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MALTATODAY 9 June 2019

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16 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 9 JUNE 2019 INTERVIEW You've been at the heart of Malta's civil liberties revolution since 2013. Does Malta's top ranking in the LGBTIQ rankings of Europe mean the country has achieved all it can in this field? Working in Brussels as a Policy Director at ILGA-Eu- rope, my work had a European scope, but, of course, I always kept an eye on developments in Malta in my private time. Until the end of 2012, I never had any contact with the Mal- tese government except once, when a minister regretfully turned down my invitation for participation in a high-level seminar that I was organising vis-à-vis the recognition of same-sex couples. That changed in March 2013 following a change of govern- ment. Overnight, I started re- ceiving calls for guidance sev- eral times a week from officers in Minister Helena Dalli's of- fice. Subsequently, she invited me to have a word and offered me a position in her secre- tariat. So yes, I was part of the 'civil liberties revolution' – as you called it – from the early stages. That revolution is not limit- ed to the LGBTIQ front alone, of course. However, the beau- ty of Malta's LGBTIQ progress was that all stages consisted of dialogue between government and civil society through the formation of the consultative council. This ensured that all legislative and policy propos- als were discussed and agreed to before they made it to Cabi- net and later to Parliament. In 2013, Malta was 18th in the European index, while to- day we are on top with a score of 90%. The legal and policy progress is clear. However, have we achieved a social and cultural transformation that allows all LGBTIQ people full inclusion in society? I believe that while we have made so- cial and cultural progress as well, there is still much room for greater openness and in- clusion. This is why we now need to focus on equality mainstream- ing across the different sec- tors of society. Recent claims around a so-called 'ex-gay' identity, and the stoking of fire against the delivery of age- appropriate sex education in schools clearly revealed that homophobia and transphobia as still with us, and we need to continue to address discrimi- nation systematically. Straight on to the sticker controversy – what do you think went wrong, and why the backlash? I thought it was an attempt at businesses to use their inclusion training to attract the pink pound, but also as a guarantee of safety and security for vulnerable groups, especially trans people or maybe even gay families in those settings where heteronormative/cisgender folks are comfortable (such as restaurants and bars) and where serving staff, usually foreign, might display inappropriate treatment of these people… The fact that you refer to it as the sticker controversy shows that this work was taken out of context, that is, its strong educational aspect never came out. This campaign is about voluntary business engage- ment in order to achieve the highest equality standards when interacting with clients and employees. The sticker is a secondary element. Similar initiatives already exist in Malta with regard to gender and disability and no controversy ever emerged. The #AllWelcome campaign is no different to those. In fact, its four pillars relate to the re- spect for human dignity, the elimination of discrimination, support for LGBTIQ staff and adequate representation of di- versity in publicity campaigns. Following commitment to these principles and the at- tendance of training, compa- nies would be allowed to make use of the campaign logo to show that they meet the qual- ity assurance of the campaign. Malta is not the birthplace of such LGBTIQ welcome ini- tiatives. In fact, several busi- nesses in major cities already form part of them, and I be- lieve that LGBTIQ tourists es- pecially would benefit from a visible welcome here as well, as would other minorities. As for the discussion around the pink pound, I have no com- ments to make. This campaign was inspired by the sense of inclusion and security that we wanted to promote. Nothing else. If that spurs economic progress, then great, so be it. Do you think the march for more gay rights, gender identity and trans rights, has been far more advanced than, say, other anti- discrimination fronts? What is certain is that it has been more visible. In recent years, Malta has also make great progress in the area of disability, to mention one, but somehow that progress did not attract the top spot in the news as much. As for the area of migrant in- tegration, the Human Rights and Integration Directorate has led to the formulation of Malta's first integration strat- egy in 2017, and we have since set up an Integration Unit consisting of nine employees, who are working hard to de- liver the actions of that strat- egy. Therefore, they work closely with MCAST and the University of Malta to deliver language courses in Maltese, English and cultural orienta- tion, with the Local Councils Association for the adoption of the Local Integration Char- ter by local councils, and so on. We are making headway, and the impact is palpable, but I am well aware that we are still not meeting the current needs. In view of this, discussions are in progress for the expansion of the various services that are offered. With regard to racism, I can confirm that our Directorate was given the green light to expand its operations in this area by having the Integra- tion Unit promote equality on the grounds of race and ethic origin and tackle racism, while other parts of government are gearing up to address racism more systematically. I hope that we will have results to show in the near future. The murder of Lassane Souleymane shook those who bothered to care: do you fear that this senseless murder could have been prevented? I was very shocked myself, and could not sleep properly for several days after the re- port of the murder came out. The circumstances of the inci- dent distressed me a lot. A Eurobarometer survey is- sued last year indicated that Malta has the highest rate of online hate speech in the EU. This fact is very troubling and I am very pleased that the Min- istry for Home Affairs and Na- tional Security will be address- The Human Rights and Integration Directorate is at the heart of an integration strategy that aims to bring local councils and community groups on board. Its director SILVAN AGIUS ref lects on the Souleymane murder and why the harrowing incident must raise the alarm across all society Taking integration to the community PHOTOGRAPHY BY JAMES BIANCHI Matthew Vella

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