29 November 2020

LGBTI meeting - Friday 4 December 2020



Guest speakers Cynthia Chircop and Joe Grima will guide us through the Equality bills currently being scrutinised by the Parliament. Why have these Bills been so contentious? What is so controversial? What is at stake? Why are they so important? Why are they so vital for our rights? We will be meeting at Dar Manwel Magri in the University Chaplaincy Complex in front of the former Mireva Bookshop outside University.

Link:  https://fb.me/e/1lz5Ki8yg

15 November 2020

Cynical or Gullible?

 Cynical or Gullible?

Do you believe everything you hear or do you think that people have ulterior motives? How can you discern the truth?  



29 October 2020

My beautiful son and I

The Times of Malta

Louisa Grech 

https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/my-beautiful-son-and-i-louisa-grech.827866



I have a son. He is not the only son I have but this son is gay. I love all my sons, they are beautiful persons, each having unique qualities, each one a treasure.

But, today, I would like to specifically share my experience about this particular son.

This son of mine, of ours, was born to us around midnight, one day in November, some 30 years back.

He was a boy like any other, playing and fighting with his siblings, interested in some things and not in others and doing well at school in spite of the many challenges we were facing as a family raising his younger brother with a disability.

He had, unfortunately, also witnessed the tragic accident that resulted in the loss of his baby sister while he was still of a tender age himself.

Considering all the challenges we had been facing, I could see that, as he was growing up, he was exhibiting certain beautiful characteristics and values that I was very proud of.

He was a loving and caring individual, always asking how one was feeling, making sure they were comfortable or getting them the things they needed to make them feel welcomed.

People and family loved being around him because he made everyone feel special and he always had time to listen to them.

He had an artistic streak in him too and wished to have an opportunity to perform. We took him to lessons and rehearsals regularly. We went to watch his performances and were enthusiastic about his achievements.

He always strived to do his best. He continued his studies and graduated. And, then, he decided to move abroad.

I knew that, one day, this would happen as he always had this wanderlust to travel, to see new places, to explore other civilisations.

However, there was another reason he needed to move out. He felt suffocated, unable to express himself honestly, to be who he is, to live what he is.

Since his secondary school days, there were moments when I could see that he was different. I began to understand, but not truly accept, that he might be gay.

I did not want it to be true, not because of who he is but of the suffering he would encounter because of who he is. It pained me that he would be judged, he would be sidelined, he would be rejected and insulted and hated.

I was pained because I loved him so much and I did not want to see him suffer.

When the truth was finally out, I hugged him and kissed him and told him I loved him with all my heart, my soul, my being.

How could it be otherwise? He was a part of me. I gave him life. I was there for him when he was a baby, a toddler, a child, a teen, an adult. And I will continue to love him all the days of my life and beyond. How can it be otherwise? He is my child, my son!

My wish for my children has always been one – to see them happy. Happy in their life, happy in their work, happy in their relationships. We were so pleased when we learnt that he had met a partner.

This partner became his soulmate and, last year, they tied the knot. It was a magical experience, an experience of love, of commitment to one another, a promise to share their life journey and be there for one another.

And all the people there – their families, their friends – they too were surrounding them with their love and support. What a beautiful experience!

God was awesomely present throughout this journey and will continue to be with us all throughout the rest of our lives!

I would like to thank Drachma Parents, who also supported us on this journey, who gave us a safe space to talk and open up our hearts, to feel that we are not alone in this journey and that, when our story is shared, we feel comforted and strengthened to move on and be champions for our children.

Louisa Grech is coordinator of Drachma Parents, a group of Catholic parents of LGBTQI+ persons, offering support and a safe space. To contact the group, e-mail drachmaparents@gmail.com or call 9945 4581.

28 October 2020

On the right to family and civil unions for LGBTIQ+ persons

 


Malta Today

https://www.maltatoday.com.mt/comment/blogs/105531/on_the_right_to_family_and_civil_unions_for_lgbtiq_persons__christopher_vella#.X5lQYqpKiUk 

Sunday, 25 October 2020

Christopher Vella


On the right to family and civil unions for 

LGBTIQ+ persons


Last Wednesday 21st October, Pope Francis made the headlines once again with the comments he made in the new documentary Francesco. The Pope seems to have acknowledged the right of LGBTI people to family life, and showed support for the legalisation of civil unions.

There have been mixed reactions to these comments. To some they seem ground-breaking making him the first Pontiff to have made such a public endorsement; to others they are just nice words not yet reflected in official church teaching; to most he said nothing really ‘new’. The Catechism and a number of Church institutions (including the Congregation of Doctrine and Faith - CDF) had previously made statements against discrimination, while a number of Church leaders, including Malta’s Archbishop Scicluna had, in 2014, recognised the need to legalise civil unions. To others, he has overstepped his authority by making these statements.

It is difficult to sum up the various perspectives and analyse them properly in a short article. Let me try and make a few observations that reflect the experience of my own community, Drachma LGBTI and Drachma Parents, which support LGBTIQ+ persons and parents of LGBTIQ+ persons in their journeys of self-acceptance, and spiritual and sexual integration, as well as the nurturing of family dynamics. I will also be tapping into my own lived experience as a married man since 2018 with my husband Tyrone.

The Pope speaks about the right of LGBTIQ+ people to family life. It is difficult to really understand what the Pope means by family life. His initial words seem to imply the family of origin, in which one is born. It would make sense understanding it that way, because LGBTIQ+ people do not deserve to be expelled by their families, but should rather find a loving communion of parents and siblings that love, accept and support them. The Pope had already said this on other occasions when he met parents of LGBTIQ+ persons. His reference to civil unions seems to refer to the LGBTIQ+ persons’ family of choice, one which is the result of a choice for a specific life partner. In this respect, he seems to understand the need for the State to protect LGBTIQ+ couples from discrimination and unjust persecution through the legal security of a civil union. Could this be a departure from the approach taken in the 1992 statement by the CDF (Art. 15-16) that clearly warns against recognising same-sex units as ‘families’? Pope Francis’ support of civil unions implies that LGBTIQ+ relationships are not inherently immoral but are worthy of a legal structure to sustain them in their development.

The experience of Drachma Parents has taught me about the importance of acceptance by the family of origin. The love, respect and embrace one receives from the family can allow an LGBTIQ person to grow as a dignified human being who can also love and become a fruitful person in the Church and society. My own experience as a married man is to also consider my own relationship as a family, like all other families, with or without children. The fruitfulness of a family cannot be calculated by the number of children, or the gender of the couple unit, but by the respect, fidelity, sense of sacrifice and perseverance present within that family. A family unit that celebrates, protects and embraces a person’s dignity is what a family should do.

The Pope still continues to use the ‘ugly’ term ‘homosexual’, which incidentally only the Church and some right-wing conservative groups still use. It denotes a meaning that is ‘narrow’ and ‘derogatory’, or which at best still considers LGBTIQ+ people a ‘problem’. Such derogation encourages negative comments commonly used publicly to insult LGBTI people.  It reflects a wider continuity with Church understanding on LGBTIQ+ people and what is still perceived to be a ‘lifestyle’, or worse still, as an ephemeral fashion trend. Nonetheless, the Pope’s approach has always been rooted in humane terms, with an emphasis on spiritual accompaniment of people in their life journeys. His words and gestures towards LGBTIQ+ persons have given hope to many still struggling to integrate their spirituality and sexuality.

Pope Francis steered clear of the polemic of marriage. In that respect, there is nothing new in what he says. The Church continues to distinguish between heterosexual couples and all others, on the basis of so-called gender complementarity and the biological openness to life. The local Church and the Church in Rome has consistently made that point. Meanwhile, living as I do in a same-sex marriage, I see very little difference in the real life dynamics from straight couples: the same challenges, yearnings and the same love. Our relationships are equally enriching, life-giving and fruitful. We may not be biologically open to life in a ‘normal’ manner. But, there is more to marriage, than merely being able to ‘make’ children, as Pope Francis makes clear in Amoris Laetitia Chapter 5 when he speaks about ‘Love made fruitful’. The Church can celebrate our fidelity, commitment and fruitfulness as much as it celebrates these qualities for heterosexual unions. If only the Church were to appreciate the treasure it holds in clay jars!

 

Christopher Vella

Coordinator of Drachma LGBTI and Co-Chair of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics


28 August 2020

Equality or Inequality? Discrimination or equity?

A discerning reflection on the draft Equality legislation

Published on https://newsbook.com.mt/en/equality-or-inequality-discrimination-or-equity/ 11 August 2020.


A lot has been said about school ‘ethos’ and the parameters that define such an ethos and allow educators to work within that ethos, especially, if privately or publicly they may not adhere to that ethos. Should ethos play a role in the recruitment processes? And what, in one’s private and public life, would be considered as unacceptable ’practices’ that an employer would deem as liable for disciplinary action? Should the school ethos determine the content of the curriculum, how it is taught, and the textbooks? Could school ethos be used to forbid certain books to be in a school library, if they are found to spread ideas contrary to the principles expounded by that ethos?

On the other hand, should the State impose a one-size-fits-all curriculum that straitjackets content and principles uncritically? Should the State, through the implementation of any law, muzzle educators who would have to walk a tight-rope, lest they be accused of discrimination, even through non-verbals? Do not schools have a right to their distinctive identity? Do not parents have a fundamental right to choose from the various schools the one that they feel is best for their children? Should any child have the power to throw out an accusation of alleged discrimination against any educator and the onus of proof would be on the educator? Should the educator be considered automatically guilty unless proven innocent?

An inclusive ethos

An institution that is truly embracing would not have any problems with embracing people who are different, and have different opinions and views, subject to the very basic rule of mutual respect towards one another. An embracing ethos would allow discussion and coming together of different views, however different from each other, and allowing all sides the possibility to present their views clearly and in mutual respect. An embracing ethos would welcome difference of race, gender, sexuality and religion without any hindrance and would celebrate the uniqueness of every diversity.

It is one where an educator and a school can freely express their own values and celebrate them, but clearly, in full respect for other dissident values, even if these are embraced by others within the school (including educators) both privately and in public quarters. It does not need to muzzle another person’s views, if the school manages to create a respectful environment that is built on dialogue, sharing of experiences, understanding, and a mutual search for the truth. It is only by learning to use the tool of discernment and applying it critically and equitably to different points of view, that one understands better where the way of truth lies.

Should any school, like the Spanish Inquisition of old, take action against someone who espouses even publicly ideas that go against its ethos? Well, for a first, there is a code of conduct for educators, that regardless of the school and its ethos, should be followed by all educators across the board. That code of conduct guides teachers in the way they dress and behave both on and off campus. But, if an educator is able to espouse his ideas with respect to others, and he does not in any way promote or encourage violence and does not undermine the fundamental human rights of other persons, then, why should anyone stop him? Naturally, there are limits, and there is fundamental respect towards the other. This should not be anarchy, because it could undermine the fundamental human rights of every person.

Conscientious objection

Much has been said about the ‘right’ of people to refuse to promote or implement anything that goes against their ethical and moral beliefs. Fine, in principle. In practice? What if my ethical beliefs are by their very nature exclusive, non-embracing, racist, misogynist or homophobic/transphobic?

It is true that there exist ‘protected characteristics’, but there is the very danger that with the implementation of a vaguely defined conscientious objection, those same ‘protected characteristics’ would be overruled. Unless, that is, a very specific wording is adopted that clearly delineates specific scenarios where that right could be implemented.

The problem is, that we may never completely know how people may try to interpret laws in the future. Something as objectively justified as a ‘conscientious objection’ may well be abused and manipulated towards quite another end. History is replete with such intentional abuses of the letter of the law. How can we truly know if any school leader will not, in some distant future, use conscientious objection for a blanket whitewashing of the protections given by this Equality Bill?

It is understandable, of course, and even legitimate, that the law should protect persons and entities from being forced to do anything that goes against their beliefs. Yet, one also needs to look at it from a different angle as well. There needs to be clear reassurances that the fundamental human rights of the clients requesting a service are respected, especially if these services are within their legitimate rights as regulated by law. The State must ensure that there are other viable and accessible options, while the private institution must still ensure that the human dignity and rights of that person requesting services from it are respected at all times, regardless of whether it can or cannot provide that specific service.

It gets a bit more complicated where schools are involved. Can a school or a teacher refuse to teach a particular topic because it goes against their ethical and moral beliefs? Can they use the conscientious objection to legitimate their refusal? Once again, that is where an inclusive ethos can play a role. As educators we have no right to white-wash or even make invisible realities that are in the world out there. As much as I might not agree with them, I cannot simply give the impression that they do not exist or they are simply wrong because I do not agree with them. That would be a disservice to truth.

This brings us back to the problem of the conscientious objection. That we need a system of clear checks and balances in an Equality law is fundamental. No person’s rights are absolute, if these end up undermining the fundamental human rights of another person. Any Equality Law that tries to create absolute rights would become draconian and self-defeating in the long run. We would be creating a witch-hunt or an illusory and false understanding of ‘rights’ if individuals or institutions are allowed an ‘absolute’ in terms of their conscientious objection.

So, what we really need – if this conscientious objection is to be included at all, is to have clear specific cases where it can be used. Otherwise, we might well be creating a minefield that would render null and void all protections we are busily setting up in this Equality Law.

Conclusion

I look with hope at an equitable society, where people all have a place and a role to play and who are inclusively embraced. I look with hope towards a society that might not need conscientious objection, because we really would know how to respect each other.

Alas, that is not the real world for now.

Instead, let us continue working towards uprooting all forms of discrimination and embrace genuine inclusion.

A better written Equality Law might help. But, let us not muzzle it too much.


C. Vella

21.07.2020