LGBTIQ people in Malta are finally winning recognition and protection from discrimination after generations of sacrifice and campaigning. These changes are unequivocally good and important, which is why the government has been able to use them to obscure its suppression of human rights in other areas and for other groups of people so effectively. Yet, the strategy known as ‘pinkwashing’ is not new.
The New York Times defined pinkwashing in 2015 as an attempt to mask prejudices behind a seemingly pro-LGBTIQ agenda. It was a strategy designed by global PR firm Saatchi & Saatchi in the early 00s for Israel for exactly the same goal targeted by Muscat. More specifically, “using LGBTIQ issues for promoting a fascist mentality [that] bastardises the movement”.
In the run up to his 2013 election, Muscat gave an interview in which he declared that gay marriage is not “natural” and that marriage is only for a man and a woman.
At the height of the March 2016 Panama Papers scandal, which revealed that Muscat’s chief of staff Keith Schembri and senior minister Konrad Mizzi set up a complex structure of secret offshore companies, Muscat claimed that he is “in favour of gay marriage” and that it is “time to debate” the issue.
Equality Minister Helena Dalli was caught unawares admitting at a New York conference that the Labour Party tricked its voters into supporting civil unions, despite 80% of people objecting to them, by using deliberately unclear language in its electoral programme.
LGBTIQ people have been co-opted by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s increasingly right wing Labour Party and government, which celebrates LGBTIQ rights but tramples on human rights in general.
- Journalists: the government is refusing to pass legislation that protects Maltese journalists from abusive lawsuits filed in foreign jurisdictions on the grounds that it conflicts with EU policy, a defence that European Justice Commissioner Vera Jourová debunked last week. The government’s hold over state-broadcaster PBS is violating its constitutional obligation to impartiality.
- Activists: government and Labour officials are intimidating anti-corruption activists, calling them “prostitutes” and “bitches”; harassing activists calling for justice for assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, taking down their banners, taunting them across social media, and photographing them and recording their personal details at protests.
- Hate speech: senior government and Labour officials, including Muscat, are members of secret closed Facebook groups in which there are countless violently homophobic, misogynistic, and racist posts about activists, journalists, and opposition politicians.
- Asylum seekers: Muscat recently refused to offer a safe port to a nongovernmental rescue ship carrying 629 migrants, including pregnant women and unaccompanied minors. This follows Muscat’s determination to “push back” a group of migrants to Libya in 2013, without their case for asylum being heard, a practice which is illegal under the European Convention on Human Rights. Muscat first brushed aside criticism from activists and lawyers who letter stopped him by filing judicial appeals.
Despite Muscat’s underlying views on LGBTIQ rights, the Labour Party and the Maltese government ran an effective campaign aimed at LGBTIQ people that sought to depict Muscat as a modern champion of LGBTIQ rights with the help of activists and lobby groups.
Former PN leader Simon Busuttil had to deal with these ‘accusations’ by the Party in government for years while Muscat was in Opposition – the time the groups were set up that he joined through his personal Facebook page.
It was a lie created to feed the sentiments of their core supporters, which shows the Prime Minister knows very well that society is far removed from the “progressive” rights that he claims he bestowed on the nation.
His continued membership in these groups that continue to express hate for people based on their sexual preference – whether true or false – shows that he is comfortable with the narrative that fed people’s prejudice.
The chief of the Malta Gay Rights Movement, Gabi Calleja, gave the 2013 ‘Gay Exiles Soldier Award’ to Muscat. The previous year’s award was given to another Labour MP Evarist Bartolo. They were not shot down by names such as “pufta,” which Labour activists reserve to demonise the Opposition.
Calleja is closely associated with government officials, having recently co-authored a newspaper column celebrating Malta’s LGBTIQ progress with Silvan Agius, the director of the government’s Human Rights and Integration Directorate.
The government continues to harness the gay community to reposition its international image, while the members of Labour online hate groups continue to feed on homophobic sentiment,
Agius, who is responsible for human rights in general, continually celebrates Malta’s international performance in ILGA’s LGBTIQ rights index, but makes barely any or no mention of most human rights abuses in Malta.
Of Agius’ 918 tweets to date, there are 200 references to “LGBTIQ” and “gay”, but only six references to “asylum” and “refugee”. Agius has never referenced Caruana Galizia nor has he referenced the fundamental human right of free speech, which is under serious threat in Malta.
The government’s LGBTIQ rights messaging is driven at the highest levels. When parliament voted in favour of same sex marriage in July, the government projected a rainbow flag onto Castille with the text “we made history” emblazoned across the building, an image the government wheels out at every scandal.
Government-friendly media ran the image right after human rights lawyers advised Caruana Galizia’s family that the government is in “flagrant violation” of their rights under the European Convention of Human Rights, as recently confirmed by Malta’s constitutional court.
The government is engaging in pinkwashing: a deliberate strategy to hide continuing violations of human rights behind an image of modernity built on Maltese LGBTIQ people. The government’s pinkwashing” has made LGBTIQ rights a public-relations tool, despite much of its support base remaining socially conservative and fiercely homophobic.
Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Chris Wylie said election campaign strategists SCL (linked to Malta passport sales concessionaire Henley & Partners) recognised that buy in from the LGBTIQ community is a low effort / high result target. This is just another point in the ongoing anaylsis of whether the Labour Party used these companies to win elections.
The Shift News’ investigation into Labour’s secret online hate groups – numbering 60,000 members and administered by government and Labour officials – found thousands of violently homophobic and transphobic comments, describing government critics and opposition politicians as “pufti” (poofters) and calls for them to be sodomised, and trans and gay people as “disgusting”.
The government and Labour’s pinkwashing not only manipulates the hard-won rights of Malta’s LGBTIQ community, but it ignores the battles for those rights fought by other groups and individuals. It is the pre-Adrian Delia Nationalist Party that can lay claim to the first openly gay elected official, Karl Gouder, and first trans elected official, Alex Mangion, both of whom refused to be identified by their sexuality alone.
Most LGBTIQ people have experienced oppression within their own families, in popular culture, and at law. In Malta, LGBTIQ people and their recently and hard-won rights are incomplete indicators of human rights.
The expansion of LGBTIQ rights does not compensate for the human rights violations experienced by anti-corruption activists, journalists, migrants and opposition politicians. The government and Labour party are using the realisation of LGBTIQ rights to blind Maltese people and international observers of Malta to these violations, endemic corruption and the country’s rule of law crisis.
Rushing LGBTIQ rights faster than society can take them on or accept them actually creates a disjoint between the laws and LGBTIQ rankings and what people actually accept – research has shown that gap to be against LGBTIQ interests. This mismatch is normally bridged with education which, in the rush to pinkwash, is noticeably absent.