“Ħobb lil għajrek bħalek innifsek”

As most of you may know, we are currently in the middle of Pride Week in Malta. Apart from doing our best to support the cause for LGBTI+ rights, A Bird’s Eye View has reached out to a few who are part of this community, namely the ‘LGBTI+ Gozo’ NGO, and Chiara Vassallo, an active participant and organiser in various sorts of youth activism events and organisations. We usually write articles authored by ourselves, including our own opinion and analysis, but in this case, I think it’d be much more appropriate to put one of this Organisations’ core values to practice, that is, giving as powerful a voice to those who need it. Below you will find the answers given to our questions by both respondents. The LGBTI+ community is comprised of people no different to the majority of society, and at a closer glance, one will easily notice that the differences and in some cases hostilities between both parts of society is often created by perceptions we create about each other.

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  • Questions and Responses by LGBTI+ Gozo:

‘Answers given are within a Gozitan context and are toward the views of the organisation and do not aim to represent the whole LGBTI+ Community. We add this in order to put in light the cultural differences and way of life that the LGBTI community in Gozo is going through. The progress of the island is on par with the Maltese mainland; however, we as Gozitans understand and live the Gozitan reality.’

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  1. What is the main purpose of the MaltaPride organisation?

Bringing everyone together to celebrate who you are irrespective of what you are. Being proud of being gay* is not necessarily a correct term, as it implies you choosing to be gay. However, being proud of fighting for the community, standing up and not letting any hate speech get you down, whilst looking into aiding others and giving others support is what Pride is all about. There are different meanings of what Pride is for everyone however for    LGBTI+ Gozo being pride links the two islands together as one nation. Whilst the differences in the way of living and reality of who we are as individuals is evident on a day to day life, pride sparks a motion of unity between all facets of society.

* I use gay here as an open-ended term for different sexualities and gender expressions and identities.

  1. How do you feel Maltese society has progressed along the years since you have been in direct contact with it?

Asking questions and looking for information, is a key step for a full education. As an organisation, we have been in operation since May 2015. Over these three years, we have experienced a surge of individuals, entities and organisations asking us for workshop, meetings and discussions to understand more what we stand for as an organisation. More often than not they are surprised that we are not as different as one would think. Gozo as an island seeks to suffer for double insularity also on this matter. LGBTI peers decided to live their “open” life in Malta and then stay in silence whilst in Gozo. This limelight’s the challenge (question 3) that individuals in the so-called “closet” still exist, and whilst we as an activist has taken great strides in showcasing who we are, we need to pace it back have their own experience. Therefore the space we create should not necessarily be as visible and should (as it is) look into the needs of the individual.

  1. Do you think that the huge efforts to push forward Pride can backfire sometimes, in that it causes the opposing part of society to become more hostile towards the cause?

Pride, is and will still be needed for the years to come. We have gone a long way locally on a legislative standpoint, but make no mistake, neighbouring countries are still hostile on such matter. Locally we are still in process to fully understand the LGBTI spectrum, however, Transeducation is so limiting that transphobia is a worrying matter. We are to be proud not for ourselves, but for the others who can’t, not because they don’t want to but live in a reality that hinders them to.

  1. What are your thoughts on Pro Malta Christiana’s gathering in Valletta a day before the annual Malta Pride festival to protest against LGBT rights?

Whilst as an organisation we condemn any gathering that foster hate speech and hate crime, we are always available to meet and discuss with individuals that want to learn in a civil environment. In recent years, we sat and debated in a healthy environment with individuals and entities that may not share our views. However, this was done in good faith of educating each other and not spark hate. We invite everyone who will not give light to such protest and to join us for a celebration of unity on Saturday.

  1. What issues or policies, or civil rights for that matter, are there that still need to be addressed by the country in order to provide equal treatment to everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation?

Mainly a challenge that as Gozitan we face is the lack of adequate STI testing on the island. Any Gozitan who is actively engages in sexual acts would need to visit the mainland for such primary health care to be provided. The need for a health clinic in Gozo has been on LGBTI+ Gozo agenda since day one. To be clear, this is not about LGBTI testing but a service for all Gozitans.  A service which is by right, ours.

  1. What is your message to the people, both locally and abroad?

Let us celebrate our diversity, embrace our differences and share our experiences and aid each other to foster our full potential.

  • Questions and Responses by Chiara Vassallo:

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  1. What is the main purpose of the MaltaPride organisation?

While the legislation that has been passed in the past few years has definitely pushed forward LGBT rights, there is still quite a contract when it comes to societal acceptance. Pride gives the opportunity to both raise awareness about the misconceptions about the LGBT community as well as allowing people the chance to celebrate who they despite any stigmas or difficulties they have faced.

  1. How do you feel Maltese society has progressed along the years since you have been in direct contact with it?

There has definitely been large progress within society in the last few years and I feel that speaking about LGBT topics and issues is much less of a taboo nowadays than it was when I was coming to terms with my sexual orientation, making it easier for people to speak about what they are going through.

  1. What do you think is the most challenging job of this organisation?

Being able to find a balance between celebrating the meaning of Pride without it appearing as a more colourful St Patrick’s or a place simple where gays can be promiscuous. There are many people, even within the LGBT, community who do not see the need for Pride and so it forms part of the job of the organisation to bring the right message across.

  1. Do you think that the huge efforts to push forward Pride can backfire sometimes, in that it causes the opposing part of society to become more hostile towards the cause?

Extremes are always bad. That is why I previously mentioned the importance of finding a balance. One needs to understand that at the end of the day, Malta and our people have deep embedded Christian values in our society, and not to say that you cannot be gay and religious of course. There is a difference between making efforts to raise more awareness and forcing information down someone’s throats so if it is done moderately in the right way, I do not see it backfiring.

  1. What are your thoughts on Pro Malta Christiana’s gathering in Valletta a day before the annual Malta Pride festival to protest against LGBT rights?

I have strong Christian faith and seeing events like these infuriate me. When I was realising that I may be gay, I immediately started to move away from God, started praying less and became angry at Him for not accepting me because that is what events like these made me think God felt about me. Events like these give the misconception that one cannot be both religious and LGBT. The point of religious movements should be to bring people closer and not further away from what they believe in. Of course, I am not saying that everyone should be religious as it is a personal choice; however, it is a pity that some people feel that they are not deserving of God’s love or that they would need to change who they are. A bible quote that I like to remember when seeing things like this is Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart”. If someone really believes in God then they should help people to feel accepted and feel His love not push them away.

  1. What issues or policies, or civil rights for that matter, are there that still need to be addressed by the country in order to provide equal treatment to everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation?

There needs to be more education, especially at a younger age, not only about the different sexual orientations but even about different races, religions etc to foster a feeling of tolerance and acceptance from the very beginning if we really want equal treatment for everyone. One cannot change a law and expect the country or issue to change overnight but there need to be the proper mechanisms in place to help transition, especially for those that may be opposed to the idea so that they may be able to discuss their worries and queries on the issue which may lead them to become more understanding or accepting of the matter at hand.

  1. What is your message to the people, both locally and abroad?

For those people who form part of the LGBT community, I hope you take the opportunity in pride to celebrate unapologetically who you are, to our allies, thank you for your acceptance and to those who do not yet accept us, that you be willing to listen to understand.

…..And now, after you’ve seen for yourself how these people are no different to the rest of society, I’d like to invite you to compare your perception of the LGBTI+ community before reading this article, and the one you have now. And if you already supported this cause, do not be afraid to do so publicly, because the sooner we educate ourselves and open our minds to others who might be different to us, the sooner the divides in society will collapse, and the moment that happens is the moment a country moves one step closer to being an inclusive one that looks at the true worth of a person, rather than if they conform to its traditional norms and values or not.

Written by: Gianluca Vella

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