How Malta became “The Tiny Island of Tolerance”

“Inspired by a trailblazing transgender model, Malta has become one of the most accepting countries in the world in the past 20 years,” BBC Travel reports.

BBC Travel recently published an article naming Malta ‘The tiny European island of tolerance‘. This piece outlines Malta’s journey to becoming a society known for its tolerance vis-à-vis LGBTQ+ persons, notably highlighting the story of Katya Saunders, an avant-garde Maltese transgender model and pioneer. Saunders’ glamorous life and connections with celebrities significantly contributed to Malta’s acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community.

Katya in 1989. Photo: Mark Ezra/Times of Malta

The article tracks Malta’s progression from its inaugural Pride March in 2004 to its leading position on the ILGA-Europe Rainbow Index – discussing Malta’s constitutional protection of LGBTQ+ rights, the prohibition of conversion therapy, and the legalisation of same-sex marriage. Additionally, it acknowledges Saunders’ influence on Maltese culture and the commemoration of her legacy.

The Journal looks into Malta’s substantial legislative achievements in LGBTQ+ rights, which have received international commendation and recognition, resulting from deliberate and strategic decisions.

2014: Civil unions

The 2014 legalisation of civil unions for same-sex couples in Malta represented a significant step towards marriage equality. This law granted same-sex couples rights similar to those of heterosexual married couples, including adoption rights. Recognising and legitimising same-sex relationships, the law was a progressive move for a predominantly Catholic nation, paving the way for the eventual legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2017.

Photo: Kampus Production

2015: Gender Identity, Gender Expression, and Sex Characteristics Act

This groundbreaking legislation for transgender rights was particularly progressive, permitting individuals to legally change their gender without medical interventions like surgery or hormone therapy. It highlights the importance of self-determination and acknowledges the right to gender identity based on personal gender identity experiences. The act was a vital advancement in respecting and protecting the rights and dignity of transgender and gender-diverse individuals in Malta.

Photo: Ray Attard/Malta Today

2016: No more conversion therapy

In 2016, Malta became the first EU country to ban conversion therapy, a controversial practice aimed at changing an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The ban demonstrated Malta’s commitment to safeguarding LGBTQ+ individuals from harmful practices. It not only prohibited health professionals from performing conversion therapy but also made referring someone for such practices an offence, underscoring the government’s dedication to upholding the dignity and rights of the LGBTQ+ community.

2017: Yes to the legalisation of same-sex marriage

Legalising same-sex marriage in 2017 was a significant milestone in LGBTQ+ rights in Malta. This law complemented the 2014 civil union law, granting full marriage status to same-sex relationships. It ensured equal legal rights, responsibilities, and protections for same-sex couples in areas such as adoption, inheritance, and pension rights. This crucial step in guaranteeing equality and non-discrimination based on sexual orientation reflected Malta’s progressive stance on LGBTQ+ rights and its commitment to fostering an inclusive society.

Photo: Imagine Photography

2017: The right to create a loving home

The 2014 legalisation of civil unions, granting adoption rights to same-sex couples, marked a significant advancement. It allowed same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples in creating a family through adoption. The 2017 legalisation of same-sex marriage further cemented these rights, ensuring all married couples in Malta have equal adoption rights and the ability to provide a loving home for children, irrespective of sexual orientation.

2018: Access to IVF

In Malta, access to in vitro fertilisation (IVF) for same-sex couples significantly progressed in 2018. The Embryo Protection (Amendment) allowed single women and same-sex couples to undergo IVF treatment domestically. This law marked a crucial step towards ensuring equality and non-discrimination in reproductive rights for women, including those from the LGBTQ+ community.

Photo: Mikhail Nilov

2022: Blood donation ban lifted

Two years ago, Malta lifted its long-standing ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men, a significant step towards equality for the LGBTQ+ community. Initially announced three years earlier, this decision ended a lengthy deferral period. Coinciding with the start of Pride Week in Malta, this change highlighted the country’s ongoing commitment to LGBTQ+ rights. Enabled by advanced blood testing technology, the new policy allowed gay men to contribute blood, removing discrimination based on sexual orientation in blood donation.

Photo: Kirill Dratsevich

A reputation to maintain

Malta intends to keep its reputation as an island of tolerance. In fact, the country has a Parliamentary Secretariat specifically focused on reforms and equality, its activities and responsibilities aligned with Malta’s broader commitment to human rights and equality.

Though challenges remain, the legislative actions that have been taken position Malta as a leader in human rights and equality within Europe and on an international level.

Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina/Times of Malta
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