Gay rights group ‘can’t go to school’

Lesbian, gay and bisexual students are more likely to feel depressed, attempt suicide and skip class – but are not catered for by the Maltese school system.

We were given a list of things we weren’t allowed to say

Educators found it “almost impossible” to access schools and teach students about LGBT issues, Malta Gay Rights Movement coordinator Gaby Calleja said yesterday.

Although the authorities were willing to engage with the MGRM on individual cases, there was much more institutional resistance with broader school policy, she said.

“We’ve only been invited to one school – an independent – and even then we were given a list of things we weren’t allowed to say because parents had objected,” Ms Calleja said.

She was speaking during a roundtable discussion about supporting LGBT secondary school students, organised by the US Embassy.

US-based studies consistently showed LGBTQ – the ‘Q’ stands for ‘questioning’ – high school students faced much higher health risks than heterosexual peers, schools’ health consultant James Bogden said.

Such students were more likely to report symptoms of depression, attempt suicide, play truant or use drugs than their peers. They were twice as likely to be coerced into sex.

Mr Bogden said countering such effects required direct intervention in schools as well as support networks for LGBT students’ families.

“All hell broke loose once just because two girls in a youth club hugged each other. I had to explain to them that there’s nothing wrong with showing emotion,” youth worker Stephanie Camilleri said.

According to St Ġorġ Preca College prefect of discipline, Philip Pace, students were sometimes too public in their displays of affection.

“There’s no need to be so bombastic about your sexual orientation, be it gay or straight,” he said.

Some participants said it would be difficult to adequately discuss such issues within Church schools and Church-led youth clubs, although counsellor Michael Conti argued it was sometimes possible.


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