In the last few days, the Maltese LGBTQ+ community and allies alike have been heavily discussing (and criticising) the government’s latest attempt at encouraging LGBTQ+ inclusivity. So we spoke to one of the people behind the campaign, to gauge what it all really means.
The #AllWelcome campaign was introduced as a way of promoting LGBTQ+ acceptance and representation on the islands in more forms than we currently see, thereby working towards reducing discrimination from the general public and matching the reputation Malta has garnered as one of the most accepting from a legislative standpoint.
This would be done by having a repesentative from a business attend an informative session on the topic, which they would then apply to company policy and training. In return, the company could display a special logo which shows that they have partaken in this lesson.
You can read more about the new initiative here
Almost immediately, the campaign received a lot of backlash by people saying that it promoted the polar opposite of what was intended
For a more detailed account of the backlash received, you can check it all out here, but for those who just need a quick refresher, the main points against the campaign said that:
- It promotes segregation
- It labels LGBTQ+ individuals
- It’s comparable to a “Tourists Welcome” or “Pet’s Allowed” sign
- People could be discriminatory regardless of the sticker
- “All welcome” should include more than just one marginalised group
- The strategic announcement timing with Pride Month
Some people did defend the initiative by pointing out that it could be very effective for tourists or in the bar / nightclub scene, which are undoubtedly more stressful and dangerous situations than your average corner shops.
In the aftermath of the mass internet shitstorm, the Director of Human Rights and Integration with the Ministry for European Affairs and Equality, Silvan Agius, who was heavily involved with the introduction of the new campaign, reached out to Lovin Malta to clear the air on any missed information, as well as discuss and learn about the opinions and feelings of the general public
The first point Agius wanted to clarify was the main goal of the project.
He made it clear that #AllWelcome was a “visibility campaign” in which he wanted to inform and educate businesses on how to be more “equal, accessible and inclusive” towards LGBTQ+ employees, customers and business partners.
Agius believed that people had misunderstood how companies could obtain the sticker, as well as its meaning. He went on to explain that in order to be able to display their logo, one representative from a business would be required to attend an information session on a vast number of LGBTQ+ related topics such as sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics.
From there, the representative will be responsible to share what they learned with their colleagues, as well as implementing the lesson into amending company policies for the better.
Once completed and a business obtains their logo, it signifies a company’s willingness to seek out education on a not-so-well talked about topic, as well as the following four principles:
- Respecting human dignity
- Eliminating discrimination at the workplace and the market place
- Supporting LGBTQ+ staff
- Offering adequate representation of diversity in our publicity campaigns
For a detailed explanation of each of these, you can check out the campaign website.
The #AllWelcome website also answers the question about inclusion of other minorities as well as the LGBTQ+ community
The first principle listed, Respect for Human Dignity, actually mentions how the logo should act as a symbol that companies are implementing policies to ensure respect to all other minority groups workers could interact with “regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity gender expression, sex characteristics, nationality, religion, disability or age amongst others”.
Apart from this, Agius also stated that his directorate does actually run other campaigns for different minorities, such as the I Belong programme for migrants. However, he admitted that, when resources are more available, they would like to expand the #AllWelcome lessons to include dedicated and informative sessions to aid other communities as well.
The website fails to mention one detail which actually solves one of the biggest problems brought up
Many people were concerned that one lesson and a sticker will not stop staff members or patrons for discriminating against queer individuals.
However, Agius explained that businesses can get their logo revoked if, after an investigation, a customer complaint is found to be credible. This policy, while not foolproof (especially for LGBTQ+ tourists who might not be aware of such a system), does encourage people from a marginalised community to speak up against a majority, something which people have historically been afraid to do. He went on to say that putting up a ‘Look Left’ sign before crossing the street won’t stop someone from running you over, but reporting them to the police would take them off the road completely.
When asked for his opinion on people saying that the campaign was a step backwards for society, Agius replied that the backlash “actually shows how far we’ve come”
The argument made that described how people believed this campaign was a step backwards stemmed from the belief that most people are accepted anywhere in Malta, an opinion predominantly brought up on public forums such as The Salott forum over specialised LGBTQ+ groups, in which the arguments tended to focus on not wanting to be labelled and segregated from the majority.
While homophobia and transphobia are nowhere near being eradicated in Malta, the steps we’ve made since legalising major policies such as same-sex marriage are very noticeable. This is why people believe that the campaign could push people away from equality by enforcing a stigma that minority groups need to be actively reminded they’re still marginalised, as opposed to a situation where equality is experienced freely, which is the society us minorities are striving for. To this, Agius argued that similar projects had been shown to be effective in other countries, but when confronted with the fact that Malta claims to be far ahead of other countries in this regard, he simply stated that backlash was a sign that we have made major steps forward, before stating that they are working on “moving away from tolerance to inclusion”.
Agius also clarified another piece of information missing from the public announcements: Inclusive Marketing Strategies
He once again explained how one of the main goals for his campaign was to push LGBTQ+ acceptance into the mainstream, through the encouragement of more queer-friendly / inclusive advertisements and marketing strategies. While explaining this, he also covered another issue commonly brought up by angry internet users.
The phrase “Why should businesses need a sticker to follow the law?”, referencing the anti-discrimination laws in place, has popped up in some form or another numerous times over the past few days, and in response, Agius claimed that there is a difference between not being discriminated against and actively being represented through various media channels… which is something the Ministry aims to improve upon through the information sessions.
Agius ended the conversation by stating that he was happy to see people offer constructive criticism to the campaign as it would give their team something to keep in mind when discussing possible amendments and improvements.
He explained that this is a “quality assurance campaign” meant to improve the awareness of LGBTQ+ individuals, and that it will co-exist with other preexisting initiatives to combat discrimination as a whole.
Agius confirmed that the campaign is still – and will continue to be – active. However it will be “tweaked from time to time to generate the best results”
In conclusion, (personal opinion time) the backlash could have been greatly reduced had there been more accurate and more detailed information on the official campaign website and through the various media channels. Saying that, the conversation and discussion started on this topic has spread well outside the LGBTQ+ community, and one hopes that this will also aid in raising awareness for the issues still faced by our community and the steps we need to take to push forward.