In Valetta the Maltese Parliament unanimously voted to pass the Affirmation of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression Act, which prohibits gay conversion therapy. As a result of this legislation the small island nation becomes the first country in Europe to outlaw this barbaric practice. Indeed practicing medical professionals who recommend gay conversion therapy can be fined up to €10,000 and/or face up to a year in prison. Not only is this quite clearly a massive step forward for the LGBT people of Malta, but it sets an important precedent for the rest of Europe. It’s time for other European nations to act to outlaw this disgusting practice.
Gay conversion therapy is a form of physical and psychological counseling that seeks to change somebody’s sexual orientation. According to the American Psychiatric Association, the British Medical Association and a number of other medical organisations the practice is harmful to those who take part. The techniques used vary but often include psychological tactics designed to make the ‘patient’ feel guilty for their same-sex feelings by associating those feelings with physical pain, sometimes induced by violence or electrocution. There is often religious dimension to gay conversion therapy with ultra-conservative Christian groups being common proponents of the practice.
Whilst this is an important day for the Maltese LGBT community it is shameful that other European countries haven’t followed suit. For example in Britain, although same-sex marriage was legalised in 2013, there has been no legislative effort to outlaw gay conversion therapy. Another example is in the United States where not only is there no concerted effort to outlaw this practice, millions of people genuinely believe that this form of torture, and I mean that literally, is morally just. It’s a good step forward but we must redouble our efforts and publicise this action by the Maltese government as doing so would put pressure on policy-makers across the world.
An interesting article appeared on the BBC News website about how Malta was rapidly becoming a haven for the LGBT community but things like abortion remained against the law. The article was interesting and it relates to a point I made about the pro-LGBT movement over a year ago in the context of Pride parades. In recent years the pro-LGBT movement has become less political and more about celebration. There certainly should be an element of celebration at events like pride parades, but this shouldn’t result in forgetting the history of struggle. In Britain for example the trade union movement was instrumental in promoting gay rights in the 1980s at a time when the Thatcher government still considers LGBT people as threats to communities.
Further, LGBT people shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the struggles of others in society. There is a proud tradition around the world of LGBT people standing in solidarity with other oppressed groups like women, ethnic minorities, workers and so on. By simply turning the focus to apolitical celebration we lose this link and in the name of tolerance march with people seeking to continue the oppression of others. This cannot be allowed to continue.
Malta’s recent news is undoubtedly positive but in the grand scheme of things it is a very small step forward. Hopefully this will wake people up in other parts of the world to the horrors of gay conversion therapy. However, as well as the LGBT community continuing to push for equality for their people, it is imperative that the tradition of solidarity with other oppressed groups remains in tact.