Do you remember the isle that seduced Odysseus? It was Gozo, the isle north of Malta. Recently the area has become a hot spot both for vacationing and as an LGBTQ+ paradise. Given that this summer we cannot go and see it for ourselves, we have asked Antonella from Gozo, to give us an inside look.
Welcome, Antonella! Can you introduce yourself please?
My name is Antonella Bugeja and I'm 19 years old. I lived in Gozo for most of my life but I moved to Malta last year to take a Doctor of Medicine and Surgery course at the University there. Moving out and living in the larger sister island was an amazing experience, giving me the freedom needed to discover myself and meet new people. It was also crucial for letting me fully accept my sexuality and overcome my internalised homophobia accumulated throughout the years. Becoming the Membership and Outreach officer of the LGBTI+ Gozo organisation helped me further understand myself and acquire the courage I needed to fully embrace coming out to my loved ones and society.
Despite my age, I'm an old soul with a passion for music, psychology, nature and travelling. I love playing the piano, singing, dancing and reading interesting, empowering books. My main goal in life is to live a life true to myself and experience as much of it as possible, while leaving a positive mark on the people I meet. I hope to be able to help others discover who they truly are and understand the power of their mind. In order to start working on the latter and help educate the Maltese society on the LGBTQ+ and sexual health situation in Malta, I am now also the Sexual Health Campaign coordinator for my medical school’s organisation.
You have made huge steps already; congratulations! Tell us a little bit about the country. How’s the LGBTQ situation there?
Considering that Malta has a high percentage of elderly people and that it's quite a religious and conservative country, the LGBTQ+ community wasn't always accepted; as a consequence, many people came out later in their life.
Currently, however, the situation is much better. Malta has been number 1 on the European Rainbow map for 4 years now. This is understandable since the LGBTQ+ laws in Malta are quite advanced, and we are legally equal in every aspect. These laws were mostly introduced in 2014 with the introduction of same sex civil union, which was followed by was the introduction of same sex adoption in 2016 and then equal marriage in 2017. Although legally LGBTQ+ people in Malta are protected, sadly I can't say that this is the same socially.
What’s the situation in Gozo specifically? Is it any different from the main island?
Since Gozo is a smaller sister island with most people knowing each other and rumours spreading like wildfire, the situation has been worse here than in Malta. Furthermore, Gozitans are quite conservative and judgemental, especially when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, most Gozitan teens only come out once they move to Malta when they are older. In 2015, LGBTI+ Gozo was founded in an attempt to help Gozitan inhabitants feel safer in their home island and to normalise being part of the LGBTQ+ community here. Thanks to this, in these last 5 years there have been great achievements with respect to the LGBTQ+ community.
My generation is more open to the LGBTQ+ community, however there are still quite a lot of judgemental and unaccepting people. My mum has had a woman tell her that me being part of Gozo's LGBTQ+ organisation is embarrassing and shameful; but encounters like this further motivate me to do my best and help educate our society and normalise the LGBTQ+ community.
Finally, can you share a funny, memorable, or inspirational coming out story of yours?
The hardest was coming out to my parents. Since they are quite religious and conservative, coming from a completely different generation, I knew that it would be hard for them to accept this part of my life. In fact, my coming out involved them questioning whether this was a phase, whether it was all in my head and could be fixed by talking to a psychologist, as well as wondering if they did something wrong. Despite all of this, I knew that they were mostly worried about whether or not I could handle the harsh comments and difficulties from society. In fact regardless of all their questions, concerns and difficulties dealing with it, they continued to give me their love and support, and I will always appreciate it.
I would like to end this by sending out a short message to all struggling or confused parents of LGBTQ+ members: You are the people who matter most to us, so rather than showing a lot of concern about how society will treat us and trying to shield us from them, the most important thing is to show your love and support at home, because that's what will fuel us to deal with whatever hardships life throws at us!