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Gay Pride marchers take to the streets

Some of the participants in yesterday’s gay pride parade. Photos: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Some of the participants in yesterday’s gay pride parade. Photos: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Neil Falzon, left, and Roderick Vassallo, who were married in Portugal last year.Neil Falzon, left, and Roderick Vassallo, who were married in Portugal last year.

‘Love is love’ – that was the message on the banners as hundreds of people carrying whistles and rainbow-coloured flags took to the streets of Valetta for the annual gay pride parade.

And for one couple taking part, Roderick Vassallo and Neil Falzon, their love is now official.

“We married last year in Portugal, then we had a lovely celebration with family and friends here,” said Mr Vassallo, 37, wearing a wedding ring.

He spoke openly about his status – but said it had not always been like this.

“I only came out at 27 and these 10 years were not easy,” he said.

“It is mostly the fear that you are going against the flow of society,” he added, hence the importance of the parade. “It gives people courage to realise that it is more painful for them if they are not true to themselves.”

The Pride March, organised by the Malta Gay Rights Movement, had a record number of more than 200 participants.

This year it had the financial support of the Civil Liberties Ministry.

Gaby Calleja, of MGRM, welcomed upcoming legislative proposals which will include the civil union Bill, and constitutional changes to protect people from sexual discrimination. “I urge that any discussion on these bills be respectful and mindful of the LGBT community, for this is our life,” she said.

Families with young children were among those cheering on the parade.

Adrian Francalanza, 35, who was marching with his wife and four children, said youngsters are mostly exposed to the traditional form of family and it was important to explain diversity to them.

Actor Toni Attard, 36, said the biggest hurdle is accepting who you are so those around you feel comfortable.

“Never shy away from making reference to your status in passing conversations – just so there’s never an elephant in the room,” he said.

Although stigma barriers are slowly being dismantled there are still obstacles, and the US embassy has launched a series of online videos to help LGBT teenagers.

US Ambassador to Malta Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, sporting a rainbow coloured shirt, told The Sunday Times of Malta: “This is a personal mission of mine. We need to help LGBT teens especially to let them know that although the road may be difficult, it does get better.”

Politicians from both parties, including Civil Liberties Minister Helena Dalli, Home Affairs Minister Manuel Mallia, Justice Parliamentary Secretary Owen Bonnici, Nationalist Party deputy leader Mario de Marco, PN MPs Claudette Pace and Robert Cutajar, and PN MEP Roberta Metsola, were also present, although they were cautious about not turning it into a PR opportunity.

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