Since their start, a year ago, the gender neutral bathrooms have been used by many students without a hitch, offering a safe space for trans and non-binary persons (including those who have mobility difficulties) to change, or well, relieve themselves of bodily waste. Then two days ago, a student took to writing a transphobic comment on the wall.
Anger and sadness were our first reactions. As a student organisation, We Are has worked for years to promote the rights and wellbeing of LGBTQI youths and students on and off campus. Over the past two years, we were asked on more than one occasion why are we still here, when we have civil unions, GIGESC and so much legislation giving equality to LGBT persons. The legislation is there, yes, but this simple scribble on a wall and the transphobic online comments is just one ounce of proof that as much as this country can be advertised as #1 for LGBT rights in Europe and a top LGBT tourist spot, there is still much work to be done to educate and raise awareness. If anything, this incident highlighted vastly different opinions; those who condemned the act, and those who celebrated it.
One may ask, why would someone do such a vile thing? Do they even know what trans people go through? Do they have any idea how their words could destroy or remind a trans or non-binary person of a painful past? Their actions have only shown how stigmatisation of LGBT people, especially trans, is very much still alive here. So as much as travelling back in time and stopping it from happening is wishful thinking, what we can do is look to the future and continue spreading the message why transphobia and homophobia should be left in the closet, not LGBT persons.
Why is it an issue?
Stigmatisation, discrimination and marginalisation of LGBT youth have a negative impact on their personal well-being and mental health. 30% of people who committed suicide in 2008 were transgender people (Schembri, 2015). Transgender individuals have numerous issues to deal with when developing through their lives, a result of gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is the mismatch a trans person feels between their self-identified gender and their sex and gender assigned at birth; emotional distress due to the pressures they experience from the society and media around them to fit in. This distress can be so intense that one’s day to day life can be affected, especially during studies, work and social events. Some of their psychological and emotional conflicts when deciding to transition include the impact on their relationships with family, friends and at work, fear about hate-violence and prejudice, dealing with legal documents, surgeries and use of hormones amongst others.
This paradox between one’s internalised sense of gender and their body can be misunderstood as a mental illness but this is not the case. In July 2016, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that it will officially be removing transgender as a mental illness in the new edition of the International Classification of Diseases (I.C.D). This revised statement is to be scheduled for approval in May 2018: the first in more than 25 years and clear proof that work is being done. The APA removed gender identity disorder from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) in 2012.
How can I be an ally?
An ally is someone who accepts an LGBT person as they are, or is an advocate for equal rights and treatment. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be LGBT to support LGBT persons and equal rights. This incident has demonstrated that rather than change the perpetrator’s feelings about transgender, what needs to be tackled is the focus on the repercussions of such actions on trans persons, be it physical distress or emotional anxiety and depression. The way to do this is to ensure they have safe spaces on and off campus.
Speak out against offensive and anti-LGBT actions you see or hear.
Maltese legislation prohibits discrimination against a person based on sexual orientation or gender identity so if you see or hear a homophobic or transphobic incident, take action and report to the police or relevant authorities. Even if it was not directed at you, one can still report a hate incident. It is important to mention that the incident might have resulted from hostility or prejudice towards sexual orientation or transgender identity. Silence only validates the perpetrator’s actions, giving them cause to do it again.
17th May is the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia. We are still planning activities, but if you have any questions or wish to show your support, you can drop us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a Facebook message for more info.
No one has a right to oppress others. Every person has a right to a safe and inclusive space, not just for education but even at work, their social and private lives. Spread love, not hate.