Thursday, 30 May 2013

Malta Today: Gays: ‘Malta still a long way away from providing equal rights and safety’

Forthcoming bill legislating civil unions for same-sex couples would shift Malta into new generation of countries championing equal rights.
Friday 17 May 2013 - 08:05

The IDAHO kiss-in in 2011

Malta has a long way to go before it can claim to provide equal rights and a safe environment for its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) citizens, gay rights activists said in message marking International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO).

The island ranked on the 35-percentile mark of European countries surveyed by the ILGA-Europe (International Lesbian-Gay Association) based on equality laws and non-discrimination: the map places Malta somewhere in the middle with a score of 35% where the highest, the UK scored 77% and the lowest, 7% was scored by Russia.

"Malta's position could shift drastically by this time next year should the government's plans to introduce comprehensive civil union legislation at par with marriage and a new Gender Identity Bill translate to legal realities," Gabi Calleja, coordinator of the Malta Gay Rights Movement, and Neil Falzon, director of Aditus, said in a joint statement.

"IDAHO is an opportunity to celebrate diversity and to raise awareness of the difficulties that the LGBT community continues to face in their day-to-day lives. I am hopeful that the political leadership being shown will lead to a significant step forward towards equality and respect of human rights," Calleja said.

A report by the EU's fundamental rights agency FRA today shows that over half - 51% - of Maltese respondents, just slightly above the EU average of 47% reported feeling discriminated against or harassed in the last 12 months on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Despite anti-discrimination legislation in employment 22% of Maltese respondents reported feeling discriminated against in the last 12 months when looking for a job because they were gay.

Malta ILGA-Eurrope Scoreboard May 2013 by maltatoday

"Clearly more needs to be done to raise awareness among the LGBT community about their rights, to encourage victims of discrimination to come forward, and to monitor and train employers to ensure the effectiveness of anti-discrimination legislation in this field," Calleja said.

35% of Maltese respondents also reported feeling discriminated against in the last 12 months in areas other than employment, highlighting the need for the introduction of anti-discrimination legislation outside the field of employment.

In the field of education, 91% of Maltese respondents reported having heard negative comments or having seen negative conduct because a schoolmate was perceived to be LGBT during their schooling before the age of 18.

"It's therefore not surprising that 63% of Maltese respondents 'always' or 'often' hid or disguised being LGBT during their schooling before the age of 18. The current discussions with the Ministry for Education and Employment and the Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties to address LGBT issues in schools from an early age are therefore a welcome initiative," Calleja said.

Only 2% of Maltese respondents held that same-sex couples holding hands in public is very widespread compared to 82% for heterosexual couples. This indicates that same-sex couples continue to remain invisible and points towards a perception among the LGBT community that being out in public spaces continues to pose a risk of violence or harassment.

"IDAHO is the day we stress the importance of public attitudes and perceptions to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. The equal dignity of all human beings is not merely a principle that needs to be written in our laws, but a core value we must all actively uphold in our relations with everyone: friends, family members, neighbours, colleagues, and everyone else," Neil Falzon, of Aditus Foundation, said.

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