LGBT* inclusion stickers irk some in Malta

Many believe that "don't ask, don't tell" is enough to count as diversity.

Daiva Repeckaite
Daiva Repeckaite NewsMavens, Malta
LGBT* inclusion stickers irk some in Malta - NewsMavens
All are welcome sticker, Twitter

Why this story matters:

"While travelling, that small rainbow just gives tourists like me (or locals who may need the extra encouragement) a small nod to let us know that we're seen," Chucky Bartolo wrote on Lovin Malta, responding to accusatory comments that a new governmental initiative to issue a LGBT*-friendliness badge to businesses is all about labelling people. Some say that Malta is already so LGBT* friendly that other establishments must be following these laws, and they should be named and shamed if they don't rather than introducing a sticker for those who do.

Despite the criticism, the government now has the opportunity to make sure that the badge stands for something more substantial than lip service.

Reportedly, businesses will have to go through training to get the badge. Although the contents of the course have not been reported, the badge can function if the course is about safety, design, and avoidance of assumptions:

  • Safety. Mdina and St Julian's, two towns frequented by tourists, have the highest crime rates in Malta. Much of the crime, such as pickpocketing, is sexuality-neutral, but the barely supervised entertainment areas in St Julian's can easily lend themselves to bullying, harassment and crime targeting LGBT persons. Are employees of entertainment venues prepared to deal with it, including in cases where the bully is a regular or a wealthier, higher-paying patron? Are employees trained to help victims end the situation, isolate the perpetrator and contact authorities -- even when they are dismissive of some of the crimes?
  • Design. In the Lithuanian version, a company can only label themselves trans-friendly if they have gender-neutral bathrooms. However, the lack of such toilets is notable in many of Malta's museums, as well as the international airport. Gyms, too, are still to finding a way to make showering comfortable and safe for trans persons without making other women feel intimidated when a person with external male features enters their space.
  • No assumptions. In a clan-based society like Malta, it is very common to immediately place a new person on a grid. Stereotyping on the basis of origins, marital status and religion is widespread, and there is no evidence to believe that LGBT* persons are exempt from various stereotypes and assumptions as staff and customers. Invasive questions about one's personal life, remarks that are intended as humor and evaluations of prospective and current employees based on their looks are not uncommon, and the training could address this.

Still, it is remarkable that the government presented the scheme to businesses without rolling it out among its own administration.

Are police officers trained to collect victim testimonies and interrogate suspects in a sensitive manner when the person concerned is trans? Are bathroom designs at public institutions changing any time soon? Are schools that impose skirts as a part of girls' uniforms ready to accept intersex teenagers? And are gay or trans refugees offered safe accommodation and protection from homophobic bullying in stuffed asylum centers for men?

Details from the story:

  • Equality Minister Helena Dalli and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi launched an initiative called #ALLWELCOME (Ilkollmerħba), where hospitality businesses can apply for stickers certifying their acceptance of LGBT* people.
  • The scheme targets employment and customer service. It has been reported that businesses taking part in the scheme will be included in special information materials for tourists visiting Malta.
  • Some commentators complained that using stickers likens LGBT* people to dogs.
  • Malta is ranked as by far the most LGBT-friendly country in Europe, ahead of Belgium, Norway, the UK and Finland. This ranking is used to market Malta's booming tourism sector.

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