By Helena Dalli, 13 May 2014, 9:59am
This week Malta will be hosting the second European Forum on the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO 2014 Forum).
One of my initial foreign engagements as minister was the first IDAHO Forum in The Hague, last May. I recall how Malta stood out as a signatory of the IDAHO Forum declaration, calling on the European Commission to adopt a common policy approach on a European level to combat discrimination on the basis on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The call stressed that action “is necessary to coordinate and promote efforts at the EU level and share good practice and to support efforts at the national level in order to make progress towards a Europe free from homophobia and transphobia”.
Eleven EU Member States signed this declaration calling on the European Commission to establish a comprehensive approach to tackle homophobia and transphobia across the EU. Malta was with these countries, as we believe that a European, coordinated approach is needed to combat the rampant homophobia and transphobia as reported by the Fundamental Rights Agency in their various studies and the LGBT Survey results that they launched during the Forum.
"Equality cannot be a part-time conviction. Equality is not selective. It is either full-time and for all, or isn’t at all"In my speech last year, in The Hague, I spoke about commitment as policy-makers and decision-makers to ensure that our citizens are respected and treated as equals.
Since then, this government amended the civil code to allow trans people to marry. Our constitution now includes protection against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. We also introduced civil unions on a par with marriage and we will be presenting a gender identity bill shortly.
This year the IDAHO forum is being held in Malta. We are co-hosting the high-level conference with Sweden – a long-time front-runner on equality and democracy.
Among the participants in this week’s conference, apart from Sweden and Malta, are the Netherlands, Ireland, Iceland, Montenegro and Luxembourg at ministerial level. Then, at state secretaries level or equivalent, there shall be the participation of Slovenia, Denmark, Croatia and Albania. Additionally there will be ambassadors from Austria, Belgium and the United States.
Hosting this Conference continues to show Malta’s commitment to lead in the area of LGBTI rights. The government has promised to lift reservations on full equality towards LGBTI people and promote and support these ideas on an international level.
Equality cannot be a part-time conviction. Equality is not selective. It is either full-time and for all, or isn’t at all.
As the Dutch minister, who will be with us this week, said in her speech as host during last year’s IDAHO conference, “As a society, we are not a collection of individuals. Each of us exists in relation to others. Being open to others, accepting them in their ‘otherness’ is a prerequisite for everyone to live in harmony. As partners, as a family, as neighbours, as colleagues, as passersby in the street. If LGBTI people are not safe when they walk hand in hand in public, if transgender people encounter harassment at work and if stereotypes and prejudices hinder young people in their development, then it’s not just their problem alone.”
On a different note, according to last Sunday’s London Sunday Times, the British Equalities minister Sajid Javid blocked the Lib Dem minister Jenny Willott from attending the IDAHO conference in Malta.
Labour MEP Michael Cashman commented on this and asked: “How can you be part time about the defence of human rights and the fight against homophobia? I am attending that conference in Malta, it is deeply significant that Malta, which has been a conservative catholic country for many years stepped forward, is moving forward, and hosting it with Sweden.
“I think it is a crucial stand for the defence of fundamental human rights at EU level and beyond. What really worries me about the Tory approach is that the they have come very very late in the day to the whole issue of LGBT equality.”
Helena Dalli is Minister for Civil Liberties