Has the discussion on LGBTQI Rights in Malta already plateaued?

Attending the business breakfast “Our Lives, Bodies, Rights” organized by Parliamentary Secretary Dr. Rebecca Buttigieg on occasion of IDAHOT (International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia) on May 17th, I remained a bit disappointed – as the discourse on LGBTQI issues seems to have plateaued in Malta. Everyone celebrates Malta’s first place on ILGA-Europe’s Rainbow Europe Map, in particular highlighting a sense of competition with other countries, and no one focuses on a vision of what we can do and offer beyond this index. 

At the start of the meeting, Dr. Helena Dalli’s video address was one such occasion. Speaking about Malta’s 1st place she talked about how Malta is so far ahead that others will be always simply competing for 2nd place. From the European Commissioner for Equality, I was hoping for an address that was more focused on solidarity than competition. Commissioner Dalli should wish that all countries reach 100%, so that LGBTQI persons fundamental rights are respected across the EU.

When I had the opportunity, I addressed this from the floor. I highlighted that we must not forget that rights, like freedom of movement for EU citizens across member states, are being severely impacted when rainbow families seek to relocate to a member state that does not recognise their family. Another example is that of a trans person who might not be able to seek employment in other EU countries without having their access to trans specific healthcare denied, or significantly compromised. 

On the idea of reaching 100% (and what is really implied – is that once it is reached, we will stop there) – I challenged us to look beyond. As we continue to delve deeper into issues connected to sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIGESC) we need to be ready to push that 100%. In Malta we have the unique opportunity to do more than what is expressed as required by the Rainbow Europe Index. We have applied a broad stroke of policies and laws that support SOGIGESC rights, but should continue to dig deeper to ensure that all challenges are appropriately addressed. Including regarding more marginalized sexual orientations like asexuality; more nuanced gender identities like non-binary people (when is full gender recognition going to come into fruition?); and also challenging the monogamy-norm.

The meeting was called “Our Lives, Bodies, Rights”. Do we all understand ‘our’ in the same way? Do we all recognise that this includes the rights and bodies of refugees and migrants? Do we recognise that this includes the reproductive rights – including abortion – of women? Equality needs to be intersectional, and our work needs to dig deeper.

While thanking the Government for their work in the past 9 years for LGBTQI rights – I commented that at the same time we shouldn’t forget to thank the activists – those who have been doing the work behind the scenes to reach this point for much longer. MGRM for example, has recently celebrated their 20th anniversary – equality wasn’t built in a day. However, rather than fully recognise the work of organizations like MGRM, the government seems keen on centralizing LGBTQI service provision – through the LGBTQI Hub. I called for a decentralized approach – it should be NGOs that lead in community service provisions, to ensure their longevity regardless of the party in power. And it should be the Government that provides core funding to these NGOs.

Despite the shortcomings in our current discourse on LGBTQI rights in Malta, I was encouraged by Dr Buttigieg’s clear commitment to listen to the people most affected, launching a strategic plan process which will commence shortly. A new member of parliament, she certainly brings new energy and fresh perspective to the fight for equality, which could serve to be informed by the principle of solidarity. I hope that I am not short-sighted in feeling confidence that she will continue building on the excellent work started by Dr Helena Dalli in this area.

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