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Leading the rainbow vision - Colette Farrugia Bennett

Having been around the LGBTIQ activism scene for the past 17 years, I have seen a transformation of my country.

I won’t go back as far as 2001, when MGRM was set up, but, in the first edition of the Rainbow Europe Map, Malta only had anti-discrimination legislation protecting its citizens on grounds of sexual orientation for employment purposes.

The Rainbow Europe Map was, in fact, launched in 2009 by ILGA-Europe to map out the European legal situation for lesbian, gay and bisexual persons. Nine years on, ILGA-Europe continues to annually review the legal situation and social climate for LGBTI persons in Europe.

ILGA-Europe (2018) defined the LGBTI rights index exercise thus: “Rainbow Europe brings together both the legal index of LGBTI equality based on our Rainbow Europe Map and an overview of the social climate for LGBTI people in each country based on our annual review of the human rights situation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people in Europe.”

For years, Malta ranked towards the bottom of the list in this annual review, and our position on this index only changed significantly following the introduction of the civil union legislation for all couples, irrespective of whether they are same-sex or different-sex unions.

Another celebrated victory for human rights was achieved in 2014 when Parliament unanimously approved constitutional protection against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. This was a marked improvement for our country, and in 2014, Malta’s ranking started to head up, approaching the likes of Germany, Spain, United Kingdom and the Nordic countries.

Malta started changing on the legal and policy level and so did the social climate. The support systems for LGBTIQ people started growing and more felt safe to share their identities with those who mattered in their lives. This was a noticeable change in how LGBTIQ members of society related their diverse sexual orientations and gender identities to those around them.

The island continued to steadily move towards the top three countries on the Rainbow Map index in 2015 with the introduction of the legal recognition of transgender identities and the facilitation of changing one’s legal gender and name through the Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act.

This step forward was later accompanied by two pivotal policies that continued to improve the social experience and well-being of transgender, gender variant and intersex individuals in two systems within society. These policies were introduced in State schools and at the Corradino Correctional Facility, and both policies facilitated the transition of transgender, gender variant and intersex individuals to their preferred gender and ensured their safety and well-being.

On the ground, the new laws and policies translated into LGBTIQ people feeling validated and as equal citizens

These marked improvements in the human rights sphere contributed to Malta’s number one ranking in 2016 in the Rainbow Map index of ILGA-Europe.

For three consecutive years, Malta remained in the top spot of this ranking of European countries and is likely to improve its score, given proposals to address discrimination in the field of reproductive health and rights and in equality provisions beyond employment.

For Malta, it has not been a matter of a ticking-as-many-boxes-as-possible approach but always seeking to expand the human rights protection on the legal and policy levels to ensure equality for all – irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sex characteristics in daily life. The introduction of marriage equality in 2017 continued to further validate that all family forms have a right to the same legal and policy protection and to be celebrated as equally valued expressions of love and commitment.

On the ground, the new laws and policies translated into LGBTIQ people feeling validated and as equal citizens, a sharp contrast to the lived experiences of my early days in LGBTIQ activism, when I always felt like a second-class citizen.

I’ve been asked several times: what’s next? Is there room for more rights and protections? There is always room for improvement on all levels and social change continues steadily.

It matters to me as a citizen of this country that Malta ranks at the top of the Rainbow Europe index, because it projects and documents the legal and social realities the country is living in 2018.

Colette Farrugia Bennett is acting cordinator of the Malta LGBTIQ Rights Movement.

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