Thursday, 26 December 2013

Times: Transgender Joanne gets national award
Friday, December 13, 2013, 00:00 by Sarah Carabott

Transgender hairdresser Joanne Cassar yesterday revealed that she will be awarded the Ġieħ ir-Repubblika. Her long battle with the government over the right to marry her boyfriend led to amendments being made to the Civil Code. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Joanne Cassar, who won a long battle against the government for the right to marry her boyfriend after having gender reassignment, will today be awarded the Ġieħ ir-Repubblika.

Her case eventually led to amendments being made to the Civil Code under which transgender people are now considered as individuals of the acquired sex with full rights, including the right to marry.

Ms Cassar yesterday expressed her excitement on her Facebook page, announcing she had been nominated for the national award. Sources close to the government confirmed Ms Cassar’s nomination.

It will be a double celebration for her: in her post she also said she was getting engaged on Sunday to her “one and only love”.

The 31-year-old hairdresser had surgery in the UK when she was 22 after being diagnosed with gender identity disorder, a conflict between a person’s physical gender and self-identification.

Her battle to get married started soon afterwards, when she and her partner applied for the wedding banns.

However, the Marriage Registrar refused to issue them even though Ms Cassar had legally changed her gender to female on her birth certificate after surgery.

She took the case to court and a protracted legal battle followed. The Constitutional Court eventually upheld the decision not to issue the banns and Ms Cassar went to the European Court of Human Rights, with the government sticking to its insistence that marriage can only take place between people born male and female.

Earlier this year a new Labour government, championing the cause of civil rights for LGBT people, reached a settlement with Ms Cassar. It promised to amend the law to allow transgender people to marry and compensated her €10,000, while she dropped her case before the European court.

Later, the Nationalist Party made a public apology in Parliament for its lack of sensitivity to transgender people.

In the wake of the first reading of the Bill to amend the Civil Code, a few months into Labour’s administration, a consultative council was set up to address LGBT issues, whose work has led to the Civil Unions Bill now before Parliament.

According to the Ġieħ ir-Repubblika Act, the President can bestow honours, decorations and awards on Maltese citizens that distinguish themselves in any field.

The news comes a week after controversy raged over Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s nomination for 11-year-old Gaia Cauchi to receive the Midalja għall-Qadi ir-Repubblika.

The award will see the girl enrolled into the national Order of Merit, which forms part of a host of other honours given under the Gieħ ir-Repubblika Act.

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