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MALTATODAY 11 December 2022

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8 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 11 DECEMBER 2022 NEWS MARIANNA CALLEJA 40 survivors of the Thalidomide controversy left with limb im- pairments are stil hoping to find some form of compensation as well as a monument marking the medical scandal that affected their lives. Anatole Baldacchino, the president of the Thalidomide Survivors Association, is reach- ing out to persons who may have been affected by the drug, developed by Grünenthal in Germany to treat prospective mothers for morning sickness. Deployed in 1958, the first infants to be impacted by the effects of Thalidomide were those of the employees of the manufacturer. At first, Grünenthal insisted that still- births and impairments on in- fants were attributed to natural causes. After Distillers UK ac- quired the licence to produce and sell the drug, births in the 1960s and 1970s brought the scandal to the fore. Most re- cently, thalidomide survivors in Wales, amounting to around 30 individuals and mostly in their 60s, started to receive lifelong financial support. Now Baldacchino is hoping to achieve the same, supported in part by Labour MEP Alex Agi- us Saliba. Baldacchino says victims range from stillborn infants or neo-natal deaths to survivors who had impairments due to Thalidomide. The extent of the impairment varied, which in- cludes but not limited to, phys- ical impairment such as short limbs. "Infants that were dead at birth and those that were born with deformities and condi- tions also impacted their re- spective families," Baldacchino says, who believes the govern- ment is warmer to the TSA's calls for compensation than other associations' experiences in other countries. Founded in May 2022, four of the TSA's five founding mem- bers suffer of impairments due to Thalidomide. Through their campaign, a public call was is- sued for those who believe that are thalidomide survivors. Data collected is now being analysed by the minister for social inclu- sion. "The overarching aim of this campaign, which is still ongo- ing, is to give a voice to those who were impacted by this horrible medicine. So far, our campaign managed to reach around 40 individuals who could have been possibly af- fected by Thalidomide and we are seeking to reach out more people," Baldacchino said, who would also like to see a memo- rial to the families affected by Thalidomide. "Finally, there should also be more pub-lic awareness about the Thalido- mide scandal," he said. But knowledge about the Thalidomide scandal in Malta is rather limited. As they still reach out for persons who may have been affected by this drug, TSA understands that there may be people out there who may be unaware that the cause of their impairment was due to Thalidomide. "We at TSA believe that the research will address a major gap on the topic of the Thalid- omide scandal. At this point, there are signs the issue has aroused interest in Maltese and foreign academia." The TSA expects that once the research will be published, early next year, the public will have a full account of those multitudes of factors that led to the introduction of Thalid- omide, and the delays in having it removed from circulation. This is not a historical exer- cise, despite what some might believe, Baldacchino said. "Les- sons that may be gained from this scandal can be applied to prevent history from repeat- ing again.... By February 2023, we are intending to launch the publication of the research on the Thalidomide scandal in Malta," Baldacchino said. TSA is working to also start negotiations with Diagio UK, originally Distillers UK, which distributed Thalidomide in Malta. "This NGO will assist those who are confirmed as being Thalidomide survivors, and will continue support such individuals in an ongoing man- ner," he said. Thalidomide: 40 survivors still fighting for compensation NICOLE MEILAK A new exhibition by Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM) will put on display the life and legacy of Katya Saunders, one of Malta's first openly transgender perso- nas. Born in the conservative Malta of 1957, Katya was only 16 when Malta repealed its criminalisation of same-sex sexual ac- tivity in 1973. But from there, it would be a long road for full trans rights. Like other openly trans people in Malta, Katya faced difficulties on social and le- gal levels. Trans people could not change their name and gender on legal docu- ments, nor could they formalise relation- ships. Journalist Ramona Depares has been working on a biography of Katya's life for the better part of this year. The book's title, 'Katya: Easy on the Tonic', is a nod to her most famous catchphrase when ordering her favourite drink. "Vodka (or gin, as the mood may strike) and tonic – and she would invariably add, easy on the ton- ic," Depares ex- plained. Depares ex- plores how Katya used her new identity to get married, find employ- ment, and grow her career as a model from London to New York. "Katya started min- gling with Lon- don's glitterati at a very young age," Depares explained. "She was reputed to attend the same parties as mem- bers of the royal family, being a familiar face at very ex- clusive clubs like Annabel's and dating a number of celebrities." First-hand accounts from close friends and family members include Mi- ami-based photographer Sid Hoeltzell, who shot Kat- ya in an iconic B&W series, and director Mark Ezra, who credits Katya with helping him kickstart his career. Footage of an event which Katya host- ed in the early nineties, dur- ing the opening of Rock Café in 1992, will be part of the exhibition at Spazju Kreat- tiv, offering not just a doc- umentation of Katya in her el- ement but also a snapshot of Maltese nightlife. Her strong personality meant her life is shrouded in myth and legend. "One of the toughest challenges when writing the book was fact-checking and finding out which of these amazing anecdotes were true, which were embellished, and which were a product of the collective imagina- tion," Depares said. Katya built herself around an image of exoticism and sensual glamour, with in- fluences sourced from a mixture of clas- sic Hollywood cinema, high-fashion icons and an eclectic taste in music. But while she enjoyed a star-studded life, Katya experienced housing, mental health, and addiction issues. None of this is swept under the rug in the biography, which carries a content warning and a list of entities in Malta who can assist anyone facing the same difficulties Katya faced, especially towards the end of her life. Katya was as generous as she was glam- orous. She grew up in a time when organ- ised support for the LGBTIQ+ communi- ty was limited, if not existent. She would host people in her flat and give young people the skills to cope with the chal- lenges of being queer, while helping them overcome the adversity to build careers and brands in Malta and beyond. The exhibition is being managed by MGRM, with curation from Charlie Cauchi and Roxman Gatt. The project was funded through the Voluntary Or- ganisations Project Scheme managed by the Malta Council for the Voluntary Sec- tor. Tribute to Katya Saunders, one of Malta's first openly trans personalities A new exhibition by Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM) will put on display the life and legacy of Katya Saunders, one of Malta's first openly transgender persona

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