The gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans communities in the tiny EU nation of Malta have presented a petition asking for a range of measures to be introduced to protect them through the law, and have received the backing of a fringe political party.

Alternattiva Demokratika leader Harry Vassallo said yesterday that the recognition of gay rights would be a step forward, according to the Times of Malta.

He said he was supporting the petition organised by the Malta Gay Rights Movement and signed by more than 1,000 people, asking for legal recognition of same-sex couples, a homophobic bullying strategy for the island nation’s schools and new laws targeting homophobic and transphobic crimes.

The MGRM also wants gender reassignment surgery to be made available through Malta’s public health services and goods and services protection for LGBT people.

In 2004, Malta banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation after the Malta Gay Rights Movement lobbied for the measure to be included in an Employment Relations Act.

Alternattiva Demokratika currently have no seats in Malta’s parliament and the MGRM proposals are unlikely to receive the backing of any of the main political parties in the country, one of the most socially conservative countries in the EU.

98% of the population are Roman Catholics, and although homosexuality is legal, there remains significant prejudice.

Malta, a British colony until 1964, has around 400,000 inhabitants and is the smallest EU state in terms of both size and population.

In 2000 the government was criticised by gay rights groups for openly homophobic statements condemning EU proposals to treat gay people equally.

According to a December 2006 Eurobarometer survey, only 18% of the Maltese population support gay marriage, and there is significant prejudice against the LGBT community.

In July Malta’s Union of Teachers threatened to publish the details of four attempts to oust gay and lesbian teachers from Roman Catholic school posts. According to the union, Church schools were under pressure from parents to fire the teachers, leading to four interventions in the past five years.