Despite the claims made by the Catholic Church regarding the discriminatory nature of the proposed Affirmation of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression Act it is clear that the position paper is profoundly flawed both in its understanding of the practical implications the Act will have on professional practice as well as in its legal interpretations, the Malta Gay Rights Movement said in a statement.
All persons have a sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression therefore no discrimination applies here. While it is more likely that conversion practices are experienced by LGBTIQ persons due to heterosexism and strongly prescribed sex and gender norms in our society, the bill simply seeks to ensure that all persons, whatever their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression are valued equally. It makes it illegal to seek to change someone from homosexual to heterosexual and from heterosexual to homosexual as well as from male to female or female to male irrespective of the sex assigned at birth. It is just that this is less likely to happen for heterosexual and cis-gender persons since it is rare to have respected institutions with millions of followers refer to heterosexual attraction as intrinsically disordered or to object when a person’s sex and gender are aligned.
The bill, MGRM said, in no way impedes interventions by professionals to support individuals in coming to terms with their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, whatever this might be. Neither does it prevent professionals from supporting individuals in choosing what kind of relationships they enter into or whether they opt to suppress any aspect of their identity and its expression. It clearly does not prohibit clinical interventions with paedophiles. Their presenting problem is not same-sex or opposite sex attraction but the sexual abuse of children irrespective of their gender. Neither is counselling a bisexual person in order to support them in being faithful to their partner in any way prohibited since the issue is not denying that the person is bisexual but in exercising control over their infidelity. To imply that bisexual persons enter into extramarital relationships because of their sexual orientation denotes a serious prejudice towards bisexual persons and their ability to enter into stable, committed, monogamous relationships and a deep level of ignorance that may have negative repercussions in clinical and counselling interventions.
The Church is also wrong, MGRM said, in claiming that the proposed Act is in conflict with the Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act (GIGESC) or the constitutional provisions on non-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. The GIGESC Act is not about changing one’s gender identity but about having one’s gender identity recognised. The proposed Affirmation of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression Act is perfectly in line with this basic principle.
The Church is also wrong in stating that counselling is a pre-requirement in order to effect what it terms ‘physical gender choices’. It is not quite clear what is being referred to here, but the GIGESC Act, while placing an obligation on government to provide appropriate psycho-social services to those who need it, does not require diagnoses or treatment by any professional in order for persons to access gender recognition procedures. The current ICD treatment protocol followed by medical practitioners imposes recourse to a psychiatrist for diagnoses of gender dysphoria prior to accessing hormone treatment or gender affirmation surgery. The continued pathologisation of trans persons by the medical profession continues to be a cause for concern and certainly goes against the principles of self-determination and bodily autonomy enshrined in the GIGESC Act.
All professions are restricted to some extent in the exercise of their profession. In many countries, ethical guidelines are also enshrined in law. We restrict medical professionals from carrying out euthanasia even where the patient so wishes and where professionals believe this might be in the best interest of their patient. The current discussion on reproductive rights and review of the Embryo Protection Act is another example of the Church’s inconsistency with regards to professional autonomy being constrained through legislation and were medical practitioners are criminally liable.
The vast majority of professionals who adopt an affirmative approach to all sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions in counselling and clinical practice have nothing to fear from this legislation. It is only the few who continue to be governed by prejudice and ignorance who will be affected.