Lack of understanding and professional training for doctors and teachers about issues affecting LGBT people continue to endanger their fundamental rights despite promising legislative advances, according to a new report.
The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) surveyed more than 1,000 public officials, doctors, teachers and police officers in Malta and 18 other EU member states about laws and policies protecting and promoting the rights of LGBT people.
In Malta, the report found that although changes in the law had kick-started the creation of a more supportive environment for LGBT anti-discrimination work, LGBT people still encountered serious problems in terms of medical care and bullying in schools.
“As doctors, as a profession, we are not aware as much as we should be about people of different [sexual] orientation,” said a Maltese medical consultant quoted in the report. “Many doctors are afraid; they shy away from the subject. It’s like they’ve entered a big minefield.”
Although healthcare professionals re-ported some general training on ‘social competence needs’, including dealing with issues of sexual orientation, many felt that LGBT people were still afraid of unfavourable treatment, making them distrustful of healthcare providers.
We are not aware as much as we should be about people of different sexual orientation
Across the EU, the survey showed a link between LGBT persons being open about their identity with healthcare providers and experiencing negativity. Those who were open to medical staff and healthcare providers were at least 50 per cent more likely to have experienced problems.
Transgender people in particular were seen by Maltese professionals as the group which had their needs met the least.
A public official cited in the report said lack of expertise and knowledge about the subject was a major barrier to developing State services to cater specifically to transgender health, such as gender reassignment surgery.
Malta was also one of a number of countries noted in the report where officials spoke of particular problems in tackling LGBT-related bullying due to a lack of national, targeted policies.
Although the overall situation of LGBT students has improved, they continue to be the subject of widespread harassment in educational settings, including verbal abuse, cyber bullying and physical violence, according to the report.
A 2014 study by the FRA found that about 92 per cent of LGBT people in Malta had witnessed negative comments or conduct during their schooling years because a schoolmate was perceived to be LGBT.
Numerous education professionals in Malta and elsewhere said they had no training about LGBT issues as part of their professional education and that many educators showed limited awareness about issues of LGBT persons’ fundamental rights.
The report noted positively the inclusive policies of individual educational institutions, however. In particular, Mcast has a grievance policy that includes sexual orientation, while the Giovanni Curmi Higher Secondary School has a diversity and equality policy that mentions discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
In law enforcement, Malta was said to provide specialised police training on LGBT hate crime only for new recruits but not serving officers. The report found that part of the reason for underreported hate crimes was that the police rely on the small number of reported cases as evidence that such crimes do not exist, without exploring further.
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