The majority of LGBTI people living in Gozo have said it is more difficult to be open on the sister island, citing a lack of support and stigmatisation as the main reason behind this, a new survey has found.
NGO LGBTI+ Gozo carried out the study with 69 people who live in Gozo, who shared their life experiences, ahead of publishing an action plan setting out goals to better engage the community over the next four years.
Some 64% of the respondents felt it was “difficult to be open in Gozo” with the top contributing factors being: a lack of support from society, including their own family members, stigmatisation - particularly from older or religious people, the general mentality of the island as well as a lack of spaces where people are free to be open.
An even larger majority (77%) said that Malta felt different from Gozo in terms of being accepted for who they are.
Respondents who shared their comments with the study felt there is pressure and judgement around sexuality from the general community in Gozo.
"Yes, especially at a younger age if you're still uncertain of your own sexuality because rumours spread really easily and considering that it's such a small island with a lot of judgements, it feels like you can't really explore or change your mind without being criticised,” one person said.
“Additionally, the intense pressure from the older generation and religious institutions being openly homophobic makes it difficult and contributes to internalised homophobia."
Mentality, religious beliefs blamed
The feeling was also echoed by LGBTI expats who chose to resettle in Gozo, with 46.2% of expat respondents saying that it is more difficult to be open about sexuality in Gozo than it is in their country of origin.
Most chalked this up to religious beliefs and general mentality, the study said, while others have felt they were also discriminated against in Gozo specifically because they are expats.
"I've been told many times to go back to my own country,” one respondent said.
"There is occasionally the sense that I am being regarded as a stupid foreigner. It is not blatant. By and large, my demeanour is open and accepting of others no matter what their colour, appearance of origin, sex and or gender identity, etc. and I think this means that I too am regarded in a positive manner."
COVID-19 also had a negative impact on respondents, with 92% of respondents saying that the pandemic had impacted them negatively and 67% saying it had had an effect on their mental health.
“They felt more isolated, lacked support, and had poorer mental health,” the report said.
“Some had more time and were able to use it to learn new skills or explore the surrounding nature. During these times, as a Queer person, they would have benefited from having access to a psychological counsellor and in general overall support by their friends or having more initiative in engaging in online group activities and hangouts.”
Respondents felt the main activity that may help in turning the tide in mentality would be education, particularly with elderly people and opportunities to have more open conversations that can serve to foster acceptance.
Additionally, access to counselling or therapy as well as a safe space and the support of friends were mentioned by respondents as actions that could significantly improve their living experience in Gozo.
"In my opinion, open conversations about LGBTQI+ people's experiences will help shift negative attitudes and change the mentality in Gozo to an island that is accepting and understanding of issues faced within our community," one respondent said.
In tandem with this survey, LGBTI Gozo has released a 32-point action plan focused on engaging with the community, offering knowledge-based education in different events around Gozo, expanding their services - including forming a network of queer-friendly professionals, as well as actively continuing to be involved in policymaking on a national level.
The action plan hopes to see a week-long Pride celebration organised in Gozo in 2023 and celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2025.
“We look forward to these historic moments and continuing the work being done to achieve this action while fostering strategic partnerships with relevant authorities now and in the future,” the NGO said in a statement.
You can read the full survey and action plan below