Attacks on gays: Victims urged to come forward

‘He grabbed my breasts then headbutted my nose and threw me onto the ground, grabbing my hair’

A 16-year-old lesbian girl who was attacked a month ago while in Ħamrun with her girlfriend is urging those harassed because of their sexual orientation to speak up, as she did.

I’m happy that my message has been heard

The teenager, who became known by the fictitious name Amy, said she was positively surprised by the reaction to her story.

Over the past month there were several condemnations, a protest and political pledges to strengthen laws protecting gay people from hate crimes.

The latter development followed a second incident that came to light on February 6 when an Arriva bus driver was sacked for assaulting two women in what the transport company said seemed to be a homophobic act.

“I’m happy that my message has been heard ... I like how my story ended up meaning that they did something about it ... Anyone who goes through my experience should speak up and other people should not do what they did to me,” Amy said.

A month ago today, Amy went to a Ħamrun square with her girlfriend and another two friends.

The two friends were dancing in a gazebo and Amy and her girlfriend were sitting on a bench when two brothers, about 17 and 19 years old, emerged from a nearby balcony and hurled insults at them.

They called them “twisted” and the girls retaliated and shouted back at the boys. Suddenly, the younger boy allegedly turned up in the square. He hit Amy’s girlfriend and pushed her to the ground.

When Amy intervened, the 19-year-old boy picked her up and punched her in the eye.

“He grabbed my breasts then head-butted my nose and threw me onto the ground, grabbed my hair and pulled me across the ground,” Amy had told The Sunday Times.

Amy ended up at a health centre with a fractured nose, a grazed face and bruises on her breasts.

Her girlfriend got away with a bruise to the head and scratches on her wrists, which she sustained when pushed to the ground.

The police later said the boys would be charged in court for attacking and injuring the girls. However, they could not be charged with committing a hate crime because homophobia is not covered by law. The only legal protection gay people have refers to discrimination emanating from harassment. The law protects anyone from actions that amount to threats, violence or harassment irrespective of the intent of such actions.

The part of the law that speaks about hate crime is limited to racial hatred.

Last year, the Justice Minister an­nounced there were plans to extend this to include homophobia.

The need for stronger gay hate crime legislation is highlighted in a 2003 study carried out by the Malta Gay Rights Movement.

The study showed that one in every 10 gay people is subjected to some form of violence because of their sexual orientation.

This was backed by a 2008 study, carried out by the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality, showing that eight per cent of gay people had been attacked in the previous two years and half of these said it happened more than once.

Two-thirds were young women.

Amy is glad the police are taking action against the boys who attacked her. She has since recovered from her injuries although she still has problems with her nose.

“My nose plays up a little ... There is a little bleeding if I touch it but the rest is back to normal,” she said.

Referring to the Arriva bus driver attack, Amy said: “It’s a shame that another lesbian got attacked. It shouldn’t have happened after what happened to me.”

The Amy revolution

January 22: The Sunday Times carries the story of Amy and her girlfriend who were attacked because of their sexual orientation. Various organisations condemn the act. The Amy initiative, a Facebook group, is set up and calls for Maltese law to include hate crime on the basis of sexual orientation.

January 24: The Times reports that the police have issued charges against the two boys who allegedly attacked the lesbian couple. They have still to appear in court.

January 26: A peaceful protest is held in Ħamrun during which various organisations call for action to amend the hate crime laws. They also present their proposed legal amendments.

January 31: US human rights politician Daniel Baer, speaking during a web interview, says the attack on the two teenagers provides Malta’s leaders with the opportunity to condemn such violence.

February 3: The Malta Gay Rights Movement holds a meeting with new Justice Minister Chris Said. He tells them that their proposed legal changes are being analysed by the Attorney General and the Justice Ministry’s legal experts.

February 6: The Times reports that an Arriva bus driver was sacked for assaulting two women in what the transport company said seemed to be a homophobic act.

February 7: Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi calls an urgent press conference in which he calls for respect for human dignity. He says he instructed the Justice Minister to review hate crime laws and, if necessary, make them tighter.

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