Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Independent: Voices Foundation supports MGRM’s anti-bullying campaign

08 December 2011 by Francesca Vella

The Malta Gay Rights Movement has launched a Voices Foundation-funded campaign that is aimed at making life better for young people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Addressing a news conference at Europe House in Valletta, Gabi Calleja, head of the MGRM, said the objectives of the campaign ‘Think before you speak: Making life better for LGBT youth’ are: to reduce and prevent the use of homophobic and transphobic language in an effort to create a more positive environment for young LGBT people; to raise awareness about the prevalence and the effects of homophobic and transphobic bullying and behaviour, while encouraging respect towards individual peer differences; to overcome feelings of loneliness and isolation often experienced by young LGBT people and reduce self-harm; and to encourage parents to support their LGBT children and raise awareness of the parent support group run by Drachma, a Catholic group for LGBT.

Four video clips, posters and postcards have been produced, together with a lesson plan for PSD (personal and social development) teachers.

Ms Calleja said that although there is more awareness and LGBT people are coming out at an increasingly younger age, it does not mean that being gay is easy. A number of young LGBTs find it hard to accept their sexual orientation or their gender identity. This process becomes more difficult when young gay people also have to deal with bullying.

“Unfortunately homophobic and transphobic bullying has not been addressed well enough in our schools and is often not mentioned in a specific manner,” said Ms Calleja.

Talking about the consultation process on the National Curriculum Framework, she noted that the MGRM sent its feedback last month, saying that because homophobic and transphobic bullying is not currently addressed, LGBT students remain at risk.

In its feedback, the movement said: “The second general principle identified in the documents is that of diversity. However, while specific mention is given to certain aspects such as ‘age, gender, beliefs, personal development, socio-cultural background and geographical location’… nowhere is there any reference to sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. This continues to render members of the LGBT communities – students, parents, guardians, care-givers and staff – invisible in the Maltese education system”.

Ms Calleja said intimidation could include verbal abuse, harassment, physical bullying and exclusion. Research carried out in Malta indicates that a substantial percentage of LGBT students suffer harassment at school.

The campaign, which is entirely funded by Voices Foundation – a non-profit organisation with the aim of raising money for charitable and worthy causes – by means of a €9,000 grant, is aimed at raising awareness about the damage caused by homophobic and transphobic language and bullying, while bringing out the negative effects of bullying on victims and bullies alike. The video clips show that everyone needs to shoulder responsibility to fight bullying.

Ms Calleja said MGRM has already got in touch with the PSD education officer, who will be analysing the campaign material before a decision can be taken regarding its use in secondary and post-secondary schools.

Anthony Girard, from the parent support group run by Drachma, explained that the group was set up to address serious problems of acceptance of LGBT people by their families and relatives, fight bullying, homophobia and transphobia, and offer support to parents who have LGBT children and who find it hard to accept the reality.

He noted that members of the group have so far held two separate meetings with the Archbishop, Mgr Paul Cremona and Opposition Leader Joseph Muscat and members of LGBT Labour.

“Unfortunately the Church only accepts our children under certain conditions. We want our children to live a normal life – that is a sacrosanct right.”

Drachma will be organising a Mass and a party for members and prospective members at the Millennium Chapel in Paceville on 28 December at 6.30pm.

Meanwhile, MGRM will be introducing its campaign to the LGBT community during an event featuring musician Alex Vella Gregory (with songs from his Ċikku l-Poplu series) at Tom Bar in Floriana tomorrow evening.

MGRM also announced that it will be launching a new website and that it will be issuing its position paper on equality in marriage on 17 December.

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