‘I’ve been fighting for a human right for seven years’
Transsexual is still facing abuse from strangers because of who she is
Every weekend, when Joanne Cassar gets ready to go out with her friends, she prepares herself to be stared at, insulted and pushed around by complete strangers.
In the past the 31-year-old, who underwent gender reassignment surgery nine years ago, has even been beaten up because of who she is. The latest violent episode was three years ago when she was at a carnival party in Gozo.
“I was walking off the dance floor. I was hit on the head with a bottle and kicked in my chest and stomach. They stole my bag,” she recalled, adding she did not see the point in filing a police report.
“What would I get out of it? I’d end up having to go to court repeatedly… and if I had to file a report each time I’m insulted, I might as well move into the police station,” she said.
Her words shed light on why both the police and the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality told The Sunday Times they had no reports of harassment or discrimination triggered by a person’s sexual orientation.
The remit of the NCPE was only broadened to cover sexual orientation last June. This came after sexual orientation was included in the legal definition of a hate crime in March. Anyone found guilty of committing a crime motivated by homophobia now faces a harsher punishment.
The move followed a public outcry for better legal protection to gay people triggered by an item that appeared on The Sunday Times a year ago.
The item told the story of a 16-year-old lesbian, who became known by the fictitious name Amy, and her girlfriend who said they were attacked because of their sexual orientation in a Ħamrun square.
The court eventually ruled the assault was the result of bullish behaviour of two boys and it was not proven they were attacked because they were lesbians.
Gabi Calleja, from the Malta Gay Rights Movement, said that just because gay people did not file police reports, it did not mean hate crimes were not happening.
Some got used to living with the abuse and there was also a lack of trust that the police would treat the case sensitively.
“Police need to reach out to the community to make it easier to report these crimes. We know these cases happen,” she said.
Ms Cassar believes the key lies in teaching children, from an early age, to accept diversity. Thinking back to her childhood, she recalls how her world turned dark when she moved from a mixed primary school to a boys-only secondary school.
She was teased, called names, pushed around, had balls and chairs hurled at her. As she entered her teens, things did not improve. She recalled a time when she was 17 and went to a club, wearing women’s clothes and make-up.
When she tried to go to the ladies’ toilet to touch up her make-up, the bouncer head-butted her in the face, breaking her nose and teeth.
More recently she was queuing in a bathroom and a woman turned to her and told her: “It’s your turn pufta.”
“I’ll be in a club and people pass comments or nudge me when I pass by with a drink. They make it obvious and even point to ensure I know they’re talking about me.
“When I sense trouble I tell the bouncer or leave the club, even if it means crying myself to sleep. I try to make it look like I don’t care, but I do. Some people hate people like me and I don’t know why,” she said.
“But my greatest disappointment is that we are in 2013 and I’ve been fighting for a human right for seven years,” she said, referring to a pending case before the European Court of Human Rights where she is fighting for the right to marry.
The case revolves around the fact that the Marriage Registrar refused to issue the marriage banns for Ms Cassar and her former partner, even after the court had legally changed her gender to female on her birth certificate after gender reassignment surgery.