Members of Malta’s LGBTQ+ community recently responded to a survey on sexuality and religion by Lovin’ Malta, a website devoted to sharing news and culture in the island nation. Compiled together in an article entitled Here’s What Malta’s LGBT+ Community Had to Say About Religion on the Island, the piece quotes directly from surveyed members and shows a range of experiences, both positive and challenging.
Demographically speaking, the 1,000 respondents of this poll were overwhelmingly identified as Catholic, though 71% reported going to mass “only on special occasions,” 18% ‘never,’ and 11% attending weekly. The majority of respondents expressed that there was ‘no need to attend Mass to be a Christian.’ Still, one respondent wrote: “I am only gay but still attend mass regularly. Sometimes I don’t feel accepted in my religion but I believe that God made all of us.”
An officially Catholic nation, Malta ratified marriage equality in 2017, building off a 2014 legalization of civil unions. In many ways, Malta can be seen as a vibrant example of a Catholic country in support of LGBTQ+ rights. In 2016, they were the first European nation to ban conversion therapy, and the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics had a prominent place in their pride parade this September.
Despite these strides towards equality, many of the respondents in the Lovin’ Malta poll expressed that they continue to encounter challenges within the church. One respondent recalled that, “growing up in Malta the church had quite the impact– I remember that you could not watch a Xarabank show about gay people without a priest there. Ridiculous.” Presumably, young members of the community were being steered away from the popular talk show unless viewed under the supervision of a religious leader.
Another ‘younger respondent’ commented that “being gay and not being accepted by the church is rough.” One respondent wrote: “I’m bisexual, so it’s hindered me from being completely myself, especially with the older generation and avid churchgoers that still think me and whomever I love are unnatural.”
The survey found more hopeful responses as well. One wrote that “being gay hasn’t changed a thing in my beliefs as I am a normal Catholic person who tries to live a normal and good life.” Another said, “I’m lesbian and I still pray and believe that if Jesus had come to Earth today, he’d still love me.”
Malta is home to two Catholic LGBTQ organizations: Drachma, for LGBTQ people, and Drachma Parents, for parents and family members of LGBTQ people. Both groups have done great work in raising the visibility of pro-LGBTQ Catholic people and ideas.
The overall tone of the responses seemed to indicate that while there were still challenges in being accepted by the church community at large, many of the respondents were secure in their own identities and relationships. One woman wrote that “the church doesn’t have much say in our relationship,” adding that her partner was raised atheist.
The Lovin’ Malta writer, Becca Bonello Ghio, summarized the survey’s findings by saying:
“So long as anyone is able to live good lives with good morals, be humble, and love well, then these respondents don’t see why they should feel anything other than positive about who they are and how they choose to live.”
This survey has shed additional light on the range of experience among the LGBTQ+ community in Malta. While there is still a long way to go for full affirmation, the continued emergence of profiles such as these is important to allow new stories and voices to be heard. Even smaller surveys can provide necessary recognition for everyday people whose experiences are too often overlooked.
–Catherine Buck, New Ways Ministry, March 15, 2019