A toast to the queers!

Amending constitutions and putting the onus on homosexuals to enforce their rights, often at huge cost and uncertainty of outcome, is no longer good enough. What Malta’s gay men and lesbians have been calling for are rights without the need to turn to expensive litigation.

From far away North Carlton in the State of Victoria, while sipping a cup of coffee and getting through a few slices of toasted bread with vegemite, I watched with interest developments back in Malta. So much had changed since 15 February 1995 when I appeared on Pjazza Tlieta and, to my surprise, I became not only the first out-and-proud Maltese professional to come out on the Maltese media but also the first to take on publicly a representative of the Catholic Church. Nineteen years later, Malta’s gay men and lesbians looked more self-assured and less prepared to play the victim.

There is no doubt that the 14 April 2014 will go down in history as the most momentous event in the struggle of Malta’s gay men and lesbians for equality. It was a momentous day, not only because the country’s parliament amended the constitution by way of acknowledging sexual orientation and gender identity or because it passed the Civil Unions Bill but, more importantly, because countless gay men, lesbians and supporters found the courage to come out in great numbers to celebrate the event.

The 1973 decriminalization of consensual adult homosexual acts saw no such celebrations. Even more importantly, the third reading of the Civil Unions Bill shifted the focus from (private) sexual activity to the (public) legal recognition of gay and lesbian couples, a recognition that will restore us the dignity that was always ours to reclaim. It also helps set the stage for an assault on heteronormativity (not to be confused with heterosexuals) because without such an assault there can be no genuine equality.

The losers are the bigots who for a short while won the battle when reports began to emerge that Malta’s former president had refused to give his assent to the Bill ... only to realize that they had lost the war.

After years of conservative confessional administrations, a new government took the bull by its horns to shift the focus from the right to adult consensual sex to the rights of gay and lesbian couples to create families of their own, rainbow families that are purposefully different from traditional families, families where children are encouraged to be themselves, not only tolerant of but actively seeking to promote diversity in society and critical of the fairy tales of old that enforced a highly selective normativity.

The impression that gay and lesbian parents will seek to recruit their children to an imagined ‘army of homosexuals’ is, was and remains preposterous. Heterosexuals, not unlike my parents, have been spectacularly unsuccessful in ‘raising’ their children to be straight, and I am equally confident that any gay or lesbian parent who may seek to influence the sexuality of their children will be similarly and spectacularly unsuccessful.

The next battle is for marriage equality, still an important goal mostly for symbolic reasons and for sending a clear message to society that what is good for the heterosexual goose is good for the homosexual gander. Yet, in a strange twist of fate, the passage of the Civil Unions Bill has made that struggle (in Malta at least) almost immaterial. After all, a bill providing for marriage equality may have left many issues unresolved including that surrounding the adoption of children.

An event as momentous as this one must have its winners and its losers! The winners are gay men and lesbians, some of whom assembled at St George Square, ordinary men and women, some with the children, who came out to celebrate. Malta is also a winner because the doors that closed Malta have begun to open. And what better way to open these doors and head for an open society than with the inclusion of gay men and lesbians, as individuals and as families.

The Opposition’s claim that it had reservations on aspects of the Bill was frivolous. The Opposition had ample time to confront and resolve these reservations.

The losers are the bigots who for a short while won the battle when reports began to emerge that Malta’s former president had refused to give his assent to the Bill ... only to realize that they had lost the war. For far too long, this minority of bigots has been allowed to impose its narrow-minded agenda on the rest of society, an agenda that was formed around an imagined god, one that they created in their own likeness. Among these losers are members of Malta’s parliamentary opposition, men and women of no character who lacked the strength of their conviction to show their hand. Amending constitutions and putting the onus on homosexuals to enforce their rights, often at huge cost and uncertainty of outcome, is no longer good enough. What Malta’s gay men and lesbians have been calling for are rights without the need to turn to expensive litigation. The Civil Unions Bill achieves that. The constitutional amendment does not.

The Opposition’s claim that it had reservations on aspects of the Bill was frivolous. The Opposition had ample time to confront and resolve these reservations. Its call for more research on gay and lesbian parenting was laughable. What sample group could you possibly have when the law continues to deny same-sex couples the right to have families? The Opposition’s continued strategy of deceit saw it give the impression that it was against discrimination and homophobia as it set about fuelling both. Classical parliamentary delaying tactics that mislead no one by an Opposition unfit to govern.

There is no turning back. The passage of the constitutional amendment and the Civil Unions Bill will change Malta forever. So here is a toast to us queers and our friends.

I salute the members of the Malta Gay Rights Movement, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and the Labour Party. I salute also earlier groups who played their part and prepared the way, and gay men and lesbians who kept the flame of visibility alive, those who received prison sentences for giving expression to their sexual orientation, those who suffered discrimination and persecution, those who continued to frequent gay and lesbian bars, the homosexual communities around Balzunetta and Strait Street, ordinary and not-so-ordinary gay men and lesbians, and the all-too-obvious Wembley Store Boys who clicked their heels into the night as they made their way to the Lantern Bar.

To them and to us all who were not afraid to be gay and proud, I offer a toast to the queers!

 

 

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