Parents of LGBTI+ Persons from 14 different European countries gathered at the Jesuit Retreat House in Mosta, Malta on 21-22nd February 2017 but the weather outdoors was more typical of that of spring rather than winter. It seemed to capture the sentiment of the participants who were full of excitement for new beginnings – founding the European Network of Parents of LGBTI+ Persons (ENP), as an umbrella organisation. We were about 50 participants with many different stories to tell. As we listened to each country’s representative we understood and felt the sense of urgency, to empower one another in the work of raising awareness, and eradicating homophobia and transphobia. We believe we can do this together, standing strong alongside our LGBTI+ children. Of course, not all parents feel safe to ‘come out, so we plan to promote initiatives to encounter other parents who may still be struggling, and living in more vulnerable circumstances.
The safe and serene atmosphere at the Retreat Centre was interrupted by bursts of laughter and joyous interaction of people connecting with one another, gradually forming new friendships. It was clear that we shared a common purpose – to help each other change hearts and minds for a more inclusive society. With the event happening in Malta – the number 1 on the Rainbow Index of the International Lesbian, Gay Association (ILGA-Europe) chart – when Malta holds the Presidency of the Council of Europe, it was an occasion that was newsworthy. The ENP launch happened on the eve of a High-Level Ministerial Meeting, to showcase the importance of LGBTI+ rights and recognition while Civil Rights ministers gathered in Malta with delegates and foreign journalists. It was opportune to ride the wave of Malta’s success story and showcase to the rest of the foreign and local media, the role of parents in bringing about change.
The ENP Conference helped us reach out to others like us, parents from different countries working courageously in their own cultural contexts, despite the hostilities faced in their own country. Welcomed also by a Church institution as the choice of venue for the International Conference, we talked about building bridges and opening channels of dialogue with political and religious leaders, as well as civil society. Sadly, discrimination against LGBTI+ persons is still very rife in the workplace and unfortunately even in some families. There were three workshops that participants were asked to choose from, to help us go deeper into some areas. One workshop was to help parents raise awareness and learn to get their voices better heard in public, in the media and with politicians. Another training session was on the conflicts being experienced both in families and societies where violence is rampant, harsh, and painful but hidden. A third workshop was focused on advocacy strategy as a means to develop a European Network of Parents that can truly support those countries lagging behind in terms of protective rights for our LGBTI+ children. We all share the same dreams but need to work closer together, to bring about mentality changes.
The atmosphere in the hall and corridors was electric and magnificent. Language barriers were overcome by sheer enthusiasm and the helpful service of younger activists who joined also. The weather, though still in the middle of February, was more like spring as if to confirm the mood of all participants who found new hope in meeting new mothers, fathers and activists sharing their experiences and concerns. These European parents and families were reminded of their counterparts in Latin America who to are developing a Network of Parents of LGBTI+ Persons. A message of solidarity was filmed and recorded, to send them a solidarity song which we performed together. A sense of being part of a wider movement that is fast spreading across the globe could be clearly felt. The heartfelt testimony of a mother from Israel who had just received a message from her gay son who got arrested that night, merely for putting up a photo of him and his boyfriend embracing in front of the parliament building, was clear that much more needs to be done for public safety. Another mother from Romania who was asked by her parish leader to find another parish, merely for acknowledging her gay son, left deep wounds that many shared. There were many such stories about injustice and heartache. As we listened to one another, we experienced some inner healing and were more ready to seek roads of reconciliation with those that hurt us.
With the presence of the Hon. Minister Helena Dalli, the European Members of Parliament Dr Miriam Dalli and Dr Roberta Metsola, as well as other keynote speakers from the European Commission’s DG Justice, ILGA-Europe and the Maltese LGBTI+ Consultative Council, it was helpful to understand how EU institutions could be made useful. Yet while laws may be in place in some parts of Europe, there were still many other regions lacking very fundamental human rights. The pain and suffering must be stopped and ENP is committed to contributing its humble part along this long journey towards improved understanding and respect for all. ENP will continue to develop as an advocacy body that can be easily accessible to European Members of Parliament as well as to national parliaments. ENP is offering its ‘expertise’ to build relationships with political, social and religious leaders to cultivate an atmosphere of dialogue and restore broken relationships. ENP is hoping to fill the gap across Europe, that has been left void for far too long but which is now essential to fill – it is the bringing together of personal narratives of parents who are ‘out and proud’ and advocating together. Parents know their children have much to offer to society and therefore, want to see them take up their rightful place as leaders and protagonists also. ENP is a grassroots movement aimed at empowering vulnerable parents of LGBTI+ persons to stand up on their own two feet again; to stand in defence and solidarity with those who are being attacked or violated, and to pave the way for laws and policies to safeguard and value equality for all.
This first ENP Assembly was concluded with a public conference that included speakers like the Episcopal Vicar of Evangelisation; a representative of the DG Justice Commission; a video message from Fr James Martin SJ, Editor at Large of America Magazine and parents from different parts of Europe: Ukraine, Poland and Portugal.
ENP is a Voluntary Organisation registered in Malta that is positioned to act as a go-between whenever policies and legislative measures are being designed and implemented. We can offer insight and helpful suggestions to make the process of change more smooth and more respectful.
As the European Network of Parents of LGBTI+ Persons (ENP), we aim to bring together other parent groups from across Europe so that as one umbrella organisation, we may strengthen the parents’ voice. We have a niche to fill and a style of communicating that is compelling. We can influence hearts and minds because we understand the pain that exclusion brings and we know that our children have every reason to see their full potential reached.
Join us in this journey towards unconditional love.
We take this opportunity to thank those that helped to make it possible.