‘It’s not easy being out in Gozo’

Across the channel, Laura Calleja finds a different reality exists for LGBTI+ persons who find the tight-knit ways of a small island, suffocating

Gozo is a worse place for being open about one’s sexual orientation than Malta, according to 69.8% of LGBTI+ persons who took part in a survey.

Fifty-three persons within the Goztian LGBTI+ community participated in the survey which found that Malta is perceived as being a more diverse and open place for an individual, with a less tight-knit community.

“Since Gozo is so small, it is harder for queer people to have the anonymity queer people experience in Malta. Everyone knows each other here, and there’s a great fear of being outed in front of family members or facing stigma from friends,” the NGO LGBTI+ Gozo said, commenting on the results.

The NGO said there was no “real safe” places for queer people to assemble and speak about issues within the community – this they said was something respondents felt hindered their experience in Gozo.

“The perception that Gozo has an old-fashioned mentality reaffirms that same mentality, and so LGBTI+ Gozo works to break the mould and create a space where visibility, representation and direct communication between LGBTI peers are present,” the NGO said.

LGBTI+ Gozo executive member Catherine Camilleri spoke to MaltaToday about her experience as part of the queer community living on Malta’s sister island.

Camilleri, who grew up in the United States, moved to Gozo back in 2020 right before COVID-19 took hold. “For my personal experience, there is a bit of a ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy in Gozo. It’s hard to be openly queer with family [here],” she said.

Camilleri had reached out to LGBTI+ Gozo because she was interested in being part of the queer community on the island – and has been working with the NGO since.

“They (LGBTI+ Gozo) are an amazing group of people. You don’t really experience the gay culture here, so to have a community here was very important to me,” she explained.

“As a queer person, sometimes chosen family can be just as – if not more – important than biological family. People who understand the situations you have gone through and accept you for who you are,” she said.

Camilleri is out with certain family members, but opened up about holding back with others.

“There is a fear of being ridiculed by family members – by outside family members commenting: ‘what is she doing?’ there is a lack of understanding, especially with the older generations.”

When it comes to Gozo, Camilleri said she wasn’t sure if she would be comfortable openly kissing a partner in public. “People will stare blatantly. It is an uncomfortable thing. Your safety has to be taken into account as well.”

“Not to say this is confined to Gozo – the same goes for the United States. Here there is the added worry of someone spotting you and knowing your family. There is a lack of anonymity; you can’t just blend in with the crowd,” she said.

Camilleri said it was challenging to be out in Gozo and said it took a strong character who was confident in one’s self.

Despite the atmosphere, Camilleri said she has never been tempted to leave the island and move to Malta – “it’s [Malta] such an urban climate, it’s something I’ve pulled away from because I know what I want.”


Absence of sexual health resources

Until recently, Gozo lacked a Genitourinary (GU) Clinic, which meant that Gozo-based residents were forced to access critical services in Malta. “A GU Clinic in Malta which is limited through resources, and was even more limited during the midst of the pandemic meant that life-saving medication was limited inaccessibility,” the NGO said.

LGBTI+ Gozo has been lobbying for years for equal access for Gozitans in Gozo across all services. “Getting tested is hard enough without everyone in the waiting room knowing why you are there.”

However, in recent months a GU clinic has been opened in Gozo, opening twice a month on Friday between 12-4 pm. Appointments can be made by contacting [email protected] or phoning the Gozo General Hospital customer care number.

The opening of this clinic comes after HIV medication shortages hit both Malta and Gozo during early 2021.

“People living with HIV were suddenly informed that their life-saving medication would no longer be available from Mater Dei and the Gozo General Hospital, and instead, they would need to travel every few weeks to one of a small number of pharmacies in Malta, in order to procure their medication,” the NGO said.

This put Gozitans and residents of Gozo in a difficult position, unable to safely access their medication amid the pandemic – something they said further highlighted the fact that at times Gozitans can be treated as second class citizens.

“No matter where you are or your socioeconomic background – easy access to medication is and should be a basic human right,” the NGO said.

This, the NGO said, is why it was so crucial that Gozo had its own GU clinic, ensuring HIV medication in Gozo and a helpline service for queer people on the island.