LGBT debate on campus: Breaking the silence
Bullying can have a significant negative impact on the educational development of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students, and those who participated in a debate on campus yesterday afternoon stressed that the necessary measures need to be taken to ensure that LGBT people are not denied their basic right to education because of bullying in school.
The debate, entitled 'Breaking the Silence: Spotlight on the Fight against Homophobia and Transphobia', was organised to mark the Day of Silence (19th April) - a day of action in which various schools around the world take a day-long vow of silence to call attention to the silencing effect of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools. The event was organised by the European Parliament Information Office in Malta together with university student organisations 'Studenti Ħarsien Soċjali' and 'We Are'.
Peter Agius, head of the European Parliament Information Office in Malta, noted that the European Parliament is very active on LGBT issues; in fact it has an Intergroup on LGBT Rights, which is made up of 153 MEPs, from six political groups, who are committed to upholding the fundamental rights of LGBT people. Members of the intergroup would usually take a positive stance on LGBT issues when they draft reports or amendments, when they vote in the Parliament, or when they deal with constituency affairs.
Dr Agius also mentioned the fact that last month the European Parliament adopted a non-binding resolution to strengthen the fight against racism, xenophobia and hate crime. The text calls on the European Commission to add homophobia and transphobia to the list of EU-sanctioned hate speech and violence.
Dr Agius said the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights has conducted an LGBT hate crime and discrimination survey, and the findings will be presented on the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia on 17 May, during a conference hosted by the Dutch government in The Hague. Around 93,000 LGBT people from all across the EU and Croatia completed the survey, making it the largest and most comprehensive survey of its kind to date. LGBT people were asked whether they had experienced discrimination, violence, verbal abuse or hate speech on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Gabi Calleja, coordinator of the Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM), and Mario Gerada from Drachma Malta, a Catholic group for LGBT, pointed out that homophobic and transphobic bullying is a reality that exists in schools, as well as in post-secondary and tertiary institutions. Mr Gerada also mentioned Drachma Parents Group, a group of parents and relatives of LGBT people who seek to give hope to those who may still be finding it difficult to come to terms with their loved one's sexuality.
Bernard Caruana, a pscyhologist, explained that homophobic and transphobic bullying can result in LGBT students failing to reach their full potential. He stressed that legal amendments aimed at ensuring that LGBT people's rights are respected need to be complemented by a change in people's attitudes.
Lawyer David Camilleri from Jose' A Herrera & Associates Advocates, spoke about the case of Joanne Cassar, a post-op transgender woman who has been fighting for her right to get married for the last seven years and even took her case to the European Court for Human Rights. She recently signed a settlement agreement with the government, meaning that she has now been given the right to get married and will also be given compensation.
During the debate, Jonathan Brimmer, a spokesman for the Ministry of Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties, announced that the government will be setting up an LGBT consultative council on Monday. The council will be made up of NGOs working in the field of LGBT rights and will be tasked with drafting legislation. Mr Brimmer said the council's priorities will be the civil unions Bill, followed by the gender identity Bill.
Minister of Education Evarist Bartolo also attended and briefly addressed the debate.
The following video clips were screened during the debate, which was moderated by Kevin Mercieca:
MEP Joseph Cuschieri: http://www.youtube.com/watch?