Leading gay rights activist Gabi Calleja speaks of the emergence of a gay vote, describes civil partnership legislation as a “deal-breaker” and warns that homophobic attacks are likely to increase. Bertrand Borg reports.

Malta Gay Rights Movement coordinator Gabi Calleja may pepper her conversation with coy smiles, but behind the self-effacing exterior lies a woman unwilling to minceher words.

Anyone arguing against equality is already on the wrong side of history

“I think we can now speak of agay vote. And we’ve reached apoint where the LGBT [lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender] community is fed up,” she says at themention of seemingly elusive civil partnership legislation.

“More couples are living openly nowadays, and they want to consolidate their relationship legally. These people are unwilling to wait any longer. And for them, this could be a deal-breaker when it comes to their vote.”

A proposed cohabitation Bill, yet to be made public, is expected to include provision for same-sex civil partnerships, though Ms Calleja is keeping her feet planted firmly on the ground.

“We still haven’t seen the Bill, which to me indicates it’s not exactly in line with what we’d like. If it were, I’d imagine the government would have been glad to show it to us!”

Ms Calleja’s decade-long struggle to promote gay rights in Malta was recently acknowledged by the US State Department, which chose to make her one of 11 women worldwide to receive an International Women of Courage Award.

She brushes off the award, saying a part of her “felt embarrassed” to be given the award. “I felt unworthy to a certain extent, especially since there are so many countries around the world where it’s physically dangerous to defend LGBT rights. But the award is good for raising the profile of LGBT issues,” she muses.

Minutes before the interview, word had filtered through from the law courts that two young assailants had been fined €500 each forhaving assaulted two teenage girls in Ħamrun.

Widely reported as a homophobic hate crime – something the court found was unproven – the case had sparked sufficient outcry for the government to move proposals on hate crime legislation.

Those amendments are set to be discussed within a parliamentary sub-committee next week, Ms Calleja says.

A proposed gender identity Bill is also in the pipeline. The last Ms Calleja heard, the Attorney General had raised some objections to the MGRM-proposed text.

“I’m hoping we’ll get a second meeting with the Justice Ministry before the Bill is presented to Parliament. But I don’t know where we’re at with it.” With civil partnership proposals, hate crime amendments and a gender identity Bill all at various stages of development, LGBT concerns have never been so legislatively prominent.

“It’s quite exciting in a way,” Ms Calleja admits. “But on the other hand, until we actually get these laws enacted, doubts are goingto remain.”

She feels more work is needed to promote a culture of equalityand acceptance within schools, noting that the proposed national curriculum framework – yet to be adopted – makes no mention of homophobic bullying.

“To me, that indicates there’s no real drive to address the issue at a policy level,” she sighs.

Gozo Bishop Mario Grech recently inflamed passions when he insisted that “a family is a relationship between man and woman, based on marriage”.

The Bishop’s words may have done the Church’s cause more harm than good, antagonising several people with its extremity, Ms Calleja suggests.

Not that a rapprochement between the LGBT movement and Catholic Church was on the cards, she adds.

“While the Church continues to insist homosexuality is a disorder and that LGBT people are somehow wrong or sinful, I can’t see any way in which we could come to some form of agreement with the Church.”

The struggle for an LGBT-equal society is far from over, but Ms Calleja’s eyes glisten with conviction.

“Anyone arguing against equality is already on the wrong sideof history.

“The more time passes, the faster the pace of change. It’s just a matter of time.”

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