To folk fearing ‘gender ideology’ in Malta, even football is at risk

Nationalist MP Edwin Vassallo is corralling the conservative vote: but what are his audience fearing the most?

Edwin Vassallo insists he is not against gender equality but rather opposes what he claims is an attempt by the government to go against human nature
Edwin Vassallo insists he is not against gender equality but rather opposes what he claims is an attempt by the government to go against human nature

Heads shook in disapproval as a news segment played, criticising reforms in the Canadian school curriculum. The clip showed children being subjected to ‘drag queen storytime’ in public schools and libraries among other ‘immoral’ and ‘hedonistic’ teachings.

This was the introduction by Nationalist Party MP Edwin Vassallo to his first town hall-type meeting, kicking it off with a segment that claimed schoolchildren were being taught that gender is ‘fluid’ and non-binary.

The clip was presented as a pretext to his decision to vote against the gender-based Violence and Domestic Violence Bill in parliament, which he insists is not merely about domestic violence.

“Other issues and labels are hidden within the legislation, which tie the country to the ideology of gender equality,” Vassallo – the only Nationalist MP not to vote for gay marriage back in June 2017 – said.

But Vassallo is not against gender equality. He opposes what he claims is an attempt by the Government to go against human nature and make men and women the same.

“The law is written in such a way that if one were to read through it casually, one would not notice what the legislation really implies.”

The crux of the problem to him is that the legislation explicitly states ‘gender-based violence’, which when used in conjunction with the definition for ‘gender’ provided by the Istanbul Convention – adopted by Malta in June last year – poses a problem for Vassallo. This is because the Convention defines gender as a social construct.

“Children are being taught that gender is not about what you’re born with, but about how you feel in the moment. This means that children can choose to be female one day, and male the following day,” Vassallo said.

To his annoyance, the Bill does not specifically refer to unborn children as potential victims of domestic violence. In another clip produced by True Light Catholic Media, which Vassallo played during the meeting, lawyer Sara Portelli is heard saying that the Bill should include the unborn child when defining who has the right for protection against violence.

Another issue highlighted by Vassallo is his insistence that the Bill could create an obligation on non-governmental organisations or entities – even private schools – to support the law’s agenda.

This concern was shared by others in the audience. One male attendee, Andrea, feared that the Government would impose this “ideology” on private entities. “Will the Government let families make their own decisions?”

Handing the microphone to the floor, Vassallo received a mixed bag of reactions.

“If my daughter were to tell me that she feels she is transgender, I cannot go against my daughter,” one man said.

“Both political parties have forgotten God. We all need to follow the natural order which was designed by God,” said another.

A religious educator said he was concerned that the Government would impinge on his right to teach religious values to children. Another attendee, Miriam Sciberras – from pro-life organisation Life Network – said that she had confronted civil liberties minister Helena Dalli at the parliamentary social affairs committee about the Bill.

“I asked her whether this would lead us to eventually remove all family roles and gender stereotypes, and the minister laughed.”

Most of these comments captured a general feeling among a crowd of conservative voters who feel alienated by the mainstream drift of Maltese politics, following far-reaching reforms that included laws on marriage equality and transgender rights.

“The only thing I didn’t hear today is the word ‘objective’ truth,” said one male attendee. “There is no third gender, there is man and woman.”

That conviction seems simple enough. For others, the fear goes even further: not only threatening to interfere with the way they have always conceived gender and family, but also whether it will undermine another revered institution.

“I don’t agree with either of the parties as they are both liberal and progressive,” Tonio Calleja said. “If a girl decided she is a man, does this mean that she can apply to play football with a men’s first division team and, if she is not accepted, can claim domestic violence?”

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