June 16, 2007


The following dispatch on today's Rome Gay Pride March was written Judys_book_pompeiiexclusively for this blog by DIRELAND's Rome correspondent, Judy Harris. A veteran expat journalist who wrote from Italy for years for TIME and the Wall Street Journal, Judy now writes for ARTnews and this month published a new book (right), "Pompeii Awakened: A Story of Rediscovery" (I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd.) Judy also has her own website.

ROME -- Arriving by plane, train and 200 special buses, over 100,000 men and women converged today on the Eternal City for Gay Pride Day, with Rome_pride_07_st_peters some optimists predicting twice that number. The anti-homophobia event, in open defiance of the Catholic Church, is being celebrated today, one week later than in other countries, to avoid its coinciding with President George W. Bush's visit to Rome June 9. (Left, a banner opposing civil unions as illegal in front of St. Peter's this spring.)

As transgendered member of Parliament and LGBT rights activist Vladimir_luxuriaVladimir Luxuria (right) of Rifondazione Comunista led the parade, slogans were chanted, among them: "Prodi, Prodi dove sei? Oggi Roma e' tutta gay" ("Prodi, Prodi, where do you stay? Today all of Rome is gay." ) Banners proclaimed, "For a more European Italy," "Rights for All," "More Freedom, Less Vatican," and "Equality, Dignity and Secularism," the official Rome Pride slogan. (In addition to Luxuria, there are two out gay men and one out lesbian in the Italian parliament, plus one openly bi-sexual MP: Alfonso Pecoraio Scario, president of the Italian Green Party, who marched today.)

Today's two-mile-long parade route studiously avoided all monuments of historic Rome save for the Coliseum, and never approached St. Peter's Square. Beginning at 4 pm onRome_pride_07_poster  this sultry Saturday, the paraders, with 40 floats and hundreds of colorful balloons, were snaking their way from Piazzale Ostiense toward the Aventine Hill and onward to the huge square in front of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, a major Roman Catholic landmark. This vast piazza traditionally hosts mass events, and indeed a rival rally, organized to promote the traditional family, attracted hundreds of thousands there on May 12. (Left, the official Rome Pride poster)

In a coup for the organizers, for the first time in Italian history the nationalProdi_nervous  government figures among Gay Pride's institutional sponsors, who already included the governments of the Lazio region and of the province and city of Rome. This week, the government's council of ministers formally voted to support Rome Pride. But a nervous Prime Minister Prodi (right) ordered that no minister could march in the parade Paolo_ferreroor ride on one of its colorful floats, but several cabinet ministers, including Paolo Ferrero (left), Minister for Social Solidarty, participated anyway. Addressing the crowd at its departure, Minister Ferrero said that, "The DiCo [civil unions] were in the coalition's program, and the Union [the government political parties' umbrella organization] took votes on this."

The delicate and controversial negotiations for government co-sponsorship of Rome Pride wereBarbara_pollastrini_2 negotiated by Equal Opportunity Minister Barbara Pollastrini  (right) of the DS party (Democratici di Sinistra), who began her political career in the local Communist party organization in Milan. However, watering down the significance of cabinet sponsorship, she explained that, "Sponsorship is limited to the cultural aspects related to the event, not to the event itself."

Many Pride marchers weren't buying the government's tepidity and its distancing itself from the demonstration. ""We are heteros, gays, lesbians and bisexual and we want Romano Prodi to give the same rights to all. Where are all the promises the government made? Evaporated into nothingness?" one cross-dresser on a float told AFP.

Many expected that the walkup to Gay Pride Day would turn into a frontal clash with the Church, but the Italian bishops were told in no uncertain terms that they are to keep a low profile and avoid conflict today. But others spoke for them, with government semi-sponsorship of Rome Pride the pretext which irritated the more rigidly Roman Catholic Church politicians, collectively known as "i teodem" (the theo-democrats).

Isabella_bertolini "This government discriminates against the family," charged Isabella Bertolini (left), MP with Berlusconi's Forza Italia conservative coalition. "The government sponsors Gay Pride but would not sponsor Family Day. What a terrible disgrace for the State." She dubbed the trio of government ministers who openly support Gay Pride day "nothing but hypocrites -- they save face by supporting the event which they choose not to attend." Echoing her words Lorenzo_cesa was Lorenzo Cesa (right), secretary of Casini's UDC, who declared that "the support the government is giving to gay pride through its ministers, and which was not given to Family Day, is an insult to the Italian family."

Silvio Berlusconi excepted, the most prominent conservative leader in Italy today is Pier Ferdinando Casini, 52, of the Unione Democratici Cristiani (UDC). The Hon. Pier_ferdinando_casini Casini (left) is a former president of the Chamber of Deputies and a front-running candidate to succeed Berlusconi as leader of Italian conservatives in the (at present still unlikely) case that Berlusconi bows out. Like most conservatives in Italy, Casini opposes legislation that would allow civil partnerships, even though he is on his own second family. His partner is Azzurra Caltagirone, the daughter of the powerful businessman cum publisher Francesco Gaetano Caltagirone. From his earlier marriage Casini has two children; with Azzurra he has one.

Among today's Gay Pride goals is the promised law on civil partnerships, but Prodi's government itself is divided on the issue. Little progress has been made, and, as center-left cohesion dwindles, passage of civil unions seems more unlikely than ever.

If security becomes an issue, clashes may erupt tonight in the Villaggio Italia park on the Via Tiburtina outskirts, where a benefit party to finance today's event is organized. According to Rossana Praitano, spokesperson for Gay Pride Roma 2007, organizers arrived this morning to find walls of the park scribbled with swastikas and slogans like "La Roma fascista non vi vuole" (Fascist Rome does not want you). The Mario Mieli Club of Mario_mieli homosexual culture and today's event have been the butt of daily harassment by anonymous small bands of fascists," Praitano said. (The late Mario Mieli, right, 1952-1983, was a brilliant young radical poet and the founding theorist of Italian gay liberation in the early '70s. In 1971 Mieli launched Italy's first gay liberation group, FUORI! -- the Fronte Unitario Omosessuale Rivoluzionario Italiano. "FUORI!," which also means "Come Out!" in Italian, was also the title of Mieli's pioneering 1971 book of gay liberation theory.)

Pride spokesperson Praitano added, "Evidently the fascists feel protected because of the incautious statements made by some politicians. We are appealing to the Interior Minister Giuliano Amato and to the Rome Prefect Achille Serra to guarantee the personal safety and security of the participants."

Rome_pride_07_coliseum (Left, today's Rome Pride march passes by the Coliseum.) Legal recognition of gay and other civil partnerships in Italy, known here as Dico (de facto partnerships), was one of the unkept promises made by the faltering Center-Left government headed by Romano Prodi. In a draft bill presented to parliament on May 17 and signed by over a dozen MPs from four progressive parties, the 22-year-old national Italian LGBT organization Arcigay wrote that, whereas progress on that front has been made elsewhere, "The reality in our country is different," and went on to say that Italy lacks, among other things, anti-discriminatory legislation.

True--and the stony silence being observed by the Church in Italy ignores the bullying and violence which continues against gays, particularly young boys. Last April a 16-year-old, Matteo, tormented by his schoolmates in Turin for allegedly being too girlish, committed suicide. (Matteo's needless death was cited in the European Parliament's sweeping resolution on homophobia passed in April.) Last week the Italian press reported that another adolescent was beaten to a pulp by his father for being gay--family values, as it were, in action.

It is all the more sadly ironic, then, that the Church in Italy is not winning its battle in favor of its restrictive version of family values. The numbers of first communions and confirmations are in slight but constant decline, with the former shrinking from 9.9 to 8.4 per thousand Catholics and the latter, from 22.2 to 8.6 per thousand, during the five years 1991-2004. The aging population is one reason, but so is "an increasing alienation from the Catholic religion, as numerous research shows," according to researcher Silva Sansonetti. And the percentange of Catholic marriage is similarly shrinking, from 87.7% to 79.5% for the same period (the most recent statistics available).

Curiously, it was in the neighborhood of San Giovanni where, in 1581, a group of Portuguese Catholics founded what amounted to a male confraternity in which marriage rites were held. All were burned alive as punishment. What has changed in the centuries since then? According to a new book by University of Bologna Sociology Professors Marzio Barbagli and Asher Colombo, Omosessuali Moderni, published by the distinguished Il Mulino, Italy is among the last countries in Europe to have changed attitudes. The law and politics have lagged behind public perceptions of homosexuality, the authors demonstrate.

Pope_cartoon_good For the record, the Church position on homosexuality was codified by John Paul II in a book he published: Theology of the Body, a compendium of his addresses between 1979 and l984. In it, the late pontiff maintained that, while homosexual attraction is not sinful, it "is more or less a strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil and thus the inclination itself must beJudy_harris  seen as an objective disorder." Since then the Church position has further hardened--not coincidentally, with the pedophile scandals which have rocked the Church in both the U.S. and Europe, from Ireland to Austria, and not excluding Italy itself. -- by Judy Harris (right) in Rome

Judy's previous, most recent Letters from Rome for DIRELAND:

"Bush's Italian Visit," June 8; "Rome's Anti-Gay 'Family Day' " (May 12, 2006)

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