Last Monday, Malta became the first country to ban conversion therapy on LGBTI people and passed a law which depathologised trans identities.
If I blinked I would have missed it. I followed the livestream of Malta's Parliament eagerly, waiting to hear the words which would ban LGBTI conversion therapy and officially depathologise trans identities on the island. Malta’s Minister for Civil Liberties, Social Dialogue and Consumer Affairs, Helena Dalli presented the bill, positively named "the Affirmation of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression" and it was approved unanimously. Before 2013 it would have been hard, almost impossible, to imagine this progress for LGBTI rights happening in Malta.
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Helena Dalli + Mina Tolu at the celebration after the civil union bill was passed in Malta in April 2014.
I know what it means to feel like you are a lesser person because of your sexual orientation or gender identity, and to have these parts of you forcibly silenced by homo- and trans-phobia. Ten years ago I sat nervously on a chair telling someone I trusted that I was gay. She told me to "pray about it' and to keep it to myself. That silence and non-affirmation of an integral part of me left a mark - it took another four years for me to come out to anyone else.
Conversion therapy is especially harmful to young and vulnerable people who, rather than receiving beneficial mental health care are met with a hostile environment in which they are not valued. The Maltese Government's clear stance on this issue is brilliant- four years ago there was only silence in regards to LGBTI rights, and our identities as LGBTI persons in Malta were far from respected.
This new law is inspiring and recognises all of us in our diversity, it is only however, the latest of legal and policy changes which have helped to safeguard LGBTI people in Malta. Taking a look at the full portfolio of LGBTI related laws that have been introduced since 2014 gives a clear idea of why Malta is at the top of the ILGA-Europe ranking, and why Minister Helena Dalli received a European Diversity Award in November.
In April 2014 we welcomed civil unions and one year later, Malta was the first country to ban surgery on intersex children and simultaneously passed ground-breaking law which recognised trans people based on self-determination.
Malta’s Parliament building during the vote for civil unions in April 2014
In recent years I have also observed people coming out at a younger age, less taboo when talking about LGBTI issues, more positive portrayals of LGBTI people in the media, and more organising and campaigning. I don't think it is a coincidence, there is no denying that the very public debate that occurred around the introduction of most of these laws has helped to shape society.
This doesn't mean that all our work is done, and there are steps, beyond laws and policy, that the country could take to fully uphold human rights. On a governmental level I hope to see the implementation of a free and accessible trans healthcare model based on self-determination, and on a policy level I hope to see better sexual health education inclusive of LGBTI identities.
Mina Tolu works as a Communications Officer at Transgender Europe. Mina is a One Young World Ambassador from Malta who spoke at the annual Summit in Ottawa on the topic of fighting the institutionalised and inhumane discrimination against transgender people apparent at all levels in our society. You can watch the full speech here.