Around 250 people took to the sunny streets of Valletta to celebrate LGBTI+ rights in the annual Pride March. It was Malta’s first pride march since a law on gender identity was passed earlier this year and the mood was a visibly jovial one as the crowds marched from City Gate through Merchants’ Street before circling back through Republic Street.
Balloons were waved, loud music was blared off a float, and placards were raised proudly- notable ones bearing the words ‘Break the Gender Binary’, ‘Queers Against Israeli Apartheid’, and a particularly eye-raising ‘If Zonqor Point was gay, Joseph wouldn’t have given it away’. It was a first pride march for the newly-formed ‘Gender Liberation’, an NGO set up earlier this year to focus on transgender rights.
“LGBTI+ rights in Malta have greatly improved over the last two years,” PN councillor Alex Mangion said at the march, referring to the gender identity law and the introduction of civil unions. “The next step simply involves getting to know us, ensuring we are truly included in society.”
Indeed, the theme of this year’s pride march was ‘Free to be Me’ – a celebration of the two aforementioned laws that have pushed Malta all the way up to third in the International Lesbian-Gay Association’s ‘Rainbow Europe’ league, behind only the United Kingdom and Belgium.
However, Malta Gay Rights Movement coordinator Gabi Calleja warned that greater challenges lie ahead in the quest for true inclusion.
“We must now focus on implementing these laws in practice and ensuring that institutions change their practices to conform with the law,” Calleja told MaltaToday. “This will take more of an effort than enacting the laws themselves, whereby we only needed to convince politicians. Take prisons, for example. We need to ensure that trans-prisoners have full access to the gender identity law and are transferred from one section of the prison to another accordingly.”
‘Now an issue of mentality’ – Muscat, Busuttil
Numerous politicians from both major parties turned up at the event, with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat making a brief appearance amongst the crowds before the march began.
“While we will continue updating our laws, it is now an issue of mentality,” Muscat said of the status of LGBT+ rights in Malta. “One of the most famous figures that was bandied about before the government enacted the civil unions law was that 70% of the public were against it. I believe that the percentage is much lower now.”
Just over a year since being at the receiving end of loud boos from an LGBT crowd for his abstention in the civil unions vote, Opposition leader Simon Busuttil appeared fully at ease in the midst of the march- as did fellow Nationalist MPs Jason Azzopardi and Claudette Buttigieg and the PN’s incoming secretary general Rosette Thake.
“Society has progressed and laws have been enacted, but a lot of work remains to be done,” Busuttil said. “Our presence at this march will hopefully send out a message that our mentality needs to change so as to render our society one that is truly in favour of equality.”
Standing at the front of the march, Civil Liberties Minister Helena Dalli said that the government was working on a strategy to ensure that the new LGBTI+ legal rights are truly being put into practice.
“Obviously, a lot of education and attitude changes are required for our society to become more equal,” Dalli said. “However, the new laws and the ensuing public debate helped people understand that gay, transgender and intersex people don’t choose to get born that way, and that society must therefore appreciate diversity.”
Justice Minister Owen Bonnici chose to touch on a sensitive topic.
“We need to abolish any discrimination of LGBTI+ people that exists under the In-Vitro Fertilisation law,” he said. “However, if there was a sector in which the government has proven itself to be pro-active, it is precisely that of LGBTI+ rights. We enacted the civil unions law last year, and other countries are now starting to introduce similar laws.”
The march was organised by the NGOs Malta Gay Rights Movement, Drachma, We Are, Gender Liberation, and LGBTI+ Gozo, along with the Ministry for Social Dialogue and the PN’s forum for equal opportunities.