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August 03, 2007


Kissin_rome_1This Letter from Rome, on last night's Colosseum kiss-in, is the latest in a series written 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 in June published a new book, "Pompeii Awakened: A Story of Rediscovery"

ROME -- It took gay Rome to find something new under theColosseum  summer moon in the ancient Colosseum, when at least 1,000 lesbians and gays joined a mass kiss-in and rally there last night (Thursday, August 2.) Above left, a couple embrace in front of the Colosseum in last night's kiss-in.

The joyously amorous demonstration was called by Arcigay -- theArcigay_logo_2  national LGBT association -- to protest the arrest of two young men caught kissing (or perhaps something more) in the 2 am moonlight and arrested on July 27 by the Italian "forze dell'ordine" last week. And what forces they were! Responding to the complaint, three squad cars and seven armed Carabinieri paramilitary men in uniform charged into the scene like G-men in a 'Forties flick.

So what did this small army find? No one but they know, for in this tale of sex there are lies but no videotape, and so two absolutely opposed versions exist. One side or the other is lying, at risk of serious consequences. Roberto L., 27, and Michele M., 28 , the gay couple (whose last names were not given in respect of the privacy law), claim they were dressed in an appropriate manner and were merely kissing -- whereas the official Carabinieri report speaks of "fellatio", with pants pulled down. If the gay couple are found guilty they risk a sentence of  up to two years in prison.

But if the Carabinieri—and there were seven of them, meaning that a lie may not be easily kept over time—had underestimated the reaction to their decision to arrest the two and invented posto facto an exaggerated version of events, they will be the ones who face serious legal consequences. There being no other witnesses, it is one person's word against another's.

In a RAI radio interview Roberto exclaimed: "And who wouldn't want to kiss in the moonlight by the Colisseum? It was incredibly romantic." To which one of the Carabinieri paramilitary police who arrested Roberto and his boyfriend replied, "That was no kiss, and if we caught a hetero couple doing what those two were, we would have arrested them, too." Perhaps.

Massimo_polledri The problem here is that the lies of the Italian police regarding their brutality after the Genoa G8 meeting have been found out, so that police credibility is low. Enter politics. For the xenophobic demagogue Umberto Bossi's Northern League party, Senator Massimo Polledri (left) growled, "Enough of these attacks on the Carabinieri corps. Public propriety must be protected!" Another complaint came from the right wing MP Luca Volonte (right), chairman of the Union of Christian Luca_volonte Democrats' parliamentary group, that "the gays now constitute a privileged and protected lobby." And predictably some on the far right are making a noisy show of generic support of the military.

All the more interesting, then, that by and large the progressives Franco_grillini in Italy have shown  more caution and fewer knee-jerk reactions. Openly gay MP Franco Grillini (left) of the PDS (Party of the Democratic Left), who is a former president of Arcigay, has complained at the police over-reaction, "especially because the police in the City of Rome has been particularly cooperative" in investigations into the spate of gay murders here. (At the kiss-in, a minute of silence was observed for a transexual who'd been murdered just two days previously.)

Transgendered MP Vladimir Luxuria of the Rifondazione Comunista (right), long one of Italy's most prominent gay rightsVladimir_luxuria  advocates, said she would call on the government to explain the arrest in Parliament. "It's worrying that a gesture of affection is considered a crime," she said, adding: "It's absurd that two young people who love each other should spend the night in a police station without having done anything obscene."

Three ministers in the center-left cabinet of Prime Minister Paolo_ferrero Romano Prodi endorsed the kiss-in, complaining about the presumably unjust arrests. Minister for Social Unity Paolo Ferrero (left), also of Rifondazione Comunista, who spoke at the kiss-in, said that the incident showed "the backwardness of our country." Barbara Pollastrini Barbara_pollastrini_2_2 (right) of the PDS, who is Minister for Equal Opportunity, similarly objected to the police action, which involved taking the two men to jail and booking them -- while a member of Prodi's Ulivo group, Health Minister Livia Turco, called the arrests "a national embarrassment."

Yet that is not the whole story. As a veteran journalist, the TV-famous author and commentator Corrado Augias (right) observed, "The incident Corrado_augias points up just how nervous our country has become. We Italians are both repressive and easy-going at the same time. One minute we're religious bigots and the next we're all devil-may-care." We'll probably never know what really happened, Augias went on to say, "but the fact is that fellatio in public is against the law." And a signed letter to the editor in La Repubblica declared, "I'm a leftist…but none of those commenting [on the arrest] was there on the scene. Personally I'm guessing that the Carabinieri version was closer to the truth, and I think that respectable, praiseworthy government mnisters should have the good sense to abstain from staking out positions." The ruins of the Colosseum have been the scene of nocturnal trysts -- especially for gays -- for a couple of millennia, but the notion of any sort of sexual contact in public still makes some people who like to think of themselves as broad-minded rather nervous.

There seems to be enough doubt that Arcigay National SecretaryAurelio_mancuso  Aurelio Mancuso (right) complained on a blog that the intellectual left was "letting us down" by being overly concerned with public propriety, and that the read issue is what is or is not permitted in public.

Gay_street_rome_opening_sign Last night's gay kiss-in occured on the same evening that a "gay street" was baptised by a large crowd of same-sexers (left). Rome has no gay commercial district, as many European cities do, so Arcigay proclaimed the 500-meter pedestrians-only portion of the Via San Giovani, a stone's throw from the Colosseum, a danger-free "point of reference for the gay and lesbian community," and promised to make the new "gay street" a staging area for gay cultural events and debates. The Via San Giovani was chosen because it has seen the opening of a couple of gay bars which have become popular, including one run by threeGay_street_rome_opening_banner lesbians called the Coming Out (right, its sidewalk terrace during last night's festivities), where the young arrested couple, Roberto and Michele, had come for a drink just before their "condemned kiss" at the Colosseum. Ministers Ferrero, Pollastrini, and Health Minister Rosa Bindi were part of the crowd that participated in the baptism of the "gay street" -- and hundreds later marched from the Via San Giovani to the nearby Colosseum to join the kiss-in, where the atmosphere was festive, with no sign of police, abusive or otherwise.

All this demonstrates that, even in the Italy of priests and what the French call bien-pensants, attitudes are evolving. Two weeks ago a presumably gay high school student was the subject of bullying in Gela, Sicily, a coastal town of 80,000 and one of the more conservative outposts. The incident immediately occupied the front pages of the newspapers Rosario_crocetta-- along with the news that the mayor of Gela, 50-year-old Rosario Crocetta (left), is himself gay, making him the first openly gay mayor in all of Italy. Crocetta is from the smallish Party of Italian Communists (PCI) -- a ten-year-old split-off from the Rifondazione Comunista; the PCI's 17 MPs are part of the Prodi-led center-left governing coalition.

On the national front, after its predecessors died in Parliament, a slightly improved bill allowing recognition of civil partnerships is moving forward, with some prospects of becoming law. Called the CUS (more or less Civil Union Solidarity, which has become "CUSCUS"—couscous—in the mouths of sneering far rightists), it has been approved by Vladmir Luxuria, among others, because it recognizes some important rights for gay partners in Italy. While falling short of the demands of Arcigay, it establishes a civil register of unions in a roster kept by justices of the peace andJudy_harris  reciprocal rights for the national health service, inheritances and the writing of marriage contracts. -- by Judy Harris (right) in Rome

Read Judy's last Letter from Rome, "Rome's Anti-Gay Family Day," May 12, 2007

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