Gay conversion in Malta: 1 in 4 claim experience, in EU rights survey

EU rights agency’s survey finds 26% of LGBTIQ respondents in Malta experienced a so-called ‘conversion’ practice to make them change their sexual orientation or gender identity

Malta is punching above its weight on LGBTIQ rights, as the EU member state that boasts one of the most emancipatory sets of legislations scores higher than its peers’ average, according to the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency.

But an online survey of over 100,000 responses from the EU-27 as well as Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia, still identifies lacunae in the lived experience of gay people in Malta, whose secularism co-exists with a strong Catholic faith culture.

“I feel like LGBTIQ people of faith are forgotten sometimes,” said one respondent, a female asexual of 25, to the FRA survey about their openness about being an LGBTIQ person.

“When you hear public discourse and also legislative discourse, it is always split as two distinct ideas that can never converge. People think of it as faith versus sexuality, whereas for several people, the two are united and not split. Several people live both those identities in harmony. People should not pressure themselves to choose one over the other.”

But a clear demarcation with the secular role of the State clearly exists, with 61% of Maltese respondents declaring their national government effectively combats prejudice and intolerance against LGBTIQ people. For the EU-27, this was a very low figure of 26%.

The findings depict Malta as a safer place for LGBTIQ person than other European states: while in the EU, one in two people will avoid holding hands with their same-sex partner (53%), in Malta that figure is 36%. A lower proportion of LGBTIQ persons (22%) will avoid certain locations in Malta for fear of being assaulted, than the rest of the EU (29%).

And while it appears that in the EU-27, one in two (51%) will say they are “fairly or very open about being LBTIQ”, that proportion is unsurprisingly higher in Malta at 62%.

The negative aspects of this lived experience are never too far off however: even in Malta, 14% say they feel discriminated against at work (EU: 19%); and discrimination affects many areas of life, such as going to a café, restaurant, hospital or to a shop – 31% in Malta felt discriminated against in at least one area of life in the year before the survey (EU: 37%).

The same FRA survey reveals that 42% of LGBTIQ students in Malta were hiding being LGBTIQ at school (EU: 49%); but 42% also said they found someone who defended or supported their rights (EU: 32%).

Clearly though, 55% of LGBTIQ respondents said school education never addressed LGBTIQ issues – far lower than the EU perception, 62%. “Sexual education is still very lacking in general, let alone for the LGBTQIA+ community. I feel like the community has been used as a political bargaining chip for votes,” a gay Maltese respondent, 25, told the survey.

59% of all respondents say that they suffered bullying, ridicule, teasing, insults or threats in school because they are LGBTIQ. For the EU-27 it is 67%, a steep increase compared to 2019 (43%).

Indeed, 8% in Malta had been attacked in the five years before the survey (EU: 13%); 4% were attacked in the year before the survey (EU: 5%); and more people in Malta (59%) said they were harassed in the year before the survey, compared to the EU (54%).

Similarly, 8% reported physical or sexual attacks, hate-motivated violence and discrimination to the police in Malta (EU: 11%); while 20% reported their discrimination experiences to an equality body or another organisation in Malta, higher than the EU’s 11% average.

Interestingly, 26% of respondents in Malta experienced a so-called ‘conversion’ practice – which is illegal in Malta – in order to make them change their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, just slightly higher than the EU’s 24%.

“I think that the laws in Malta are good, but the education of the members of society is still lacking. I still don’t feel safe showing my sexuality in public. There are also many keyboard warriors who feel the need or duty to spread hate,” one Maltese gay male, 32, told the FRA survey.

“Malta, although it’s a small island, is very open minded,” a bisexual respondent, 60, said “Especially when it comes to young and middle-aged people.”

Indeed, 10% in Malta say that violence against LGBTIQ people has increased – but this was 59% for the EU average. Similarly, 19% in Malta say that LGBTIQ prejudice and intolerance has risen in their country in the last five years (EU: 53%).

In matters of health, a small percentage still believes LGBTIQ persons feel discriminated against inside Malta’s health service – 14%, the same level as in the EU. “I am privileged by my income and access to medical knowledge that I can treat myself privately but most of my trans peers can’t even afford to be financially independent from their transphobic, homophobic parents!” a Maltese bisexual trans woman, 30, told the FRA.

Yet, 12% of LGBTIQ respondents in Malta told the FRA survey they thought often or always of committing suicide in the year before the survey. For the EU this is 12%.