Friday, May 1, 2015, 00:01 by Silvan Agius
In his Talking Point (April 24), Fr Richard-Nazzareno Farrugia expressed his distaste at the inaugural event of the rainbow crossing in Victoria that marked the first anniversary since the enactment of the Civil Unions Act, which crossing was dedicated to the United Nations’ Free & Equal campaign for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people.
The reason? He asserts that the schoolchildren who participated in the event were being subjected to an “imposition of an ideological cultural agenda” by the State and that their crossing over the rainbow was tantamount to a forced participation in an “LGBTI pride parade”.
This is a sad accusation, especially since it comes from a man of the cloth, who surely looks at every person as created in the image of God. But, apart from all this, Fr Farrugia’s assertion could not be further from the truth. Schools were indeed invited to this event but no pupil was obliged to attend. Instead, participants attended out of their free will. The sizeable turnout and joyful atmosphere generated by the pupils of different ages, teachers and parents alike, as well as Victoria residents who stopped by, showed that progress towards a more equal Malta enjoys wide societal support.
The fulcrum of the event was the celebration of peace and respect for all human persons irrespective of colour, sex, race, religion, disability, age, sexual orientation or gender identity, with a focus on the progress that Maltese society has achieved and aspires to continue to achieve in the fields of human rights and equality for all.
One speech after another during the event affirmed universal values in human dignity and rights and the need to love thy neighbour as thyself. It is to be noted that schools aim to promote human rights and instil a culture of peace and respect of diversity, as this forms a core part of the national curriculum. Within this framework, the participation of pupils in this event was not an exception to their educational norm but rather an important opportunity for them to experience a message about rights, diversity and acceptance.
Like the rest of us, schoolchildren and teenagers too will grow to discover their sexual orientation and they need to know that they will all be treated equally, irrespective of whom they love. Denying them knowledge will allow for the perpetration of the lack of awareness and stigma that negatively affects the LGBTIQ community.
We should all aspire to live in a society in which coming out as gay will not mean being treated differently and discriminated against.
Admittedly, this government’s eagerness to promote equality for all was not always a high priority in Malta. For years, LGBTIQ people were invisible in Maltese society and were treated as second-class citizens. It is doubtful whether, as a young boy, Fr Farrugia learnt much about human sexual and gender diversity while reading the textbooks that he may have carried daily to school.
This is indeed a shame. Such an education would have ensured that when he claimed holding “nothing against LGBTI rights” he would have meant it.
Instead, in his article, he goes on to claim that the government’s work in the field of equality is leading to the creation of “new discriminations, denying the truth of sexual difference and the fact that marriage can only be between a man and a woman”.
Following the entry into force of the Civil Unions Act last year and the Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act this year, the government has clearly sent a signal that all Maltese citizens are equal before the law. In the year that followed the enactment of the civil unions law, almost 50 couples benefited from it.
This has not led to any “new discriminations”, as was claimed. No heterosexual was ever harmed by the recognition of gays and lesbians. On the contrary, through this law, the State remedied a historic discriminatory exclusion from an institution that serves to recognise one of the most important units of our society: the family.
In this respect, the installation of the rainbow crossings represented a symbolic gesture contributing to the social normalisation of a community that was previously relegated to the margins. The rainbow crossings show the government’s commitment to bringing minority issues into the mainstream and raising awareness about the diversity that constitutes our society.
We hope that, as time goes by, persons who are still sceptical about Malta’s human rights and equality project will convince themselves that this is the right pathway – or should we say crossing? – for our country.
Silvan Agius is the human rights policy coordinator at the Ministry for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties.