I came out almost 3 years ago, and I’ve never been to Pride yet. The 2018 edition on 15th September is going to be my very first. I’m not entirely sure why, but I’ve ended up throwing myself head first into promoting it, and in the process hopping on board the queer activism wagon.
The local LGBTQ+ community has expanded so much in the past couple of years, as a rainbow of sexual orientations and gender identities have emerged which differ from the so-called norm. Whilst some seek to precisely label their sexuality or gender, others are comfortable in their fluidity and don’t rely solely on defining who they are attracted to in order to understand and accept who they themselves are.
The beauty of all of this is that everyone can be whoever they want to be, be with whoever they want to be with, and live the kind of life that makes them happy, no matter how non-traditional and un-labelable that may be. But unfortunately, even with Malta being named one of the most LGBT-friendly nations in the world, not everyone is supportive of the queer community, let alone the annual Pride celebrations.
Being relatively vocal for the past few months, I’ve encountered multiple individuals who unreservedly doubt the importance of Pride, or simply don’t see a need for it. “You have so many rights now. Why do you have to rub them in our faces?”. “I’m fine with gay people, but I don’t want to see them parading around our capital city.” “If you want us to treat you as normal people, then why do you have to be so flamboyant and organise Pride?”.
If you were to venture out into the streets of Valletta, like everyone else does to carry out surveys, these are the kinds of comments you are guaranteed to get right off the bat if you mention Pride. By all means, I hope I’m making a wrong assumption here. But from observing our society on a daily basis, I think it’s safe to say that not everyone is over the moon about the idea of thousands of people waving rainbow flags and donning glitter beards on a Saturday afternoon in one of the most public locations on the island.
So now that our laws make it easier for several members of the LGBTQ+ community to live their lives to the fullest, why do we still need Pride? The corresponding list of reasons why is fairly long, so bear with me.
To come together and encourage diversity. An overwhelming crowd of people meeting in one place for a common cause, which isn’t an angry protest or demonstration, is something we truly need more of in the world, especially at the moment. The LGBTQ+ community cannot continue to fight for acceptance over tolerance without first solidifying unity within the community itself. This is where Pride comes in, facilitating face to face communication in a fun environment between people who can relate to each other and help one another rise up to any obstacles they may have to confront due to their sexual orientation or gender.
To hold hands with allies. The negative effects of LGBTQ+ marginalization can never be remedied without the support of everyone else outside of the community. Luckily, a substantial number of straight people have been attending Malta Pride. Thanks to Pride, it becomes easier for people outside the community to experience it in the flesh and become more understanding and accepting of the community.
To pay respects to those who paved the way. Following the 1969 riots at the Stonewall Bar in New York, the first ever Pride march happened in the US to commemorate the lives lost during these riots. It obviously started much later in the Maltese islands, and Pride itself has only taken off recently, particularly as a result of the legalization of same sex civil unions in 2014, and eventually same sex marriage in 2017. Not really having had to experience struggling with all of this first hand leaves me wanting to appreciate every single person in the history of the world who somehow contributed to guaranteeing rights for the LGBTQ+ community. Engulfing myself in Pride is probably the best way I can think of doing so.
To make it OK for those just starting out. Everyone has their own individual coming out story, and everyone has to deal with their own situation at their own pace and in their own way. An event like Pride might be overwhelming for those who have just come out, or are still in the process of accepting themselves and being confident in letting those around them know. But Pride is also the perfect opportunity to show them that they have a place in the LGBTQ+ community to call their own whenever they are ready for it.
To be truly comfortable in our own skin. Despite living in what is supposedly one of the most gay-friendly countries in Europe (if not the world), PDA, Public Display of Affection, if you are not in a heterosexual relationship is still pretty much a no-go. Even if no one actually responds negatively outside the bubble of that relationship, the discomfort is always very present. And this is just one uncomfortable reality in the life of someone who doesn’t identify as straight or cisgender. If you cannot be 100% true to yourself in your daily life because of circumstances that you can’t really control, Pride offers an annual comfort blanket that isn’t going to a gay club or staying at home.
To work towards the future, together. As we immerse ourselves in the vibrant festivities of Malta Pride, there should be one thing at the back of our minds. How do we keep moving forward? The inevitable sense of togetherness that Pride brings with it helps activists and everyone else who forms part of the LGBTQ+ community land on the same page and transform an ideal future into a feasible reality, together.
People are sometimes quick to judge and demean something that lies outside of their own reality. Fear of the unfamiliar is a natural feeling all of us find ourselves having to deal with constantly. But it’s how that fear is processed and overcome which is most important. For a percentage of the population, seeing Pride unfold in front of them makes them feel more distant from the LGBTQ+ community. But why stop celebrating Pride simply for that reason?
Being proud of who you are, and simultaneously helping others feel proud of who they are, should stand the test of time. If you’re still skeptical, why not experience it in person, even if from a distance, and see what happens?
Malta Pride Week 2018 is between the 9th and 16th of September, and will culminate in the annual March & Concert on Saturday the 15th of September in Valletta from around 4.30pm onwards. For more information, visit www.maltapride.org or follow Malta Pride’s social media platforms on Facebook and Instagram.
Johann Agius is a fourth year law student who is currently the CEO of Insite after fulfilling the roles of Public Relations Officer and External Relations Officer in previous years. He joined Insite as a writer and photographer in 2013 and was elected in the executive for the first time a year later.