Eman Borg Mercieca had been dreaming of taking part in a Pride march in his native Gozo for years.

This Saturday, his dream will become a reality.

It is a big deal for Borg Mercieca, who leads the NGO LGBTI+ Gozo group, and other members of the community in Gozo. 

The march is part of the Malta Pride Week 2022 programme, which kicked off on Friday. It will begin at 5pm at the Qawsalla Hub, down the road from Victoria health centre.

"The march shows that Gozo is not a bubble and the idea that Gozo is conservative needs to stop, we are progressive with the same laws and realities as everyone else," he told Times of Malta ahead of the Saturday event. 

For the past few years, Malta has topped European rankings for LGBTIQ protection and human rights, yet a recent survey suggested that the majority of LGBTI people living in Gozo still feel it is more difficult to be open about their sexuality.

That may be part of the reason why it has taken 18 years since Malta first held a pride march back in 2004, for Gozo to get its equivalent.

So, the first Gozo Pride means a lot to Borg Mercieca and many others in the community. 

Eman Borg Mercieca. Photo: Eman Borg MerciecaEman Borg Mercieca. Photo: Eman Borg Mercieca

He is one of four other LGBTIQ Gozitans who spoke to Times of Malta before the big event.

When asked why it took so long for a pride march to be organised in Gozo, Borg Mercieca said that from an organisational standpoint, the NGO felt this year was the first year it could take on the task.

“To have a team of people all working for the same cause of more visibility, representation and more education is an honour for me to be part of," Borg Mercieca said.

He said the sister island has changed a lot since he first came out, but there is more to be done for the community.

“To improve the situation of LGBTIQ Gozitans we demand (not ask) that there is a sustainable investment into the organisation,” he said.

The NGO has a specific list of demands: from having a community worker assigned to the organisation, to having a specific budget allocated each year to a Gozitan pride event, to ensure it is not reliant on the goodwill of volunteers.  

‘Gay scene in Gozo still non-existent’

Antoine Spiteri recognises that social attitudes in Gozo have changed drastically. The majority of people there, he believes, are not only tolerant of one another but also accepting.

But the gay scene in Gozo is still non-existent, he says. 

“Because of this shortcoming, it can make it difficult to some individuals to come ‘out’, and more is to be done, such as this Saturday’s pride march, to keep pushing the boundaries,” the 34-year-old teacher and scout leader said. 

Having said that, Spiteri said there has been a significant change in the Gozitan LGBTIQ community, from being “closeted" to now having the same legal rights as any other individual.

Antoine Spiteri.Antoine Spiteri.

Spiteri described the first Gozo Pride march as a “huge step” forward and a historic one for the island. He said it will increase awareness of the community, promote tolerance and honour differences whilst living together. 

“Ultimately, Gozo Pride is about self-acceptance in the face of discrimination, it is self-love in the face of prejudice, it is self-worth in the face of hateful comments. Pride is a celebration but also a reminder, a reminder you are worthy of love, acceptance, respect and understanding.”

‘Healing and exciting experience’

Echoing both Camilleri and Borg Mercieca's comments, Antonella Bugeja has also noticed that Gozo is more open to Pride, yet it still lacks LGBTIQ opportunities, especially for younger people.

“Since people of younger ages cannot simply commute to celebrate Maltese pride, attend events or join Maltese organisations, having organisations and events like Pride in Gozo, is ground-breaking and meaningful,” the 21-year-old medical student said. 

She became a member of the Gozitan NGO a few years ago while she was figuring out her identity and wanted to find a community where she felt accepted. 

"Although harder to be "out" here when compared to Malta, I am grateful for the supportive community I found."

“The march is a healing and exciting experience, signifying all the work the Gozitan community has done to achieve this. I believe Pride is not just for the LGBTIQ community, but for everyone. It is a celebration of all forms of love."

Antonella BugejaAntonella Bugeja

She said there needs to be more awareness and educational programmes for both students and professionals and to encourage more discussion on sexual health and mental health. 

Bugeja also highlighted how following the announcement of the Gozitan Pride march, there were a lot of hateful comments on social media. She said while the comments were upsetting, they were “nothing new”. 

“Such backlash shows precisely why we still need to celebrate Pride. Being part of the community means that you are faced with such comments on a regular basis, at times even from those close to you. So while they are unacceptable, we are no longer shocked by them.”

A barrage of homophobic comments 

Not everyone has welcomed the prospect of a Gozitan Pride march. 

Organisers were met with a barrage of homophobic comments and threats on their social media pages, Borg Mercieca said. 

The matter has now been referred to the police. 

"We were definitely expecting some comments but not to the extent that we had to do a police report on hate speech, which is now being investigated."

The flood of homophobic comments led the Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM) to issue a post to inform the community to report to the police any comments or threats.

Paul Camilleri was more vocal about how such comments made him feel. 

"I would be lying if I say such comments didn't make me angry. But thinking about it one obviously can conclude that those who wrote such comments should be really embarrassed of themselves," Camilleri said. 

Paul Camilleri. Photo: provided by CamilleriPaul Camilleri. Photo: provided by Camilleri

A senior lecturer in MCAST, the 41-year-old (who moved to Malta 10 years ago) said there will always be people who will try to pass disrespectful comments, yet such comments leave no effect on him now. 

"That doesn't mean I ignore them. There was a time when I even took legal action against three people who wrote insults against me on social media. I took action not because they hurt me but because I don't want any teenagers who might be thinking of coming out and seeing such comments to change their opinion and remain in the closet."

He said the news that Gozo was to have its first pride march came as a "surprise and a big sigh of relief". 

"It is a milestone for the LGBTIQ community, it will push boundaries, it will be a celebration of the achievements of our community, but will also be a reminder of the many things that still need to be achieved.  It will make noise that needs to be heard by the few intolerant persons."

He called for more educational awareness that people are not all the same, but can still live in harmony. 

"If everyone is the same, life would be very boring."

Sign up to our free newsletters

Get the best updates straight to your inbox:
Please select at least one mailing list.

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By subscribing, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing.