Christopher Vella, Coordinator of the Drachma LGBTI Group in Malta as well as Co-Chair of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, was born in December 1978 on the island of Malta (Europe). He was born into a middle-class family—his father worked in a meteorological office while his mother had been a teacher but retired to become a housewife. At that time women in Malta could not teach and be married. Christopher had a brother three years older and a sister two years older.
The family was typical Maltese in terms of being steeped in Roman Catholic religion. Christopher’s education—primary, secondary and post-secondary—was all in Catholic institutions. The family had a strong connection to the Society of Christian Doctrine, an organization founded in 1907 by the only Roman Catholic saint from Malta, George Preca. Three of Christopher’s aunts were members of the Society with two of them elected to the role of Superior Generals of the women’s order (1984-1999; 2009-2014). Christopher began attending Society of Christian Doctrine meetings in his teenage years and at age 18 he became a full, adult member of the order, specializing especially in catechesis among teenagers and adults. He remained a member of this Society until 2012, when he left the Society, eventually joining Drachma, which he started to coordinate soon after. Throughout his adult years he has also been active in the life of the various parishes — leading youth groups, reading scripture and helping lead the mass.
Christopher enjoyed reading literature and history during his developmental years. His personality was somewhat reserved, and he was not particularly interested in sports. He began a lifelong hobby of collecting memorabilia—coins, stamps, bus and train tickets among others. Today he has a collection of over 400 crucifixes and a vast numismatic and stamp collection. He also reads and writes poetry and is an avid collector of over 5000 books on a variety of social sciences.
Christopher’s secondary and post-secondary education was in Jesuit schools. He studied history and sociology at university and became a history teacher first at the secondary school level. After he earned his master’s degree he taught at post-secondary level, beginning in 2006 and today he teaches in a pre-tertiary University College associated with the University of Malta. He has been involved in the Malta Union of Teachers and a member of the council of the trade Union from 2010. He currently serves as Union delegate at the University College and represents the Union at European meetings of the European Education Trade Union (ETUCE) for Higher Education. He is also Secretary of the Malta Historical Society.
Around the age of 11 or 12, he started to be aware that he was different sexually. There was very little sex education or information available at that time. In the rigid Catholic context in which he lived there was no possibility of being different. Alternative sexuality was taboo and immoral. And while Christopher had sexual fantasies about boys, he was confused because he was also attracted to girls. He didn’t know if he could be gay or was just a confused teenager. It was much later that he identified himself as bisexual with a preference for the male gender.
The Society of Christian Doctrine required its members to be celibate. Christopher did confide in a spiritual director about his questions regarding his sexuality—the terrible cross that he had to carry. He was told it was OK to be gay as long as he remained faithful to the promise of celibacy. If he focused on God, then he could control his sexual desires. The struggle became increasingly intense for Christopher. Despite his endeavors to live a strong spiritual life, his sexual desires remained. He vacillated between thinking of leaving the Society and trying even harder to keep his urges under control. The conflict was strong.
When Christopher engaged and completed the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, he came to understand that his life calling was not to be in the Society. So, in June 2012 he left the Society. This was an extremely difficult transition. His life had been dedicated to the Society. When he had not been teaching or doing work related to the university, he had spent his time at the Society’s centers. All of his friends and colleagues were in the Society.
Fortunately, both his psychologist and his spiritual director suggested he contact Drachma LGBT, a group in Malta that gave persons space to explore their sexuality. Christopher contacted Joseanne Peregin from Drachma’s Parents’ Group. He sat down for a conversation with her in January 2013. She suggested that he connect with the LGBTQ group and gave him the name of Mario Gerada, who was coordinating the group at the time. Christopher met Mario in a coffee shop and poured out his life story. Mario invited him to attend a meeting of the LGBTQ group on January 23-24. Christopher was one of four persons there—with Mario, Tyrone Grima (the founder of the group) and a colleague Pierre. Christopher found the meeting exhilarating as it opened up new possibilities for him.
As Christopher was working through his sexual identity at this time, the biggest stumbling block was how to fit this with his Catholic faith. He had been immersed in an overwhelming Catholic ethos his whole life. So, he had to figure out some way to integrate his sexuality and his spirituality. After leaving the Society he had initially started to attend gatherings of the Youth Fellowship, a charismatic movement of young people in Malta. While he made a few friends, he did not feel comfortable there, particularly when the leaders presented very stringent views of sexuality and completely negative views of homosexuality. Christopher saw the incongruity between teaching monogamy as the ideal for heterosexual persons while celibacy was the only option for LGBT persons.
Christopher was deeply drawn to Mario at this time. Mario was an important, visible gay activist who was also open about his Catholic faith. He opened a new framework of being for Christopher and Drachma provided a safe space to begin to explore, challenge, discover and ask questions. Christopher started writing a spiritual diary in which he explored questions about the Bible, morality, sexual life and intimacy. He began to discern how he could be Catholic and lead a responsible gay life.
Mario had been leading Drachma for eight years at this point and was looking for someone else to take over some leadership. After Christopher had been with the group a few months, Mario started delegating leadership to him. At that time the group had a sort of a core team that was rather a fluid reality with little structure. Christopher began coordinating and convening meetings of the group but was still not open about his sexuality to anyone outside the group.
In the March 2013 general election a new Labour government came to power in Malta and espoused more open positions on LGBT issues. The government established a Consultative Council to look at policies and issues related to LGBT persons in Malta. Drachma had a place on the Council. In the summer of 2013, the government acted strongly to expel some Africans who had migrated illegally to Malta. Drachma and another group resigned from the Consultative Council out of protest. Subsequent talks resolved the conflict and at the end of summer Drachma was invited back to the Council. It was at this point, in October 2013 that Christopher became the Drachma representative on the Consultative Council. At the time Malta was one of the worst countries in Europe on LGBT issues. The Council initiated conversations that started moving the country rather quickly to new, more open policies and Christopher participated in these conversations.
This was a period of huge learning for Christopher. Through the meetings and hearings of the Council as well as being Drachma’s front-line person for inquiries he heard story after story about the struggles and the harm that LGBT persons experienced. Christopher discovered that the best stance was to listen and to accompany persons on their journeys. Another highlight of this time was that Christopher began dating and developing a relationship with Tyrone Grima.
Christopher also made connections outside of Malta. He had some contact with LGBT groups in Italy and with the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups. In 2014, Joseanne attended a meeting in Rome which planted seeds for a global connection between LGBT Catholic groups. In September 2015, Christopher made his first LGBT-related trip outside of Malta—along with Tyrone—to attend a conference in Rome to establish the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics. Given that Christopher was one of the only persons there who identified as bisexual he was elected to the Steering Committee. For the next two years he worked with Ruby Almeida, Michael Brinkschroeder, Frank DeBernardo, Ben Oh, Fernando Gonzalez and others to create the framework and legal foundation of the Global Network (GNRC). After two years of intense work they convened in Munich in December 2017 to establish GNRC as an official Non-Governmental Organization registered in Italy. Christopher was elected to the first board of directors there, and together with Ruby Almeida as Co-Chair, he has continued to work diligently towards the growth of the organization.
Christopher came out to his family in early 2014, after he began dating Tyrone. In 2015, Tyrone came to live with Christopher at his parents’ home until they bought a house together in October 2016. The Maltese government adopted civil unions in April 2014 and legal marriage in July 2017. Christopher and Tyrone were married in a civil ceremony in April 2018. Christopher continues to teach History at the University of Malta Junior College. While his primary research has been on the history of Malta in the 17th and 18th centuries, he has recently begun research on LGBT realities there in the 19th and 20th centuries.
(This biographical statement written by Mark Bowman from an interview with Christopher Vella and edited by Christopher.)
Biography Date: September 2019