An article written by Elisabeth Grima.
I’m sure everybody is aware of the fact that Malta has been on the top of the LGBTIQ+ rights ranking of Europe for a number of years in a row. This is due to the excellent laws of the country accompanied by extensive education on behalf of local LGBTIQ+ organisations. This shows Malta as the best place to be in within the EU if you’re a part of the LGBTIQ+ community. However, if we have all this awareness and education available to everyone, why do we still face issues such as LGBTIQ+ homelessness and rejections?
Malta has proved that it is easier to change the laws than to change people’s mentalities. Whilst changes in laws can be relatively rapid, changes in mentality can take a longer time. Sharing real stories of LGBTIQ+ individuals can help spread awareness and empathy regarding struggles LGBTIQ+ people go through, especially through platforms such as the internet where information can be disseminated quickly. This is essential for young people who look for guidance in understanding their sexuality, as well as the possibility of identifying oneself and relating to those individuals who decide to speak up. For older people, fruitful education can be a bit more difficult to achieve.
Whilst nowadays people tend to be more open and accepting, the older generation has to overcome another challenge first; the dismantling of previously ingrained negative perceptions. It is of no surprise that past representations of LGBTIQ+ individuals were demeaning and overtly sexual, not to mention that anything LGBTIQ+ related was made fun of. For whoever was accustomed to such portrayals of LGBTIQ+ individuals, it is not easy to shift their mindset from negative to positive. This is where education comes in.
Education does not necessarily have to be formal, as even informative content on the media can help educate people. By being more open about LGBTIQ+ issues and stop considering them as a taboo, people can get to understand more the experiences and needs of whoever is LGBTIQ+. Unfortunately, even though there is a lot of education available, some people still deem sexuality a choice and refuse to empathise with the struggles of LGBTIQ+ individuals, to the detriment of LGBTIQ+ people around them who do not feel safe in their presence.
Presently, Malta still suffers from issues such as LGBTIQ+ homelessness, hate crimes, and discrimination. Although homophobia has been illegal in Malta for years, this does not mean that every LGBTIQ+ person is accepted and respected. Hidden homophobia lingers around the Maltese islands, and at times it is very subtle, but still enough to make LGBTIQ+ individuals feel uncomfortable or even threatened. There are still hate comments being posted online that are meant to damage LGBTIQ+ individuals and the community. What can we do in this regard?
We need to learn to embrace diversity rather than be afraid of it. We need to learn to be more compassionate and to support each other rather than pick on those differences that we do not understand. But most importantly, we need to be more open to understand different life experiences besides our own. Just because one may not personally go through an experience does not mean that it does not exist for others. Whilst it is true that several LGBTIQ+ people in Malta are free to be open about their sexuality, this is not always the case, and the struggles of the other members of the LGBTIQ+ community in a ‘progressive’ country like Malta should not be overlooked.
Grima, E. (2021) LGBTIQ+ Activism in Malta: Is It Still Necessary? The Activists’ Perspective. University of Malta.