The Malta Independent 13 July 2020, Monday

‘Homophobia, biphobia, transphobia are not sentiments felt solely by heterosexual individuals’

Sunday, 17 May 2020, 11:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

Giulia Magri and Karl Azzopardi

It is commonly thought that homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are sentiments felt solely by heterosexual individuals, but this is not necessarily the case, Community Manager and Coordinator of Allied Rainbow Community (ARC) Clayton Mercieca said.

Today marks the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOTIB) which was created in 2004 to draw attention on discriminatory or violent acts against the LGBTIQ community. It is also a commemoration of the World Health Organization's decision in 1990 to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.


Speaking to The Malta Independent, both Mercieca and Malta Gay Right Movement (MGRM) representative Colette Farrugia Bennett said that their organisations are elated about Malta retaining its top ranking in Europe the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA)'s European Rainbow Map Index, scoring a total of 89 points.

Nevertheless, Mercieca said that 89% is not 100% so there is work to be done at the legislative level but ARC is confident that the current Administration will keep the momentum going until this score is reached.

This is reflected in the results of the largest European Wide LGBTIQ Survey by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency which looks at the experiences of LGBTIQ communities beyond the legislative aspect.

"From this report, we took note that a vast majority (70%) of LGBTIQ individuals living in Malta have perceived a decrease in intolerance as well as violence in the past 5 years and 83% of the participants viewed the Government at the forefront of fighting prejudice and intolerance," Mercieca said.

However, the report also showed that LGBTIQ people in Malta seem to engage in Avoidance Behaviours, such as not holding a same-sex partner's hand in public (25%) or avoiding certain places (53%).

"This is where we feel a big part of our community still feels ashamed to live their truth because there are still people in our society that do not go beyond tolerance," Mercieca indicated. "You would often hear the phrase 'you can be whatever you want but just don't show it in my face or in front of my kids' and that is still homophobia/transphobia to a certain degree."

Farrugia Bennett also pointed out that the results also do not give a lot of information about intersectionalities. 

"In other words, we know that trans people in Malta have a relatively high satisfaction with life, but we do not know what that result looks like for trans asylum seekers, or trans people living with HIV for instance," she said.

From its experience working with the community, MGRM knows that the strides that Malta has made have benefitted the vast majority of people, but it feels that it would be unfair to forget those who feel that society has moved on and left them behind, such as in the area of HIV and LGBTIQ asylum seekers.

She said that one way to protect LGBTIQ rights is to be visible, and IDAHOBIT is one opportunity for such visibility. 

"This is not a case of shoving the 'gay agenda' down people's throats, but a reminder that for a lot of people people, LGBTIQ is not a concept but a reality," she explained. "It is an aspect of their lives which they had to handle at some point, in their interactions with their friends and family, at school, in their career progression and in everything that makes us members of a functioning society. For those who find the support they need, it is just one other aspect of their lives.  But for many others, the reality is not that easy. And for those people, IDAHOBIT is one day in which we can tell them that it's going to be alright, and that help is a message, or a phone call away."

Having said that, Mercieca explained that homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are not sentiments felt solely by heterosexual individuals as it is also very much present in the LGBTIQ community as well which leads to various mental health issues.

There are individuals who call themselves 'out and proud' but would have issues accepting trans people, bisexuality or even people of the same sexual orientation but with a different gender expression, such as being more effeminate.

Mercieca said that this has changed his perspective on why hosting events, like the annual Gay Pride, is so crucial, as it not only addresses external discrimination but that which is found within the community.

"Whereas I used to think that an occasion like Pride is important for society out there to witness and change their minds, I've come to the realisation that it is primarily there to give LGBTIQ individuals that much needed sense of belonging and affirmation amongst themselves, that no other event or party can bring," he said.

He expressed his gratitude for the sense of unity that the community has displayed during the current pandemic which has brought the various LGBTIQ organisations to work closer together to support individuals in need, such as their housing initiative under the title 'during these times no one should be left without a home'.

"I think that is a huge step forward in making sure that we don't waste resources or duplicate efforts when it comes to supporting our community," he said.

In light of IDAHOBIT, MGRM has prepared an interesting video on their Facebook page which features some very interesting people and it is also participating in online discussions organised by LGBTI+ Gozo over the weekend.

Farrugia Bennett added that the Rainbow Support Service is always there to support LGBTIQ individuals and their families and our social workers can be reached on 79430006, [email protected] and MGRM's Facebook page .


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