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Where has the Maltese gay club gone?

Despite great progress in terms of gay rights, the scene seems to be 'thinning out'. Malta Today spoke with bar owners, party organisers and club-goers to get a glimpse into the gay party scene to identify the trends 

amy_micallef_decesare
Amy Micallef Decesare
17 November 2017, 8:06am
Malta made a radical about-turn in 2013 when this conservative island rushed to the top of Europe’s gay rights index. But in progressive 2017, the gay community is still wondering how the gay club circuit became ever more restricted to less and less establishments.

For a long time, Malta’s staunch Catholic society made the prospect of gay marriage an impossible dream. Since Labour’s election, Malta has gallopped to the top of the charts of the International Lesbian Gay Association’s Rainbod Index for gay rights in Europe. From the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1973, to the legalisation of same-sex marriage earlier this year, the country’s top spot has been well deserverd.

What it is lacking in however, is the presence of gay clubs, bars and hangouts, especially in the last couple of years.

MaltaToday spoke with bar owners, party organisers and regular club-goers to get a glimpse of the gay party scene, finding that a shift from club to event and veritable thinning-out of the ‘gay culture’ that the club represents. 

"20-30 years ago, gay people had no choice but to go to secret clubs and bars but nowadays, there’s really no need. We can go out wherever we like, depending on the mood"
TV presenter Ray Calleja, the former manager of monaliza bar, has a rosy view of the situation, explaining that he believes that many gay establishments have closed down because there’s simply no need for them anymore.

“A lot has changed and I think it’s a positive thing. We now live in a society where you can go any -where and still be yourself and feel comfortable

“20-30 years ago, gay people had no choice but to go to secret clubs and bars but nowadays, there’s really no need. We can go out wherever we like, depending on the mood”. 

Philip Fenech, president of tourism, hospitality and leisure at the General Retailers and Traders Union (GRTU) echoed Calleja’s sentiments, claiming that “gay people are more liberated now and everything is legitimised, meaning that gay people can finally be integrated into the mainstream”. 

The entertainment industry is by its very nature fickle, with the turnover of clubs in the local scene generally tending to be frequent. “Especially when it comes to gay clubs,” Fenech adds. 

Three of the current popular gay hangouts: The Birdcage Lounge in Rabat, monaliza in Valletta and Michelangelo in Paceville (Photo: James Bianchi/Media Today)
Three of the current popular gay hangouts: The Birdcage Lounge in Rabat, monaliza in Valletta and Michelangelo in Paceville (Photo: James Bianchi/Media Today)
Three of the current popular gay hangouts: The Birdcage Lounge in Rabat, monaliza in Valletta and Michelangelo in Paceville (Photo: James Bianchi/Media Today)
Three of the current popular gay hangouts: The Birdcage Lounge in Rabat, monaliza in Valletta and Michelangelo in Paceville (Photo: James Bianchi/Media Today)
Three of the current popular gay hangouts: The Birdcage Lounge in Rabat, monaliza in Valletta and Michelangelo in Paceville (Photo: James Bianchi/Media Today)
Three of the current popular gay hangouts: The Birdcage Lounge in Rabat, monaliza in Valletta and Michelangelo in Paceville (Photo: James Bianchi/Media Today)
Like with anything else, the market will always dictate – it will serve a need, if there is one.

“We now live in a time where everyone’s out of the closet, which made club owners and promoters think there would be a great demand for gay clubs. The reality seems to be the exact opposite”, Fenech said.

When it comes to particular segments of the LGBTIQ community, however, such as those who identify as transgender, or those who would much rather spend their Friday nights dressed to the nines in drag, the same may not necessarily apply. 

“It’s an extremely particular market. Will they ever feel 100% accepted and comfortable in a stereotypically straight environment?” Fenech asked, saying he said he has his doubts.

As does clubgoer and Lovin’ Malta reporter Chucky Bartolo.

Although he acknowledges that great strides have certainly been made, “we’re just not there yet”, Bartolo says.

"If you’re a Manchester supporter, would you feel comfortable celebrating a win in a Juventus club?"
“There’s still a slight sense of fear. And I think there always will be. Though I’m happy that people are much more accepting, I simply don’t feel comfortable walking into ‘straight’ clubs holding my boyfriend’s hand.”

There’s definitely a dire need for such spaces, agrees party enthusiast, Krissie Sammut.

“Of course there’s been progress, but that isn’t the point. The issue we’re dealing with here is the need for gay people to have their very own space to be completely and utterly themselves. This comes with being around people who have similar experiences and thoughts”

“If you’re a Manchester supporter, would you feel comfortable celebrating a win in a Juventus club?” asked promoter and half of DJ duo BeatBears, Chunky.

“I doubt it. It’s the exact same thing. We’re free to marry our partners and do what we like, to a certain extent, but personally, I’d rather not go out at all than go solely to clubs geared towards straight people”. 

Chunky believes the lack of LGBTIQ spaces is all down to the sheer lethargy of the gay community.

“I’ve been to gay parties and events abroad and there’s an incredible atmosphere. Here in Malta, there just isn’t the same buzz.”

With this in mind, Chunky and others have taken the situation in hand and are working to fill the void in the Maltese gay club scene.

“Having safe spaces where LGBTIQ people can come together remains necessary. It’s mainly a matter of capacity and resources”, said gay rights activist Gabi Calleja.

Chunky has every intention of rectifying the situation. “If we can’t have gay clubs, we’ll have gay events instead”.

"Though I’m happy that people are much more accepting, I simply don’t feel comfortable walking into ‘straight’ clubs holding my boyfriend’s hand."
Working in tandem to re-create a once vibrant sense of community, the promoters of S2S events - BeatBears and Lollipop – have taken to hosting a variety of events throughout the year, often renting out clubs, bars and even boats, taking the island by colourful storm.  

“From a legal point of view, our country has the greatest LGBTIQ laws in Europe, but on the streets, it’s still not enough”, Lollipop promoter and DJ Keith St John said.

In the meantime, the fact remains that the LGBTIQ community needs a place to feel completely comfortable, no matter how different they may be or look. How this reality fits in with the “progressive” perception of the island remains to be seen.

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