somebody who cannot get himself to vote for a certain party there is always the other. Both parties, the AD and PL are intent to manifest gay issues in the forthcoming elections and this should be our issue in the coming Election. Remember that we can do the difference. Yes we are a minority but our minority can deliver something like 15,000+ votes (apart from family members), thus if we want to be equals we have to vote with our minds and not with our hearts. Remember how our electoral system works, every vote counts. Yes I know we have to be egoistic with this matter, but if we do not act, we will never move forward. The power of us moving forward is only in our hands. The ball will be in our court in 2013 and we have to score for a victory for gay rights.
After the next General Elections, if one of the parties that promises gay rights come into power, then it would be our duty as gay people and activists to see that the party in Government will keep its promise. MGRM will have to become more active to see that promises are followed. It is not enough to vote. Then the work of gay activists will really start, we have to make pressure upon pressure to see what we are promised will be delivered. It is our responsibility to lobby and pressure, and if necessary get support from other LGBT communities within Europe to help us. We will need to be on constant alert and pull the necessary ropes to make things happen. We have to show that we have a back bone and are capable of acting upon it to see a better future for us and for our younger brothers and sisters. Perhaps one day in Malta, Gay Prides could become a manifestation of joy and celebrations and not manifestations of protests.