Mar 31, 2014

Debating Europe: My reactions to the debates so far



As We Are (the Youth & Student LGBTQQI Organisation) we are frequently being asked to contribute and actively participate in several debates which are being organised as we approach the MEP Elections in May. This is encouraging as it gives us the opportunity to ask specific questions related to the LGBTI community within a youth setting, as well as learn more about the views of, and interact with, several MEP candidates.

Paul Caruana Turner speaking (Credit: Insite Malta)

Debate 1: by Insite and GUG

The first debate we were invited to attend this month was organised by Insite and GUG, on the 15th March at the University Quadrangle. The MEPs on the panel were Miriam Dalli (PL), Cyrus Engerer (PL), Stefano Mallia (PN), Kevin Plumpton (PN) and Arnold Cassola (AD). Paul Caruana Turner (Vice-President) and Mina Tolu (President) fielded two questions on behalf of We Are.
Our questions were about ILGA-Europe’s Come Out Pledge and On the role LGBTI people’s human righst should have in EU’s external policy.
ILGA-Europe, a organisation working to promote the rights of lesbian, gay, bi, trans and intersex people in Europe is asking candidates to sign a pledge which focuses on 10 key areas future MEPs can work on to promote human rights.  2 of the candidates on the panel have signed this pledge (Cyrus and Arnold) (and Therese Comodini Cachia and Roberta Metsola have also signed the pledgehttp://www.ilga-europe.org/home/how_we_work/european_institutions/ep2014/candidate/signed ).
The pledge includes pledges to complete EU anti-discrimination law, and promote an inclusive definition of family in EU policies.
Why haven't you signed the pledge? And would you be willing to sign the pledge to show a firm commitment to the rights of LGBTI individuals?”

and

“Following Uganda's strengthening of laws against homosexuals Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the World Bank suspended or diverted aid to Uganda.  
In your opinion, do you think that the European Parliament can and should take similar actions by pushing for an external policy which prioritises human rights and makes agreements conditional on the respect of these?”
It was encouraging to hear some interesting replies to both our questions; however it was clear that some candidates may have been a bit out of their depth when replying to questions on LGBT issues. However it seems that our aim with the questions was misinterpreted, as we were later asked to clarify why we (as We Are) believed aid should be suspended to Uganda. Our whole purpose of asking the questions was to see whether the candidates could react to, and come up with an answer on the spot, to a question they were probably not expecting.
Ultimately we do believe that cutting aid to Uganda would be a mistake, because the only people who would really be affected would be the vulnerable.  But that doesn’t mean that the EU shouldn’t apply some sort of pressure or attach terms to the aid.  The situation cannot be ignored, and perhaps rather than cutting aid the EU could look at imposing sanctions or embargoes on luxury goods.  It is the politicians in Uganda who passed the heinous law, so whatever measures the EU takes should target them.
Also in regards to the question on the ILGA-Europe pledge, if a politician truly believes in it, and believes that LGBT persons do not need to live with the constant fear of institutionalised or social homophobia, biphobia or transphobia hanging over their heads, then the politicians don’t require to make a strong statement and be showy of their support.  Signing a pledge is not the be all and end all of safeguarding LGBT individuals, other track-records also count, signing a pledge will only make the candidate accountable for anything they say or do when and if they are elected vis a vis these issues.

Panel at "Make Your Choice" (credit: LYV Malta)

Debate 2: by LYV Malta, KNZ, Agenzija Zghazagh

The second debate was organised by KNZ, LYV - Malta, and Agenzija Zghazagh, on the 20th March in the KSU Common Room at University. This debate was well attended by a number of MEP candidates in the audience, however the panel was meant to have members representing their parties rather than MEP candidates themselves. This however was not the case, as the representatives for the PN and the PL were two MEP candidates themselves; Jonathan Shaw, and Cyrus Engerer; on the other hand AD was represented by Ralph Cassar.
A number of organisations (KNZ, GWU Youth, Pulse, SDM, KSU, MMSA, AIESEC, GUG and We Are) were asked to field questions to the panel; and the audience was also allowed to ask questions or react to the answers.
Our question this time was a straightforward one;“Which LGBT issues do you feel should be tackled at a strictly national level, and which should also be taken up on an EU level?”
The replies varied; Ralph Cassar stated that as LGBT rights are Human Rights, than they should be discussed on a European level.  Jonathan Shaw stressed that they are to be discussed on a case by case basis. Cyrus Engerer waxed lyrical about the government’s achievements in this area, highlighting the differences between the parties, however failed to really reply to the question.
It is rather disappointing to hear that some candidates have specific set answers which they use whenever they hear certain keywords, regardless of the setting of the question. It was also frustrating that some representatives kept falling back onto the ‘blaming wagon’ and to highlight the lack of work by one party over another, rather than highlighting their possibilities, their abilities and their values.
On another note; at We Are, we enjoy meeting with MEP candidates and party representatives, and not just during debates. So far we have had the pleasure of speaking to Robert Metsola, Stefano Mallia, Therese Commodini Cachia and Kevin Plumpton on a number of issues on a face to face basis. If you too would like to meet us, and chat about the concerns of young LGBT persons in Malta, please get in touch with Emma Portelli Bonnici on secgen@weare.org.mt


 Written by: Mina Tolu

Mar 25, 2014

Are you ready to push your boundaries?


Participants being debriefed by Luisa photo by David Debono





This was the question aimed at four participants during the event at University last Tuesday 18th March. The mystery was how these participants would have to leave their comfort zones and realise what their privilege is. But first, what is privilege?
In the words of Dr. Maria Pisani, Lecturer in Youth and Community Studies, privilege can be many things; some of the participants were told that it is when “I can understand and be understood by everybody”, as well as to be independent and not require help for basic tasks such as going to class.  Others were told that it is when people are comfortable holding their partner’s hand in public; and do not fear to be harassed because of it.

Three of the four participants were assigned a sort of physical hindrance and then given a list of tasks to carry out, such as to go sign up to be a We Are member, or ask the Institute of Digital Games about the Game Jam. Simple enough tasks...except, what if you were deaf? Or wheelchair bound? Or in crutches? Does not sound so easy, does it? Another participant was asked to push her boundaries in different manner by asking her to act as though she was in a relationship with a female volunteer.
The issues faced by the participants were definitely enlightening. Such as steep ramps which are difficult to go up in a wheelchair, and even more dangerous to roll down due to a risk of the wheels picking up speed and crashing into a wall.
Certain individual’s inconsideration also comes to mind. Such as trucks parked in front of ramps and thus blocking them. Or even the issue of language. One volunteer who was part of the lesbian couple does not speak nor understand Maltese, however even when posing her questions in English; people answered in Maltese. And while I agree that the Maltese language is beautiful and needs to be spoken more, it is not very welcoming to foreigners when one does not speak to them in a way in which they understand. This therefore brings to light how even language is a privilege.
We Are’s President Mina Tolu had the following to say about the event, “it was one of those ideas that comes out of nowhere, and we knew we had to put it together for Diversity Days. This was a challenge as we only had two weeks to do so; the whole executive really worked as a team and pushed beyond their own limits to make this event a success. We were all very nervous, as it was a completely new exercise which we put together from scratch. In the future it would be nice to have more participants taking part; and we must really think of how to include more uncomfortable situations for certain challenges, like the lesbian couple.”
The event was definitely a successful one, surpassing expectations and definitely making all present aware of the difficulties individuals go through in their daily lives. A full video of the event will be released by We Are on the 18th April; but for now you can check out the trailer on youtube.
A video trailer of the event!

A special thanks and a huge round of applause goes to We Are, the student LGBTQQI organization, and the collaborators: the University Chaplaincy, Faculty of Media and Knowledge Sciences (MaKS), The Institute of Digital Games, The Gender Studies Department and the Youth and Community Studies Department.


Looking forward to more events!

By Mel McElhatton

Mar 11, 2014

Civil Unions Bill Update

It’s been a temperamental eight months as far as the Civil Unions bill is concerned. 
 One might say I witnessed its conception when we began to draft it in the LGBT 
consultative council meetings. These meetings too were rife with disagreement and 
heated debate, just like the meetings of the House Committee for the consideration 
of Bills, but finally we managed to come up with something we were all be happy 
with and we presented it to the Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and 
Civil Liberties Helena Dalli. She in turn presented the bill before Parliament along 
with a fiery speech which I eagerly listened to in the kitchen over my radio, in a
scene that had an almost nostalgic feeling to it. I imagined that this is what it was 
like for people before television, who would listen to history being made on the radio.
It must be made clear from the get go that that is exactly what this bill represents, a 
turning point in Maltese history. It represents a giant leap towards greater equality 
amongst the inhabitants of this island, and to a lot of us it is akin to Independence or 
Freedom Day. It’s an exhilarating feeling standing on the cusp of such an important 
occasion, waiting for the chains of oppression to be released! Ok so maybe that 
all sounds a tad dramatic but when I think back just five years I would have never 
thought such a forward step would be taken by the government of Malta. Back 
then the talk was about cohabitation or some sort of regularised situation but with 
the bill that is soon to be voted on in Parliament for the third and final time, we are 
going to have “A civil union on par with marriage” to quote the Minister herself. I get 
goosebumps just typing it.

It’s a shame that the bill was met with so much dissent from the opposition, I would 
have much rather had a bill which was unanimously welcomed by all rather than the result of polarised debate, but it seems that the adoption clause in particular created 
an impasse between the government and the opposition. Ultimately I’m happy that 
the government has delivered on this promise sooner rather than later, and I’m glad 
to see that unlike on the divorce issue (Malta was the last country in the world to 
adopt divorce) Malta is going to be one of the early adopters of this civil right, a right 
which is still not respected in far too many countries.

 - Paul Caruana Turner