Crowds flocked to Ta’ Qali on Thursday night for the opening ceremony of EuroPride, brightly dressed and waving rainbow flags in celebration of the continent’s biggest LGBTIQ+ celebration.
Hosted at the Malta Fairs and Conventions Centre (MFCC), the evening featured singers and musicians, dancers and speeches from prominent politicians and local cultural icons.
After a welcome address by presenters Olivia Lilith, Ron Briffa and Ray Calleja, the performances of the evening kicked off with a musical extravaganza featuring well-known Maltese singers Jasmine, Amber and Glen Vella.
They were backed by dancers and performed against a colourful set lit by strobe lights, pyrotechnics and dazzling visuals, singing hits including Free, Freedom! ‘90, True Colours and a Maltese rendition of Somewhere over the Rainbow.
Later in the night, the headlining act - Israeli singer and former Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai - was received with chants of "free Palestine" as she took to the stage to close off the event.
'We want a society that embraces everybody'
Speaking in Maltese and English, Prime Minister Robert Abela said Malta was widely regarded as a leader in LGBTQ+ rights and highlighted this year’s EuroPride theme Equality from the heart.
“Europride is not just a celebration for us - it also sends a message of love and equal rights for all,” he said.
“In the coming days we will unite to celebrate diversity and advocate for a safer, inclusive world where everyone gets the opportunity to fulfil their dreams,” the Prime Minister said, stressing that tolerance was not enough.
“We want a society that embraces everybody. Despite all that we have managed to accomplish together, we still have a lot of work to do. We will continue to be a progressive force to ensure that discrimination ends once and for all."
Protest banners in support of LGBT asylum seekers
Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri said his newborn daughter was “born in a society that, only a few years ago, tried to hide and suppress the ideas of many of our friends, colleagues and family members”.
Calling the road to recognise LGBTIQ+ rights a “challenging journey,” he said that local activists had managed to “achieve what seemed impossible just a few years back".
Camilleri said the journey for human rights was a collective one where every voice mattered and every story counted.
“Together,” he said, “we can usher in a world where the rights of the LGBTIQ community are not only recognised but also celebrated”.
As he spoke, a member from the audience held up a placard that read "LGBTIQ Asylum seekers calling for HELP. Stop detaining our community".
Another person held up a poster with the statement "Dear Byron, What is safe for you is not safe for us".
'A moment in history'
Maria Azzopardi, president of Allied Rainbow Communities hailed the hosting of EuroPride in Malta as a "moment in history".
The event, she said, was a celebration of love and unity that transcended borders, and the audience's presence reaffirmed that people were stronger when they stood together.
Azzopardi warned those present to remember their predecessors who had fought for their rights and urged them to not gloss over the current challenges during the ongoing battle for equality.
"EuroPride is not just a celebration, but also a declaration that love knows no boundaries and diversity is our strength.
"Let's make Europride a resounding success and a reminder that love will always triumph over hate... together we stand united."
'Don't take the fragility of civil rights for granted'
Parliamentary Secretary Rebecca Buttigieg meanwhile said she could not believe Malta was hosting the 29th edition of Europride.
She recalled that when, in 1992, thousands marched in London for the first-ever Europride, the LGBTIQ community in Malta had no rights. People were "forced to live in the shadows" as society failed to respect their basic human rights, she added.
"It was only 10 years ago that Malta embarked on a civil rights revolution," Azzopardi said, adding that the government has since been at the forefront of pioneering rights for the LGBTIQ community.
"I consider today a defining milestone in a long journey," she said, paying tribute to activists who refused to be treated like second-class citizens, young people who came out to their parents not knowing what to expect, trans women who had trouble finding a job because of how they looked and parents who were anxious about their children's future.
Europride, she promised them, built on their legacy.
Buttigieg warned those in the audience to never take the fragility of civil rights for granted, especially considering what was going on elsewhere in the world.
"Rights can be built up over decades but torn down within months," she said, urging advocacy, discussion and standing up for justice.
First Malta LGBTIQ+ court case 250 years ago
European Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli similarly called for the safeguarding of equality, urging for investment in education, because, she said, equality remained a dream unless stigma was eradicated.
She recalled attending the local pride march 10 years ago for the first time as Minister for Equality.
She knew back then there was a lot to be done to address legislation that excluded LGBTIQ people. Today Malta was a changed country, she said.
Although proud that the island was hosting Europride, she was concerned about voices that were sowing hate, especially on social media. More needed to be done to ensure love trumped hate, she said.
"No one chooses how they are born and everyone should live a dignified life, no matter how they were born," she said, noting that LGBTIQ was not a contemporary matter.
The first case linked to LGBTIQ issues that made it to the Maltese law courts was that of Roża Mifsud - an intersex person from Luqa who identified as a man 250 years ago. It was the grandmaster himself who confirmed Mifsud's right, Dalli said.
Musical performances continued back-to-back after the speeches, as Brass House Unit and their array of local singers continued to entertain the enthusiastic crowd who waved flags and danced to club favourites including YMCA and Raining Men.
Michael Wright told Times of Malta he had travelled to the country just for EuroPride after visiting London, Morocco and Spain.
“My birthday lines up with next Saturday’s march and I’m just really excited to be able to spend my birthday with my community all the way on the other side of the planet, even if I’m not with my family at home,” said Wright.
Morena, Julian and Daniel work onboard a cruise ship and have taken shore leave to attend the celebrations.
“It was lucky we were here at the same time, we’re just disappointed not to be here for Christina Aguilera,” said Julian from Albania, with Morena from Argentina adding they could only stay until 10pm as their ship was leaving that night.
German nationals who live in Malta Florian Weber and Pierre Kaluza told Times of Malta they were excited to be at the opening ceremony and looking forward to further celebrations.
“I’m very excited. I think it will be a really big event considering the size of Malta… I’m looking forward to how many people will come, the performances and the exhibitions,” said Weber.
“Last year was amazing but I think this year will be even better,” he said.