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This Pride Month; a look at the historical and present-day plight of the LGBTIQ+ community

June is LGBTIQ+ Pride Month. Upon hearing this phrase, what probably comes to mind is a rainbow tinted parade, flooded with individuals in extravagant clothes, dancing to loud music and celebrating like there’s no tomorrow. That, in fact, is very true, yet, this colourful parade emerged from a painful history. In order to understand why and what is being celebrated, one has to be aware of the context. First off, why June? The 28th of June, 1969 (only 50 years ago!) was the day of the Stonewall uprising in New York City; a riot upheld by the oppressed LGBTIQ+ community in order to be recognised and treated as civil members of society. Up until then, this community had suffered from years of abuse, neglect and stereotyping which came from government officials, seeped into the media and embodied citizens’ opinions and behaviour. The Stonewall riot was the spark that lit the flame, inciting a number of protests demarcating the stepping stone for LGBTIQ+ rights movements. A year later, the first Pride march in history was held in New York, in order to commemorate the Stonewall riot while advocating for equal rights and openness.

To date, June marks Pride Month in most countries; seeing an array of colourful celebrations tied with a strong sense of community and alliance. Events throughout this month are an opportunity to commemorate past struggles, celebrate developments made towards reducing prejudice, discrimination and persecution while highlighting issues which are still alive and burdening. The last 50 years have seen a fast-paced change in societies’ perceptions and attitudes. The “Rainbow Europe Map and Index” grades countries on the extent to which the human rights of LGBTIQ+ individuals are respected or violated. The Maltese islands have been ranked on top of this list, for three consecutive years! This is due to the policies and legislations that have come into effect in these past years, such as banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation/gender identity, making LGBTIQ+ rights equal at constitutional level, being the first country in the EU banning conversion therapy, implementing the “Gender Identity, Gender Expression And Sex Characteristics Act” and legalising same-sex marriage. Just this month, equality minister Helena Dalli launched an LGBTIQ-friendly sticker; intended for hospitality businesses to display as a welcome and non-discrimination sign towards LGTBIQ+ individuals. Although this was introduced as a step towards inclusion, it seems like it has caused quite a stir amongst the public. Ironically, a lot of people perceived this idea as a discriminatory act in itself, due to the labelling and categorizing of individuals. Some rejected the logo due to the association with “pets are welcome” signs, arguing that at this point, businesses should put a welcome logo for all minority groups.

Withal, such implementations seem to reflect that Maltese inhabitants are very tolerant and accepting of different lifestyles. On a macro-scale, this might be true. Still, one should not be blinded by statistics. In reality, when one looks at micro-scale interactions, it is evident that some attitudes and beliefs still carry a derogatory and stereotypical weight. This may be attributed to misinformation, along with cliché media portrayals, yet LGBTIQ+ individuals still experience microaggressions on a daily basis. Microaggressions are things said or done in everyday interactions, either intentionally or un-intentionally, which carry negative prejudices. As depicted in Dr. Kevin Nadal et al.’s (2010) research, these include remarks the like of “That’s so gay” when describing something one finds unappealing or “No homo” when a male expresses affection towards another male but wants to underline he is not gay. These phrases are used very often, at times with no harm or hate intended. Nonetheless, they still imply there is something wrong or negative with homosexuality. Such statements, often used by teenagers, have a negative impact especially on young individuals who are exploring their sexuality. Hearing these utterances on the daily instil feelings of disapproval towards establishing and communicating one’s identity to family and loved ones. 

As the research shows, other comments which the LGBTIQ+ community are very commonly and uncomfortably faced with include; “You don’t look gay/lesbian!” or “Who is the man in the relationship?”. Such statements deny the exclusivity of the person, eluding that being part of the LGBTIQ+ community has a fixed “typical” image and lifestyle. With regards to the bi-sexual population, the study found they are often stereotyped as being confused. Finally, a very cringe-worthy yet common remark made to a newly met gay or trans person, is “Oh, I happen to know another gay person from work/neighbourhood/friends. Maybe you two should meet up!”. Although this may be stated in order to show one’s acceptance, in fact, it sounds more like something you would say to a dog breeder. There is no basis to assume two people will get along (let alone be attracted) just because they share the same sexual orientation.

As psychologist Deborah Davis (2018) argues, societies have progressed because they nurtured tolerance and acceptance towards different lifestyles. This was a great stepping stone in 1969, when the LBGTIQ+ community was heavily persecuted. However, present times require a new step – one towards understanding.

Davis (2018) points out that tolerance and acceptance require mere indifference, a “live and let live” attitude. On the other hand, understanding requires dedication to acknowledge, comprehend and support the struggles experienced by LGBTIQ+ community. This is necessary in order for individuals to becomes more aware of their prejudices while nurturing empathy, respect and sensitivity – values which our societies still require. It is through dedicated understanding that we can build significant relationships and demolish the “us” and “them” division.

I recall once having a conversation with someone who told me that her self-esteem would never recover from her partner leaving her for someone else. Whilst such a situation would hurt greatly and may lead someone to question themselves or wonder ‘what does she have which I don’t?’ concluding you’re unworthy or inadequate would be an incorrect assumption. And it would be an assumption based on a belief that our validity and worth as people is dependent on external sources – a job title, getting into the best university, a right swipe on Tinder, being in a relationship and so on.

If you’d like to get a short glimpse on how life as an LGBTIQ+ individual was back in 1969 and what consequently caused the Stonewall riot, you can check out this short documentary.


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About Giulia Bertone

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