For the fifth year in a row, Malta was named best in Europe for LGBTQ+ rights, a title that the Maltese government is very proud of. In fact, during Dr Muscat’s speech following his resignation, he highlighted his government’s social justice and civil rights reforms, using them as an attempted shield from criticism. But is Malta really as forward thinking as other countries perceive? Or are we simply victims of ‘pink-washing’?
In the context of LGBTQ+ rights, pink-washing is a term used to describe a variety of strategies aimed at promoting products, countries, people or entities, through an appeal to gay-friendliness, in order to be perceived as progressive, modern and tolerant. LGBTQ+ rights in Malta are of the highest standards according to the United Nations, a judgement owing to the introduction of civil unions, adoption and cohabitation rights for same-sex couples, and some of the most advanced policies concerning gender expression in the world.
While people may consciously report positive feelings toward the queer community, their automatic or subconscious attitudes may reveal a different bias. It’s the difference between the values we profess – what is thought of as socially acceptable, and what we actually feel. This bias may be reinforced by the heavy influence of the Church on Maltese citizens and the clinging on to traditional values. Regardless of what the Catholic Church says about queer people, traditional believers seem to be held up on the idea that being gay is a sin. This creates a hostile environment for queer youth, especially those seeking guidance with little access to educated allies.
The lack of queer spaces and youth centres in Malta is another indicator that the true needs of LGBTQ+ people is not at the heart of this rapid movement. Feeling part of a community has a positive impact on mental health, emotional wellbeing and quality of life. Participants in a study expressed the wish to not have to ‘regulate’ their behaviour, with many talking about wanting to feel ‘safe’ and able to show physical affection towards their partner for example. Some felt that things like these were only truly possible in front of other LGBT people or in ‘LGBT spaces’.
Malta, being the leaders in LGBTQ+ rights, should have an abundance of safe spaces for queer youth. However, the lack thereof is grossly obvious to young people seeking guidance, or simply other people with similar experiences to them. Gay bars are one of the only explicitly LGBTQ+ spaces in Malta. In fact, bars have played a large role in connecting the land to the LGBTQ+ community, whilst also separating those within the community, as these spaces may be exclusive to lesbians only, or gay men only.
Moreover, gay bars, being one of the only places for Maltese queer youth to meet, completely exclude underage teens seeking a community, and emphasises an already prominent drinking problem already existent in Maltese culture. Clearly then, alcohol-use occupies a substantial role in the LGBTQ+ social scene, which means that for those who are young, sober, or in recovery, there are little options.
Being young and queer in Malta may not be as easy as the laws and rights may suggest. With the heteronormative education in schools and heavy influence of traditional ideals, LGBTQ+ people still have little room to express themselves and form a community. Is Malta the ‘best country in Europe for LGBTQ+ rights?’ Maybe on paper, however, it is important for the government to remember that the queer community is not just a marketing ploy or a means to cover up other wrong doings.
Written by: Lara Mohnani
(This article was originally written on civilsocietymt.com)