Category: Local News

Seven transgender prison inmates awarded €5,000 each in damages for ‘truly disgusting’ treatment

A Maltese judge has ruled that a group of transgender inmates were ‘knowingly and repeatedly’ placed by the prison authorities in Malta in situations where they were at high risk of sexual and psychological violence

A group of transgender inmates have been awarded €5,000 in damages each by the courts after their human rights were breached when they were placed with male prisoners.

The seven inmates, some of whom had transitioned from the male gender to female, all lived their lives as females and identified as such. They filed the court case, arguing that the prison authorities were insisting on treating them as males.

Some of the group were offered a choice to move to the female section of Corradino prison, but as this would entail them losing the opportunity to work and study, they declined. The inability to work would mean they could not afford hormone therapy.

The female inmates and warders were also hostile to them and so they decided to stay in the male section, even though some of them had to share a cell with a male inmate.

The situation led to ridicule, insults and vulgar sexual innuendos from both their fellow inmates and the prison warders. They were constrained to use the men’s showers and would therefore wait until all the other inmates had washed, with one of their number standing guard.

They had suffered degrading and discriminatory treatment on account of their gender, which had an adverse effect on their wellbeing Judge Silvio Meli 

This meant that they would often have to forgo washing altogether. They had no personal security and would be subjected to insults and “continuous sexual abuse and violence”.

The inmates argued that the situation breached their right to private life and constituted inhuman and degrading treatment. 

Instead of creating a dignified and secure environment, the prison authorities had “knowingly and repeatedly” placed them in situations where they were at high risk of sexual and psychological violence.

The defendants argued that they had made efforts to accommodate the prisoners’ needs by allocating different shower times. They had received no reports of abuse by the guards or other inmates, they claimed. 

They further rebutted the claims, by saying the minister was not the correct defendant and that the prisoners had not exhausted their ordinary remedies before resorting to court action.

The court noted that the prisoners had been admitted at a young age and had suffered greatly over the period of their detention. It upheld the defence’s first argument, saying that the correct defendant should have been only the prison director but not that the inmates had failed to exhaust their ordinary remedies. 

Making many references to European and local case law, Judge Silvio Meli said the treatment suffered by the plaintiffs fell within the parameters established by Strasbourg for a breach of their rights. 

It observed that the cell allocated to one in the female section of prison was filthy and used as a store room. The court added that the treatment suffered at the hands of the guards and inmates was “truly disgusting” and did not bear repeating. 

The inmates had been offered a Hobson’s choice in either losing their education and income opportunities or their safety, said the judge.

Although they were in prison to repay their debt to society this did not mean that they were unworthy of respect for their basic human dignity. It was plain to see that they had suffered degrading and discriminatory treatment on account of their gender, which had an adverse effect on their wellbeing, said the court.

The judge ordered the director of prisons to pay each of the seven inmates €4,000 for the breach of their rights, together with €1,000 each as damages to their personal dignity.

The victims were represented by lawyers Neil Falzon and Carla Camilleri from the human rights NGO Aditus Foundation, and Cedric Mifsud.


Compensation for transgender prisoners kept in male section despite living as women

Government says it will not appeal decision

A group of seven transgender prisoners at Corradino have each been awarded €5,000 in compensation for inhuman, degrading treatment and discrimination after they were kept in the male section of the prisons despite living as women, because their ID-cards showed them to be men.

The seven had sued the Director of Prisons, saying that at the time they were imprisoned, their ID cards showed them to be men and they had male names, different from what they have today. Yet they lived as women, internally and in appearance and had a female physique.

Nonetheless, the director of prisons treated them as men as identified on their ID cards, with serious consequences on their lives. 

Subsequently, some of them in terms of the law changed their ID cards to show them to be women. Others were in the process of doing so. Nonetheless, the director had ignored this change and they continued to be detained in the men’s section of the prisons.

After the Gender Equality Act was approved in December 2015, five of them were given a choice of either staying in the men’s section or moving to the women’s section. But moving to the women’s section meant they had to give up their jobs and educational activities within the prison, something which they could not accept, not least because the loss of income meant they could no longer afford their hormone treatment. 

The prisoners said that the fact that they were constrained to stay in the male section, with the male prisoners, had serious consequences on them. They faced daily vulgar insults and sexual harassment and sometimes violence.

In order to avoid showering with the men they organised themselves to shower later, while one of them stood guard at the door. They often could not shower for days.

They were not allowed to wear female clothes, including underwear, not even when they needed to go to court and they were subjected to humiliating searches by male warders.

While female prisoners had access to a hairdresser, they did not.

The prisoners said prison rules laid down that they had to be treated with dignity and respect. Yet they were subject to ongoing fear of sexual and psychological violence, degrading and humiliating treatment. 

They asked the court to declare that they were being subjected to degrading and inhuman treatment, discrimination and violation of their private life on account of their gender. They also asked the court and to order remedial action and compensation.

In his reply, the director pointed out that some of the prisoners had admitted that they were offered the choice of moving to the women’s section of the prisons.

Furthermore, those still in the men’s section were now in single occupancy cells. No complaints had been received about the alleged insulting behaviour. They had also now been given the option of using the showers in the early afternoons when the men were in their cells.

The prisoners were also being allowed to wear what they liked. The searches were carried out by male warders because the prisoners opted to continue to stay in the men’s section.

The court in its findings said most of the prisoners who instituted this case had been at the prisons for many years and as a result of prison procedures they had suffered humiliation and degrading treatment.

Once the gender law was changed, they were offered to move to the women’s section but despite their treatment, they opted to stay in the men’s section, because the move would have caused them to lose their jobs and education opportunities.

The court said that it was only after the change of the law in 2015, and following the appointment of a new prisons director in 2016 that the situation for these prisoners started to improve, even though the two foreign ones could not change their ID cards.

Nonetheless, when some of the prisoners did opt to go to the women’s section they found a disastrous situation, with dirty cells having previously been used as storerooms and blood-stained mattresses. As a result, they even held a two-day hunger strike.

The prisoners had also suffered ‘truly disgusting’ treatment by other prisoners and warders including beatings and humiliation.

The court agreed that the choice to move to the women’s section was a Hobson’s Choice for most of the prisoners.

The court, presided by Mr Justice Silvio Meli, concluded that the prisoners had proven that they had suffered inhuman, degrading and discriminatory treatment in terms of the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. 

It also noted that the current director of prisons had started to bring about change aimed at addressing the grievances. 

The court ordered the Director of Prisoners to continue on the reforms which had been embarked upon. The director was also ordered to pay each prisoner €4,000 as pecuniary compensation and €1,000 each for violation of their personal dignity. 

The inmates were represented by lawyers Neil Falzon and Carla Camilleri from aditus foundation, and Cedric Mifsud.  

In a statement in the evening, the government said it will not appeal the decision and had already implemented further measures to change the pre-existing system which catered for such injustices.

The court, it said, had acknowledged the efforts already made by the facility’s administration including the adoption of a dedicated policy and adequate gender diversity training for prison wardens.

Current policies clearly outlined the procedures to be followed by the correctional services in the event of a trans, gender variant, or intersex inmate and enabled all inmates to be treated fairly and without discrimination.

Through such policies the government facilitated compliance with international and European laws.

The government had also introduced a specific legal provision to ensure that inmates who were unable to change their legal documents in their home country would still able to be accommodated in prison according to their lived gender.

Additional efforts and resources in this regard would be made to ensure that the human rights of all inmates we re protected and laws upheld with respect to dignity, equity, and social justice.


Malta tops the gay rights league but daily life can still be a struggle for some

Malta has retained its first placing in Europe’s gay rights league table for the third consecutive year, but is this change truly reflected in everyday life and attitudes?

Malta’s meteoric rise to the top of Europe’s ‘rainbow index’ is a stark reminder of the blitzkrieg of LGBTIQ-friendly laws Labour introduced since being elected to power in 2013.

Then Malta languished at the 18th spot in the International Lesbian Gay Association’s ranking. Five years on, same-sex couples can marry and adopt children, transgender people can freely change their gender identity, and same-sex couples are on the cusp of being granted access to IVF services.

And the change in social attitudes has been a marked one, even noted by the United States’ annual crime and safety report issued by the Department of State for American travellers’ safety: “much of society has quickly adopted the same progressive attitude, breaking from a long history of social conservatism.”

“It’s been an epochal change that would not have occurred without a previous change in social attitude… and the media had a huge role in this change,” says Colette Farrugia Bennett, a social worker and today coordinator of the Malta Gay Rights Movement.

But it’s been the legal changes that have themselves triggered further social changes by empowering LGBTIQ people. “The change has been in the offing for some time, but the change in laws ensured that this change continued… These laws gave us a great sense of empowerment.”

“The ‘coming out’ process was often framed as an act of courage and a leap in the dark, rather than the process of self-affirmation it has become now” 

As a social worker, Farrugia Bennett says these changes impacted on how parents react to their children coming out. “Difficulties persist but this experience is not any longer perceived in a completely negative way. While in the past acceptance was the exception to the norm, now there is a greater sense of acceptance.”

Silvan Agius, formerly ILGA-Europe’s policy director before taking up the post of director of Malta’s human rights and integration directorate, acknowledges this change in the “coming out” process.

“Only a few years ago, Maltese LGBTIQ people suffered from a lot of stigma and social exclusion. Indeed, the ‘coming out’ process was often framed as an act of courage and a leap in the dark, rather than the process of self-affirmation it has become now. While a number of LGBTIQ youth still suffer from anxiety and stress during this process today, their visibility in Maltese society is an indication of Malta’s new found openness on the matter, as well as community empowerment.”

Farrugia Bennett says that even professionals like teachers show greater interest in training opportunities on how to tackle diversity in classrooms.

“In the past issues related to the presence of LGBTIQ persons in these contexts were simply overlooked or ignored. Now people want to learn more. This is because LGBTIQ people are no longer rendered invisible. They are on the agenda and contributing to setting that agenda.”

One reason for this change is how political leadership set the example for greater social inclusion. “In my view, we can speak about the growing normalisation of LGBTIQ issues in the country, and that is thanks to the work of LGBTIQ civil society and political leadership on the part of government all the way to the Prime Minister’s office,” Agius says.

Despite the great leap forward, young people face harsh financial realities, and the chore of families’ and friends’ acceptance 

Statistical evidence confirms the way this change in political direction resulted in substantial change in social perceptions and attitudes. In October 2015, a Eurobarometer survey on discrimination mapped Malta’s metamorphosis in gay rights: in terms of trans persons’ acceptance, Malta was the fastest climber with an increase of 17% of the population who said they were ‘totally comfortable’ with trans persons, compared to 2012; while the percentage of the population saying it was ‘totally uncomfortable’ dropped by 20%.

“I attribute this to the awareness raised by the Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act that was adopted six months prior: that parliamentary debate, the discussion that ensued, [and] an increased visibility of trans in the media and other public spaces,” said Agius, who had a leading role in drafting LGBTIQ laws in Malta.

‘People want to know more’

Another indicator of change has been the level attendance in Gay Pride celebrations. When the first Gay Pride marches were organised by MGRM in the early noughties, straight people from political parties and NGOs would outnumber openly gay people. This is no longer the case and LGBTIQ people are no longer invisible. Agius says the Pride celebrations grew from around 300 participants to over 2,500 in 2017.

Alex Caruana, a transgender person and longstanding social and political activist, confirms how legal changes not only made his own life easier, but brought about more supportive attitudes in society at large.

“As a child, I have always felt more comfortable in the company of boys and years later, during my teens, I found himself wearing men’s clothing,” Caruana said.

The Gender Identity bill approved in 2015 removed the need to undergo sex reassignment surgery before official documents – such as an ID card or passport – are changed to reflect the holder’s gender identity. “In the beginning, I found it very difficult to accept myself. I felt that it was a huge issue which at times was too much to bear.”

With the help of MGRM’s free Rainbow Support Service, Caruana found the courage he needed to accept his situation and work on it. The next biggest challenge was to tell his family – who were surprisingly all very supportive, especially his niece and nephew. “Gradually, I started opening up to more people and I always found very supportive attitudes,” Caruana said.

“People are now more likely to ask questions about my transition because they want to know more, they want to understand.”

Still, job interviews and opening up to new colleagues remains a challenge for Alex Caruana. “At the back of my mind I still have insecurities based on the fact that the interviewer might recognise me and deny me the job… in Malta everyone knows everyone and it is not easy to hide one’s past.”

Indeed, some problems persist despite the great leaps of the past few years. Malta might have stopped treating trans identities as medically abnormal, but Caruana says it is still the practice of endocrinologists to ask for psychiatric reports before prescribing Hormone Replacement Therapy to patients.

“I hope that this won’t be the procedure at the Gender Clinic as this goes against Maltese laws and against the principle of self-determination. Changing the attitude of professionals working with trans people is an important issue,” Caruana said.

Plans are currently underway to introduce free gender reassignment treatment and to set up a gender clinic to offer a focal point to transgender, intersex and queer persons. Despite the great leap forward, Caruana still meets a lot of young people facing harsh realities, both financially – given that, up to now, all services are against payment – and socially, as one must face problems involving families’ and friends’ acceptance.

“For me, education is the key to ensure that these legal changes are safeguarded in the future… regardless of whoever is in government.”


Malta Tops European LGBT Human Rights Index For Third Consecutive Year

‘Gay-friendly’ is a term that’s been thrown around multiple times over the past years when describing Malta, with multiple legislation ensuring more (and improved) rights to the LGBTIQ community. Now, the tiny Mediterranean island has another impressive statistic to add to its reputation, and it comes straight from the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association.

Malta has yet again placed first in the ILGA-Europe Rainbow Europe LGBTIQ Index, scoring more than 91%.

What’s even better than that impressive score, of course, is that this is actually the third consecutive year that Malta has come first in all the 49 countries assessed.

The Rainbow Europe Index, which ranks countries’ achieved LGBTI human rights, actually breaks down the final result in six different categories, helping users better understand where Malta did so excellently… and where work still needs to be done.

As far as the Civil Society Space, Legal Gender Recognition & Bodily Integrity and Hate Crime & Hate Speech categories go, Malta scored an impressive 100% across the board. When it came to the Equality & Non-Discrimination and Family categories , similarly positive results of 90% and 89% respectively were registered.

However, the Asylum category is where Malta still needs to improve, registering a measly 33%. This was down to the country satisfying only two of the six criteria necessary to achieve full marks. These criteria include laws, policy and other positive measures done with the intersex community in mind. 

As far as improvements of the index go, in fact, ILGA-Europe did note that much more progress needs to be done across the continent. The lowest scoring countries in the European Union (Latvia, Poland and Lithuania) all registered very low percentages (16%, 18% and 21%) and only 16 of the 49 countries assessed scored above 50%. 

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Even for a country with such a good record, 91.04% is still a very high score. Next on the list came Belgium, with a considerably lower 78.76%. This jump was definitely aided by substantial positive steps which were taken over the past year, such as the legalisation of same-sex marriage back in July 2017. 

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat kicked off the week by tweeting out the positive news, saying he was proud that Malta managed to consolidate its top spot.

Earlier today, Dr. Muscat took the time to celebrate IDAHOBIT – the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia & Biphobia – by tweeting out “In Malta, every day is IDAHOT.”

The tweet still managed to attract some criticism from people who pointed out that the situation is not as great as the statistics might suggest, but as far as actual legislation goes, it’s comforting to see that our tiny Mediterranean island is actually leading the way for other European countries to follow.


IVF and human rights – Silvan Agius and Gabi Calleja

Today is the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT). Following a third successive number one placement on the ILGA-Europe Rainbow Index, many in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and genderqueer community in Malta will surely be reflecting on the progress that was made in the field of LGBTIQ equality in a relatively short period of time and how this has a direct impact on their daily lives.

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Malta żżomm l-ewwel post fil-qasam tal-persuni LGBTIQ

Malta żammet l-ewwel post minn 49 pajjiż fl-Ewropa, fl-analiżi minn ILGA-Europe tas-sitwazzjoni tal-jeddijiet tal-bniedem fil-qasam ta’ persuni LGBTIQ. ILGA-Europe ddeskriviet l-impenn konsistenti tal-Gvern Malti għal ugwaljanza akbar għall-persuni LGBTIQ bħala eżempju perfett.

B’total ta’ 91%, Malta baqgħet fl-ewwel post qabel il-Belġju u n-Norveġja li ġew ikklassifikati fit-tieni u t-tielet post bi 78% u b’77% rispettivament. Dawn ir-riżultati kienu ppublikati minn ILGA-Europe fl-okkażjoni tal-Jum Internazzjonali kontra l-omofobija, t-transfobija u l-bifobija.

Ir-rapport jgħid li minkejja l-fatt li Malta żammet postha fil-quċċata tal-klassifika, xorta waħda kien hemm titjib fil-lipijiet tal-pajjiż.

Qalet li l-aktar bidliet sinifikatni kienu bidliet li wasslu għal żwieġ indaqs mill-Parlament Malti f’Lulju li għadda. Qalet li l-liġi daħlet fis-seħħ f’Settembru li għadda u waqt ż-żwiġijiet likienu jinvolvu koppji tal-istess sess bdew jidħlu fir-reġistru pubbliku sa tmiem is-sena li għaddiet.

Bidla oħra sinifikanti kienet il-pass li għamel il-Gvern Malti meta introduċa l-marka X fuq dokumentazzjoni uffiċjali u ta l-possibilità lil persuni li ma jidentifikaw lilhom infushom ma ebda sess biex iniżżlu l-marka X fuq dokumenti uffiċjali bħal passaporti u karti tal-identita.

B’reazzjoni, il-Prim Minsitru Joseph Muscat qal fuq Twitter li l-Gvern jinsab kburi bil-kisbiet li għamlet Malta fl-aħħar snin u wiegħed li l-Gvern jinsab impenjat biex ikompli jaħdem għal aktar drittijiet.


Malta żżomm l-ewwel post fid-drittijiet tal-persuni LGBTIQ fl-Ewropa

Malta żammet u saħħet l-ewwel post fl-indiċi ILGA-Europe għall-2018 li janalizza s-sitwazzjoni tad-drittijiet tal-bniedem fil-qasam ta’ persuni LGBTIQ f’49 pajjiż madwar l-Ewropa.  Dan intqal fi stqarrija maħruġa mill-Ministeru għall-Affarijiet Ewropej u l-Ugwaljanza, li fiha jingħad ukoll li b’total ta’ 91%, Malta baqgħet fil-quċċata tal-indiċi għat-tielet sena konsekuttiva filwaqt li d-distakk ma’ pajjiżi oħra li klassifikaw warajna żdied.

Il-Belġju, li ġie fit-tieni post kiseb 79% filwaqt li n-Norveġja kisbet 78%, fejn niżlet mit-tieni għat-tielet post mis-sena li għaddiet.  L-indiċi jeżamina s-sitwazzjoni fl-oqsma tal-ugwaljanza u n-nuqqas ta’ diskriminazzjoni, is-sitwazzjoni familjali, ir-reati ta’ mibgħeda u l-liġijiet kontra diskors ta’ mibgħeda, ir-rikonoxximent legali tal-ġeneru u l-integrita, l-ispazju fis-soċjeta ċivili u l-ażil.

Fir-rapport ta’ din is-sena, ILGA-Europe żiedu tlett kriterji ġodda, li Malta diġa toffri fil-liġi nazzjonali. Dawn huma il-kriminalizzazzjoni ta’ terapiji ta’ konverżjoni tal-identita tal-ġeneru u tal-orjentazzjoni sesswali, t-tneħħija tar-restrizzjoni tal-eta’ u tal-bdil fl-isem għar-rikonoximent tal-ġeneru. Fit-tlett kriterji, Malta baqgħet l-unika pajjiż fl-Ewropa li toffri dawn il-liġijiet. Il-klassifika turi wkoll li Malta hija l-uniku pajjiż li tipprojbixxi interventi mediċi mingħajr deċizjoni infurmata għal persuni intersess.

Fl-istqarrija jingħad li dan ikompli juri kemm il-Gvern Malti għandu viżjoni ċara fil-qasam tal-ugwaljanza li qed tissokta tpoġġi lil Malta fuq quddiem nett bħala l-ewwel pajjiż Ewropew li jilleġiżla f’diversi oqsma biex jagħti l-protezzjoni mistħoqqa liċ-ċittadini kontra kull forma ta’ diskriminazzjoni.

Ir-rapport ta’ ILGA-Europe jelenka sensiela ta’ miżuri li ħa l-Gvern Malti fil-qasam tad-drittijiet ċivili fosthom l-introduzzjoni taż-żwieġ indaqs, l-introduzzjoni tal-X marker fuq id-dokumenti uffiċjali, il-liġi dwar l-identità tal-ġeneru, espressjoni tal-ġeneru u l-karatteristiċi tas-sess u l-liġi li tipprojbixxi diskriminazzjoni fuq bażi ta’ identità tal-ġeneru.

Fl-ewwel reazzjoni, il-Ministru għall-Affarijiet Ewropej u l-Ugwaljanza, Helena Dalli, esprimiet is-sodisfazzjon tagħha għar-rikonoxximent li x-xogħol immexxi mill-Ministeru jgħati l-frott u hu rikonoxxut fuq livell Ewropew. Il-Ministru osservat ukoll li hemm xogħol għaddej fir-rigward tad-9% li fadal, fejn hemm spazju għal titjib, bħal per eżempju, fir-rigward tal-aċċess għall-IVF għal koppji tal-istess sess.


Tonio Fenech Demands Gay Rights Movement Adds ‘E’ To The LGBTIQ Community

Tonio Fenech has taken time out of avoiding cataclysmic meteorites to put pen to paper for an IVF-related opinion piece in the Times of Malta which culminated in an appeal to the Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM).

In his heartfelt plea at the end, Fenech asked for the letter ‘E’ to be added to the LGBTIQ acronym. But what does ‘E’ stand for? Embryos – of course!

“I hope MGRM are genuine in their fight against discrimination,” said Fenech, “if so let them become LGBTIQE, with E for embryo.”

While the initial connection between embryos and LGBT+ individuals isn’t really clear (after all, the acronym stands for Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Intersex and Queer), Fenech’s post was written as a reaction to statements made by the movement last week.

“We condemn any statements that portray children born through such methods as being deprived of their rights or the result of a selfish desire,” MGRM said in its original statement.

“All children, however they are conceived, have no say in how they come into the world and have absolutely no choice as to the family they will be born into. All human beings are fruit of other people’s actions, desires and choices. In this, children born through IVF are no different to other children and neither are their parents.”

This isn’t the first time the LGBT+ community was dragged into arguments over abortion and IVF. Last year ‘liberal thought’ and ‘pleasing the gay lobby’ were blamed for opening discussions on abortion in a Times of Malta editorial.