05 May 2008

Homophobia and hate crime by Melissa Xuereb, MGRM (Times of Malta, May 05, 2008)

In his letter of April 29, Richard A. Micallef gave a very good definition of the word "homophobia", specifically "the fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals." He also supplemented this definition with several "homophobic" arguments in the rest of his letter, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Hence, "the accusing word homophobic is slapped in your face" (again?), not "because you express(ed) a differing opinion" but because disputing facts on the basis of subjective opinion to the detriment of gay people at large is tantamount to "homophobia".

Fact is:

• Homosexuality is not a condition or disorder. On May 17, 1990, the General Assembly of the World Health Organisation (WHO) removed homosexuality from their list of mental disorders.

• Homosexuality is not a choice. This is a well-established fact and there is ample research to back it up.

• The "fundamental difference" between "homosexual" and "gay" is that the former focuses solely on the sexuality of the gay person, whereas the latter does away with the unwarranted over-emphasis on sex and is, therefore, more politically correct.

• "Being gay" does not mean "coming out". Some gay people are "out" about their sexual orientation while others feel the need to conceal it, generally living with the awkwardness of being presumed straight when in fact they are not.

• Denying people (including gay people) from being considered as potential adoptive parents on purely subjective grounds constitutes discrimination. On January 22, 2008, the European Court of Human Rights delivered a landmark judgement in the case of a lesbian woman versus France whereby it ruled that exclusion of individuals from the application process for adoption of children simply because of their sexual orientation is discriminatory and is in breach of the European Convention of Human Rights.

These are all facts that Mr Micallef took the liberty to dispute in his letter.

One can have an opinion about a particular individual - whether gay, straight or otherwise - but it is not acceptable to have an "opinion" about gay people at large, and when that "opinion" disputes established facts, it becomes all the more unacceptable. To add insult to injury, Mr Micallef's letter is yet again another contribution to the conservative side of the debate on gay rights that arbitrarily bundles up the civil rights of gay people with very different issues such as abortion and euthanasia.

Mr Micallef made reference to the petition that the Malta Gay Rights Movement presented to the political parties prior to the general election. MGRM is requesting the inclusion of an article in the Criminal Code regarding homophobic and transphobic violence. This would criminalise hate crime - which can take the form of physical assault, damage to property, bullying, harassment, verbal abuse or insults, offensive graffiti or letters - motivated by the victim's sexual orientation or gender identity, and not homophobia or transphobia as such. MGRM is also advocating for anti-discrimination legislation in the provision of goods and services that would protect gay people when taking out a life insurance policy, renting an apartment, or eating out at a restaurant, for example. MGRM is also asking for a strategy to tackle homophobic bullying in schools. No laws are necessary here - only the commitment to make schools a safe place for all children.

May 17 is the International Day Against Homophobia. Clearly, there is good reason to mark this day.

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