The troubling situation of LGBTI+ rights in Italy
During Pride month, Europe appears to be split in two. Thanks to the “Annual Review of the Human Rights Situation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex People 2021”, developed by ILGA-Europe, it is apparent how, in the last year, the European map has diverged. Northern and Western Europe continue to be open and inclusive, respecting and guaranteeing fundamental rights and freedoms to the LGBTI+ community; while on the other hand, Southern and Eastern Europe show unsatisfactory and even worrying results in terms of guaranteeing and respecting these rights.
In the Annual Review, it is possible to analyse the so-called “Rainbow Map and Index”; it ranks 49 European countries on their respective legal and policy practices for LGBTI people, from 0-100%, using a set of 71 criteria. Those are divided between six thematic categories: equality and non-discrimination; family; hate crime and hate speech; legal gender recognition and bodily integrity; civil society space; asylum.
Among Western European countries, the country that unfortunately stands out is Italy. It is the only one among them to have a worrying situation for the LGBTI+ community. In the Annual Report 2021, in fact, Italy is the only country (together with Lichtenstein) to have obtained a result lower than 35%, reaching only 22%. All large neighbouring countries, such as Austria, France, Spain and Germany, scored between 50 and 65%.
These results are based on research regarding the prevalence of bias-motivated speech and violence. Some of the examples reported concern not only the general population, but also speeches and statements by political figures. For instance, in July 2020, Vercelli’s city councillor Giuseppe Cannata (of the Brothers of Italy party) was sentenced to four months’ probation and a 3000 euro fine for his Facebook post saying, “kill lesbians, gays, and paedophiles”; in August, a city councillor of Rome, Massimiliano Quaresima (formerly of the 5 Stars Movement) stated during a meeting that “homosexuality is a disease and is caused by vaccines”. Unfortunately, these are just some of the many examples of discriminatory remarks from politicians that the Italian LGBTI+ community has dealt with.
On national television on May 1st, the singer Fedez (who has been very active lately regarding civil rights) controversially recited, word for word, examples of discriminatory remarks from Italian politicians. Among these he included: “If I had a gay son, I would burn him in the oven” said by Giovanni De Paoli, regional councillor of Liguria (of the Lega party); or “Gays are a disgrace to the preservation and reproduction of the species” said Alberto Zelger, city councillor in Verona (Lega) with, sadly, many more examples as well.
Fedez’s intervention was aimed at bringing attention to the issue of the “Zan bill”, which, if passed, would criminalise homo-, bi- and transphobia as well as ableism. The bill takes its name from the MP Alessandro Zan (of the Democratic Party) who proposed it. If accepted, it will amend the Penal Code, thus outlawing hate speech and hate crimes against LGBTI+ people, women and people with disabilities. These will be added to the hate crimes already punished by the Italian Penal Code, which currently include crimes against religion, ethnicity, and nationality.
The debate on the proposed law began in July 2020 and still continues today due to the many obstacles it has encountered in almost a year: it opened a national debate, involving politicians, the population and religious leaders. The amendment was adopted by the Chamber of Deputies in November, but it is still pending at the Senate. Fedez's speech, which came two days after the bill was finally put on the Senate agenda - after a six-month wait - was also intended to shed light on this delay. Andrea Ostellari (of the Lega party), who is President of the Senate's Justice Commission (the section dealing with this law) has postponed the discussion for the scheduling of the debate in the Senate for weeks. Fedez wanted to underline how Ostellari has spoken of the "unimportance" of this law, as the Senate had other priorities planned. These priorities (listed by Fedez) included wine labelling and the reinstatement of a former Italian politician’s life annuity after he was sentenced to almost 6 years' imprisonment for corruption; by speaking of them, Fedez brought this apparent absurdity to the attention of the wider Italian population. After the final step for bringing the bill to the Senate, the right-wing parties’ opposition to it continued; in fact, Ostellari has nominated himself rapporteur of the bill, which is a role that will allow him to express his opinion on all the amendments and coordinating the political mediation during the discussion.
This action certainly raised a lot of controversy, as Zan has also expressed his concern, saying it appears that this is another attempt to undermine the adoption of a law desired by a majority of the Senate and a wide number of citizens. In fact, there were several popular demonstrations in many crowded Italian squares, which showed the broad civil support for this law. Some politicians joined a campaign to support the law and a petition gathered over 460,000 signatures, delivered to the President of the Senate on the 28th of May. Also demonstrating in the square in support of the petition and the approval of the bill were representatives of +Europa, an Italian party within the ALDE Party.
We can now only wait for the final debate in the Senate, which does not yet have a precise date but at least has finally been accepted by the Justice Commission.
Rights of the LGBTI+ community are important no matter where in Europe a person lives. Although Eastern Europe often gets the headlines because of their egregious attacks on the LGBTI+ community, it is important that we do not forget about LGBTI+ people in other parts of Europe. LYMEC’s Working Group on Civil and Minority Rights wants to support the Italian LGBTI+ community, as we believe in respecting and guaranteeing the civil rights of all people and ensuring safety from all forms of violence. The European Parliament has declared the EU an LGBTI+ Freedom Zone - and it is time for all political leaders, in Italy and across Europe, to ensure that this statement amounts to more than just words. LGBTI+ people’s rights must be respected and fully implemented in all European countries, and this proposed Italian legislation is a step in the right direction.
About the Author:
Martina Rubino (IT) is an individual member of LYMEC and part of the Working Group on Civil and Minority Rights. After graduating in International Relations and Diplomatic Affairs at the University of Bologna, she just completed a voluntary service for the European Solidarity Corps. Martina is passionate about intersectional feminism, human rights, European integration and sustainable development.
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