In spite of making Malta's fourth gay pride march more lively than usual, the attendance was still poor. Christian Peregin spoke to Gabi Calleja, chairman of the Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM), over reactions to this year's event.

MGRM has been organising the annual gay pride march in Valletta since 2004 but moved to Paceville this year in a bid to attract a larger crowd. In Ms Calleja's own words, this did not happen.

The first Maltese pride march was undeniably an emotional event for the approximately 100 people who gathered at City Gate to walk down Republic Street in Valletta but attendance has not improved much since.

"We hoped that by changing the venue to one frequented mostly by young people, who are more accepting of sexual minorities, we would attract more participants," she said.

Many still fear that coming out will somehow have a negative impact on their lives.

"Some say their sexual orientation or gender identity is a private matter while others simply fail to understand the political importance of such public manifestations," she said.

This year, however, political presence was very strong.

The Labour Party and Alternattiva Demokratika were represented by their leaders, Joseph Muscat and Arnold Cassola, respectively, with regular participants Evarist Bartolo and Patrick Attard. Assistant general secretary Jean-Pierre Debono and Parliamentary Group whip David Agius attended on behalf of the Nationalist Party.

Ms Calleja was pleased that the three parties expressed commitment towards ensuring the recognition of gay rights "to varying degrees" but insisted that the time has come for more concrete steps to be taken.

In her speech at the event, Ms Calleja said gay rights are inalienable human rights LGBT persons are not being allowed to exercise, including the right to marry and set up a family.

MGRM recently presented a petition to the political parties calling for the formal recognition of same-sex couples, the inclusion of an article in the Criminal Code regarding homophobic violence and the inclusion of gender reassignment surgery and hormone therapy for transgender persons as part of the public health services, among other proposals.

"For a couple of years now, both the major political parties have mentioned the need to provide some form of legal recognition for same sex couples although what form this would take and what rights would be included in such legislation is not clear and very little has been done in concrete terms," Ms Calleja said.

The gay pride march is important because it is both a celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans identities as well as a chance to raise awareness and call for equal rights for the LGBT community.

She claims that life for most Maltese LGBT people involves hiding their sexual identities while some experience harassment and violence, even at the hands of family members, especially during the coming out period.

Discrimination tends to occur more often when one enters into a same-sex relationship because this is when one's sexual orientation becomes more visible.

"Many get so used to living with discrimination they come to believe things will never change... They simply have to live with it," she said.

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