“I see you, and I accept you for who you are”

These words were the biggest takeaway for us while writing this story. 

Since the 10th of September, the #YouAreIncluded tag has proudly taken over local events and our social media, and rightly so. While Malta ranks high in civil liberties and law reforms, many seem to still question the significance of Pride Week. In other words, we are doing very well on paper, but society in general still lack a sense of awareness, acceptance, and sometimes kindness. 

TheJournal.mt had the privilege of speaking about these issues with newlyweds Mel and Melanie McElhatton, fresh from their I Dos after celebrating their ten-year relationship. The young couple oozed peace, positivity and acceptance, the very things we should all strive to give to the LGBTIQ community.

Mel and Melanie

The discourse is clear here; while a strong law reform is helpful, Malta has yet to reach proper equality.  

“We still have to check and confirm if a particular hotel is gay-friendly before booking, and some people in our community are still uncomfortable to be open at their workplace or with their colleagues, in fear of harassment”.

The recent opening of an office for the community in Gozo shed better light on where we stand in our society on the matter thanks to the now infamous ‘gays now have more rights than straights’ debate. This evident lack of awareness of just how diverse society has become makes it no surprise that, in the couple’s words, “being part of the LGBTQIA+ community means you have a target on your back and are an easy target for people to have something to use against you”. While Malta is safer than most European countries, it has quite the road ahead to reach full acceptance. 

“Unfortunately, I know people within the LGBTQIA+ community who got really bullied for speaking out and for just being themselves online or on the street”, Mel also tells us.

Why do we still need a pride flag?

This also ties in with the unfortunate scorn some also hold for The Rainbow Flag, the symbol of Gay Pride. This extends beyond Maltese shores, as seen by recent reports of flag-burning incidents in Ontario and Sacramento, and how local authorities in Poland are also labelling themselves “LGBT-free zones”.

Asked what The Rainbow Flag actually means to the community and why it is still so significant, McElhatton said, “the pride flag definitely instils a sense of safety and comfort whenever we see it – be it hanging from a venue, or even as a pin on someone’s shirt – it means “I see you, and I accept you”. To those who are not part of the LGBTQIA+ community, they too can wear or use the rainbow flag as a sign that they are allies, that they see us and accept us for who we are”. 

The pride flag definitely instils a sense of safety and comfort whenever we see it – be it hanging from a venue, or even as a pin on someone’s shirt.

While it would be foolish to undermine the sometimes-harsh realities of the community today, awareness and acceptance of gay rights in the Maltese Islands did increase in the run-up to the 2014 law. The country has since also introduced a historic marriage equality law and a ban on gay conversion practice, to name a few, before then granting 91% of total rights to the community. This earned Malta first place in the International Lesbian Gay Association’s ‘Rainbow Europe’s league’ for LGBTIQ rights for the 6th consecutive year. 

MaltaPride 2021 reaches its peak today with a live concert celebrating equality and inclusion as they should be. Speaking with Mel and Melanie has cemented our conviction that Pride remains crucial not just to help the community feel safe and accepted, but perhaps to undo the pain inflicted on them for simply being different.

Mel and Melanie described their love story to us as “exciting, fulfilling, and growing”- phrases we hope will also be attributed to the LGBTIQ community’s way forward in our society. And since we knew you would want to know what’s in store for the newlyweds… 

“Well, we recently got married so that’s definitely a major step in our story. We’re taking the rest of it day by day, just enjoying our time together…although adopting a dog is high on the agenda!” 

Happy Pride, Malta. And may we all see and accept each other a little more! 

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