While Malta tops the ranks in terms of LGBTQ+ legislation, we still have a lot of work to do in terms of day-to-day acceptance of minority groups and marginalised communities in general.
In fact, the latest study by the Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM) which focused on understanding the experiences of LGBTQ+ persons between the ages of 13 and 22 who had been in an educational institution for the 2016-2017 scholastic year, has proven that we still have a long way to go before Malta can truly claim that it is fully queer-friendly.
The 2017 Malta National School Climate Survey Report have found some damning statistics about the way LGBTQ+ student are treated in school, and how they in turn feel about the education system they were, or still are being raised in.
1. Safety at School
A scary number of respondents said they’ve experienced homophobia, biphobia or transphobia at school before.
Of the 139 students who participated in the study, half of them said they felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation
A further 41% felt unsafe due to their gender identity or the way they express their gender, with many respondents also saying they felt unsafe because of other uncontrollable characteristics, such as family income or disbaility among others.
This lack of safety even causes students to miss lessons
With a number of students feeling uncomfortable and avoiding certain areas of the school such as locker rooms and hallways while over a quarter of them even skipped Physical Education (PE) Lessons completely.
Over a third of the students (34%) felt so unsafe in their conditions that they missed at least one full day of school.
In terms of homophobic language, 46.8% of students reported that they received derogatory comments such as pufta and linfa often or frequently. The study also found that 61.9% of these said that they received the insults from some or most students.
Many participants (33.1%) even said that some homophobic remarks came from teachers and members of staff
For gender expression and identity, 49.3% and 40.3% of students received offensive and transphobic remarks often or frequently, respectively.
In brief, over half of respondents (59.4% and 55.5%) of participants reported being verbally harassed due to their sexual orientation and gender expression, while a further 36.1% experienced harassment based on their gender identity at least once in the previous scholastic year.
Many respondents also said that they had been physically harassed because of their sexual and gender personality, with 22.6% for their sexual orientation, 21.7% for their gender expression and 14.9% for their gender identity.
Unfortunately, some of the participants even reported being physically assaulted (punched, kicked, injured with a weapon)
8.6% of people said this occurred because of their sexual identity, 13% said it was because of their gender identity, and 8.8% said it was caused by their gender expression.
What makes these statistics even worse is that 40.4% of people said that teachers ‘never intervened’ when they were present for these types of bullying
3. The bullying unfortunately doesn’t stop there
Unfortunately, apart from the before mentioned harassment, many of the study’s participants also reported being victims of other forms of bullying, such as:
- Being purposefully excluded (81.4%)
- Had rumour spread about them (73.5%)
- Cyberbullying (45%)
- Broken or stolen property (30.9%)
- Racist comments (54.7%)
- Sexism (71.9%)
A terrifying 43.3% of LGBTQ+ students even reported being sexually harassed at school
On a slightly more positive note…
36.4% of respondents reported these forms of harassment and bullying to school staff, however only 11.7% did this ‘most of the time’.
At least, school staff apparently handled the situation ‘somewhat’ or ‘very effectively’ 32.1% of the time
Students also reportedly informed their parents or family members 36.4% of the time, but many of them (39.3%) never addressed it with any of the school staff.
The only heartwarming fact highlighted in this study found that a whopping 95.6% of LGBTQ+ students said there was at least one supportive teacher or staff member at their school, and 62.2% said that they had six or more
Furthermore, 46.3% of people were accepting to the LGBTQ+ students, with some schools even reportedly having multiple students out of the closet.
Unfortunately, despite this, many schools still do not teach and inform young people about LGBTQ+ topics and history, which means that kids are often uninformed for certain important subjects such as sexual health
On the other hand, 40% of students say that sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity were brought up and discussed during talks about violence.
How can we change these statistics?
The study found that a more inclusive environment made the student body as a whole a lot more accepting of LGBTQ+ people.
It was also concluded that more supportive teachers who actually intervene during homophobic and transphobic conflicts, and a more informative curriculum also helped queer individuals to feel safer, and which may be the reason that they missed less days of school than those LGBTQ+ students who felt unsafe or unhappy in their situation at school.
What’s the next step we need to take to ensure the safety of LGBTQ+ youth?
The survey report ends with a section listing a number of possible and, frankly, quite simple fixes to the current system that can significantly impact the student climates found in schools.
Implementing national, LGBTQ+ inclusive bullying policies that prevent victimisation, providing transgender and gender variant students with equal access to non-discriminatory facilities (such as gender-neutral bathrooms), and ensuring that school policies such as dress codes do not discriminate against queer students, are just a few of the suggestions put forward by the MGRM.
The quotes in purple are taken directly from some of the participants of The 2017 Malta National School Climate Survey Report