It has been six months since the new Labour Government has been elected to office. Years of maintaining an equality portfolio that outshines Malta is undoubtedly one of the key driving factors of success that the Labour Party has managed to keep consistent- so it comes to no surprise that entrusting a portfolio with such a high calibre, in anyone’s hands is a tacit vote of confidence.
Malta celebrates Pride in September and this year, Gozo has held its first-ever Pride March. From the moment Parliament passed the Civil Unions Act of 2014, till where we stand today- it goes without saying that we do have cause for celebration. We have come this far and although we have so much left to do, celebrating pride is a stark reminder and an encouragement to join the alacrity and colourful jubilation that commemorates this.
It is only natural to scroll through one’s phone, and although a day in Maltese politics in summer is quite mundane, one occasionally still finds a platitude of issues that cause a stir- isn’t that what keeps politics exciting, after all?
This week, the Prime Minister announced the government’s intention to provide gender affirming surgery as part of the national health service. While scrolling through one’s feed to get a general feel of the vox populi, many saw the Honourable Member for the 13th District, Dr Alex Borg, expressed his sentiments on the government’s proposal differently to what one would have hoped for. What was surprising was that Dr Borg made his presence clear in the Gozo Pride – it is his district after all, but one would not hope for such a capitulated statement.
Let us be clear – the Honourable Member has every right to express his opinion and anyone who is a true believer in social justice should wholeheartedly affirm that his advocacy for fibromyalgia should not go unnoticed. But let us go back to the basics here and discuss why this rhetoric is dangerous.
What is the point of advocating for something, if you are attempting to cause a stir between fibromyalgia patients and LGBTIQ+ people?
Firstly, the Labour Party Manifesto proposals on which the Government bases itself on do not come along with a prescribed hierarchy. In fact, the manifesto pledged to continue increasing the medication and treatment that provide treatment for different types of conditions, including fibromyalgia. The introduction of this initiative by the government, as well as all other proposals in the manifesto, are given the same degree of importance.
Secondly, some may think that the Honourable Member’s statement stinks of populism, intended to sap our society of synthetic rage. Is this the case? Let us embark on a basic inquiry: the Honourable Member started his statement by claiming to be pleased to be seeing this type of surgery being offered but demanded some ‘realism’ by asking if there are any funds for finding a cure for fibromyalgia and the expenses that come along with such an illness and further urged tothe Prime Minister that people with fibromyalgia need to be helped first and foremost.
Now, here is the problem. Any politician worth their salt will know that medicine is not a singular area. Different fields and areas of specialisation exist for this very reason – a person with fibromyalgia may need to see a pain management specialist and a person who wishes to undergo gender-affirming surgery will be seen by a surgeon.
But this brings about another fundamental backing argument – had the Honourable Member simply advocated for fibromyalgia and called it a day there and then, most people would have empathised with this and agreed with him. But instead, he chose to go on a tangent about a type of surgery, that to many is a personal choice and possibly, a necessity. Getting treatment for a disease should not exclude a life-changing surgery for someone who has been waiting for years – which is essentially what is trying to be depicted and this is flawed because treatment for one issue should not negate access to healthcare for another.
The problem isn’t just that the Honourable Member chose to pick on the LGBTIQ+’s access to healthcare, but that he attempted to justify this by deceivingly utilising the seriousness of such a condition as a misguided crusade. What is the point of advocating for something, if you are attempting to cause a stir between fibromyalgia patients and LGBTIQ+ people? Anyone truly invested in social justice would believe that both should be given priority.
The reality is that equality is not just limited to legal reform and celebration, but a wider scope in our everyday lives, and this includes access to healthcare. It was only recently that the ban on blood being donated from homosexual men engaged in a sexual relationship has been lifted- a heterosexual couple engaged in a sexual relationship would not face the same limitation.
The Honourable Member urged the need for the Government to work together with the Opposition in a later statement. In a utopian society, this would be ideal. However, by peddling the politics of grievance and the waging of equality wars, our dream for this to happen may, very much, remain utopian.