Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Independent: We Are: Seeking marriage equality

1 July 2012 by Annaliza Borg

While the policy-makers working on the Cohabitation Bill are saying this will include civil partnerships, Malta Gay Rights Movement’s Gaby Calleja believes it will not cover civil unions and will therefore not give LGBT people the rights they are seeking.

Ms Calleja was speaking to The Malta Independent on Sunday during the Gay Pride March, held on the busy Sliema promenade yesterday morning.

Earlier this week, Justice Minister Chris Said presented a Parliamentary motion for the first reading of the Cohabitation Bill.

The march was attended by a good number of both politicians and aspiring politicians. Justice Minister Chris Said attended the march for the first time after being given responsibility for the area of equality six months ago. While the government usually has representatives at such an activity, this is usually not a minister.

Colourful balloons, whistles and banners and boards bearing slogans characterised the march that was led by a group of drummers who gave the march a beat.

US Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, MPs David Agius, Karl Gouder, Owen Bonnici and Leo Brincat and AD chairman Michael Briguglio, were among the participants.

‘I Am’ is this year’s Pride Week theme, highlighting and celebrating diversity within our communities.

“I Am is a strong statement of our presence in society as citizens of this country. And because of this we make a claim for equal status before the law, not just as individuals but also as couples and families,” said Ms Calleja.

She referred to the two new laws passed last week, one addressing hate crime to include sexual orientation and gender identity, and another widening the remit of the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality (NCPE), to also include sexual orientation and gender identity. MGRM considers these as two milestones for which it has campaigned long and hard over the past months with the support of a good number of The work, however, does not stop here, said Ms Calleja, and society now needs to ensure that the impact of the new legislation is felt and that the victims of crime report incidents knowing the police will take them seriously and that the judiciary will sentence accordingly. The NCPE also needs to be at the forefront in reaching out to the LGBT community so that those experiencing discrimination can come forward and seek assistance, she continued.

Meanwhile, two of their major battles have yet to be won. The MGRM is calling for transgender people to be given the right to change their name and gender without the need to undergo sex reassignment surgery. This change should not be simply cosmetic but an effective recognition of each individual’s right to determine their own gender and to have this recognised by the state in all spheres of life. Ms Calleja explained this would signify a huge leap forward in the quality of life these people deserve and would allow them the dignity they deserve as human beings.

Finally, the MGRM is seeking marriage equality. The movement will be studying the Cohabitation Bill, which so far has not been made public, in detail and will be giving its feedback to the LGBT community and the government.

“This legislation can have far-reaching consequences for our community and is not a battle MGRM can win alone,” said Ms Calleja.

The MGRM is seeking something meaningful that is respectful to their families and loving relationships – a law that ensures they would not need to resort to another country to obtain equal recognition, she said.

Wearing a lightweight rainbow-coloured cardigan, Mrs Abercrombie-Winstanley said everyone in Malta – and in the rest of the world – is part of the struggle for human rights. The subject is very close to Americans’ hearts and President Obama had dedicated June to the fight against discrimination. The US Ambassador had therefore joined the march with her family, in solidarity.

“No one should face discrimination because of who they are and who they love,” she said.

Minister Said pointed out that the march emphasises the importance of society accepting diversity and shows that we need to continue working to end discrimination.

As was the case with the two new amendment Bills regarding hate crimes and NCPE, he is to continue consulting with the MGRM and other stakeholders to ensure dignity for all people, regardless of race, colour, religion or sexual orientation.

MP Owen Bonnici, on behalf of the Labour Party, said: “We are people who believe in love and it makes us complete people. There is no such thing as first class love or second class love”.

Everyone deserves dignity, and relationships should not be distinguished by the difference between people. He believes this should be enshrined in legislation. At the same time, he said, the government should keep out of people’s bedrooms and work hard to grant dignity. Dr Bonnici made it clear the Opposition is calling for civil unions.

AD chairman Michael Briguglio asserted that his party and the European Greens have always supported LGBT rights and AD now looks forward to meeting the MGRM over the coming weeks, ahead of the general election.

“AD supports the calls of the LGBT community for equality in all aspects of social policy. We salute LGBT activists for standing up to be counted for equal rights,” he said in a statement to the media. “AD is the only party with clear policies on LGBT rights, and our upcoming election manifesto will confirm this. As chairman of the Green Party, I believe that equality is a key issue for progressive politics, irrespective of one’s sexual orientation”.

His party is also saying that LGBT people should have the same rights as heterosexual married individuals.

Mr Briguglio remarked that it was great that the NCPE’s remit has been extended, but it now needs the staff and proper resources for the legislation to be enforced. The transgender issue is also very important and he feels strongly that it is time for these people to stop facing humiliation and discrimination.

Cyrus Engerer from LGBT Labour said: “Our rights should be on a par with those of other families”.

He pointed out that a lesbian couple on the march was expecting a baby, thanks to a sperm donation that had taken place abroad. They would like to move to Malta and raise their child here but as legislation stands, they must choose one person to be registered as the parent.

As is the case abroad, he said, the child should be represented by both parents in Malta too.

“Anything besides marriage is not equality,” said Mr Engerer.

Luisa Tolu from the organisation of University students ‘We Are’ said the group had been formed by six students two years ago and now has more members.

She pointed out that in May they visited students at the Giovanni Curmi Higher Secondary in Naxxar and found that the students were hungry for information on sexual orientation and gender identity. This drove home the point that they really need to start talking about the diversity of sexuality and gender in schools, and they have to start doing it now.

Towards the end of the event, the MGRM announced that the Gay Soldier Award 2012 had been awarded to PL MP Evarist Bartolo for his constant support and the fact that he tabled the Gender Equality Bill in Parliament. He was unable to attend the march as he was abroad.

In a statement on Thursday, Opposition Leader Joseph Muscat said we need to move from tolerance towards rights, and equality should be the driving force.

The people in government should themselves be convinced about the need for equality. They should understand and respect the love between two people without trying to get into their bedrooms.

These were the thoughts Dr Muscat expressed in video clips on the theme A Fair Society – It gets better, on the occasion of Pride Week 2012.

The video is being broadcast as part of the international campaign entitled It gets better, on the website www.itgetsbetter.org

He had words of hope for young people who are discovering their sexual orientation, and noted that hey have a bright future ahead of them.

“This is the society in which I aspire to live, one that is not only tolerant but that embraces, understands and gives rights to every couple and every family,” he said.

The video is also available on YouTube: http://youtu.be/khk6auIZu_U

Evarist Bartolo wins 2012 Soldier Award

Labour MP Evarist Bartolo was honoured with the 2012 Soldier Award for equality rights during yesterday’s Gay Pride celebration in Sliema. The award was presented in absentia by Gay Exiles’ envoy Russell Sammut.

A statement issued yesterday explained that Mr Bartolo “has fearlessly defended the rights of Malta’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and asexual (LGBTQA) community, which continues to be treated as second class citizens under current law.

“Mr Bartolo has campaigned and spoken publicly for many years to protect and advance human rights in Malta. He would have liked to attend the celebrations in person, as he has done in the past, but had other engagements abroad.”

Soldier Award recipients are selected annually through a rigorous public and inter-organisational voting system in which both the general public and leading minority rights NGOs, including the Malta Gay Rights Movement, the Maltese Gay Community, Drachma and other contributors elect a member of the community who has demonstrated commitment and dedication to advancing equal rights in Malta.

The Malta Independent on Sunday congratulates Mr Bartolo for this well-deserved recognition.

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