I can fully understand the Prime Minister’s response, more than once, when asked: “What has been your proudest moment since you’ve been Prime Minister?”, and he answers: “The day we introduced the Civil Unions Act.”
Apart from the effect of the Act itself, there is a much larger sociological impact. Indeed, the Civil Unions Act meant that we have opened up society to the needs of citizens who ‘we’ consider different from ‘us’ and hitherto had not been entitled to the same rights as the rest.
Surely, this should not be, as we are all members of the human race and every human being, whether straight, gay, trans, intersex or gender variant, should enjoy the rights that we all do. An understanding of this seems to be increasingly shared by our society.
Dealing with the process towards the introduction of the Civil Unions Act was no walk in the park; in fact, polls were showing us that many people were against the introduction of such a law. I am glad to say that over these two years, perceptions have changed, and now, according to Eurobarometer, it is an overwhelming majority of the population that not only agree with these rights given to gay people but even want to extend the right to marriage equality to them.
Extending rights to trans, intersex and gender variant people was an even harder nut to crack. But we managed to legislate even here. Not only that, we have the best legislation in the European Union in this area of policy.
But legislation is not enough, and again it is an uphill struggle to convince institutions that it is pointless having a law giving rights to trans, intersex and gender variant people if on the ground these people are still being misunderstood and discriminated against.
Nobody chooses to be born straight or gay, cisgender or trans or gender variant, of a binary sex or intersex – we are born the way we are
One such institution is the Corradino Correctional Facility, where men and women are strictly segregated in a high-security environment. This segregation poses great difficulty to trans inmates, especially since without the right policy framework, they were still left in a section that mismatched their gender. Not addressing this would have obviously led to a breach of the principle of non-discrimination enshrined in the Constitution, expressly covering the basis of gender identity.
Because of this, shortly after the adoption of the Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act, my ministry and the LGBTIQ Consultative Council initiated and led a process with the Corradino facility to ensure that the law is fully implemented within the prison system as well. We did this while we prepared a policy – based mainly on that of Scotland – for trans, intersex and gender variant prisoners.
We now have this policy in place. It goes to show the importance of having people understand what it is that we are legislating in order to be able to then put in place policies that complement the laws. Not having these policies renders the laws futile.
It is the lives of people we are dealing with here. While legislation entitles people to rights, the everyday improvement of their lives comes from the policies that we must put in place and see that they are implemented.
Unless this is understood, unless there is empathy with the life situations of others, legislation becomes rather pointless.
Thus, from our experience of the policy for trans, gender variant and intersex people in prison, we have to work much harder in order to make people understand that this is not some capricious section of the population we are dealing with here, but a segment which has for too long been ignored, trodden upon or discriminated against.
We need to work harder towards a humane society, where its members try to walk a few steps in the shoes of ‘the other’ in order to understand their plight. In that way, policies that complement laws will be easier to put in place and implement.
Nobody chooses to be born straight or gay, cisgender or trans or gender variant, of a binary sex or intersex – we are born the way we are. It is the duty of every member of our society not only not to make life hell for ‘the other’ who we consider ‘different’, but to do all that we can to make their lives better.
Helena Dalli is Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties.