Italy: Authorities Restrict Freedom Of Speech And Assembly; World Pride Under Threat

Contact: Michael Mills, IGLHRC's Rome Conference Co-coordinator (+1-415-255-8680);
Scott Long, Director of Policy (+1-212-216-1814)

NEW YORK/SAN FRANCISCO- The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) today called on the Italian government to defend the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people to free expression and assembly. Organizers of World Pride, an LGBT festival scheduled for Rome from July 1-9, 2000, face a mounting campaign to close the event down. The Catholic Church and Italy's powerful neo-fascist movement are both pressuring Italian authorities to deny permits for the event. The city of Rome has also just rescinded the funding it promised to the organizers in January of this year.

"Italy is at a crossroads," said Michael Mills, IGLHRC's Rome Conference CO-coordinator "The city of Rome has already rescinded the money it had promised and now threatens to deny the fundamental freedoms of assembly, association, and expression. Either it will defend democratic freedoms, or it will follow Austria along the road of capitulating to the far right."

World Pride includes a series of events stretching from July 1-9, 2000, among them a peaceful parade, a conference of the International Gay and Lesbian Association, and additional conferences on human rights, religion and homosexuality, women, transgender issues, and HIV/AIDS education. Organizers hope to draw thousands of visitors.

The Catholic Church has consistently opposed the event, as it coincides with planned Jubilee celebrations. [The Jubilee is a Vatican sponsored celebration which occurs every 25 years]. Opposition gained strength after local elections on April 16 showed significant gains for right-wing forces, including the National Alliance headed by Gianfranco Fini, a successor to Mussolini's fascist movement. Rightist parties captured a majority of regional governments, including that of Lazio, the region around Rome. The center-left governing coalition survived, but with a fragile majority.

In late April, the new president of the Lazio region, Francesco Storace-- a member of Fini's neo-fascist party-- renewed calls on the government to revoke permission for World Pride. Three National Alliance members of Parliament recently proposed a "Week of the Family" to coincide with the march, and requested permits to hold rallies in the same public squares where the march was planned. Another neo-fascist group, the Forza Nuova, asked police to give them permits for rallies at all the times and venues slated for World Pride, attempting to block what they called the "Festival of the Perverts."

On May 10, the commanding officer of the Roman police force Fernando Masone urged in a report to Interior Minister Enzo Bianco that the Pride rally be called off. He warned that "ungovernable" homosexual activists would threaten the peace in Rome. In meetings with Pride organizers, police indicated they might give permits to neo-fascist rallies, but not to Pride. Archbishop William Levada of San Francisco was quoted in the Italian media as saying, "I can't believe it's possible that this should happen in Rome . . . I am amazed that the Italian government has not prevented it. Evidently the Italian authorities have no idea of what will happen. Demonstrations of this kind are uncontrollable."

The final decision about the march rests with Interior Minister Bianco. Bianco has previously strongly defended LGBT people's internationally recognized rights to expression and assembly. In February he told Parliament that "the power to forbid a public meeting can be used only on the grounds of protecting the public order. We have already assured this order for all things concerning the Vatican and its Jubilee. We thus have rules and procedures in place that would work well with the gay meetings' stated respect for and compatibility with the Jubilee events."

However, the present government is increasingly intimidated by Vatican and rightist agitation which is creating a climate of fear and intolerance in the city of Rome. Italian activists fear that the government may sacrifice basic freedoms to its own preservation.

IGLHRC is also calling on the Parliament of the European Union to speak out in support of World Pride.

"Europe needs to take a stand on this," said Scott Long, IGLHRC's Director of Policy. "This year, the European Union has moved against extremism in Austria--but only after a neo-fascist party had already entered the government. Now the European Union has a chance to combat the extreme right in Italy-- before it takes power, and before it is too late."

Information about the conference "The Separation of Faith and Hate: Sexual Diversity, Religious Intolerance, and Strategies for Change" and other work IGLHRC is doing around World Pride Roma 2000 can be found at www.iglhrc.org. To register, send an inquiry to WorldPrideRome@aol.com with the Subject line "_Religion conference registration_", or inquire by fax at +39 6 5413971.

Information about other World Pride events can be found at http://www.worldpride2000.com/english/fcronology.htm. General inquiries about World Pride can be directed to info@mariomieli.it.

Click here for a form letter you can print and fax to the Roman mayor, or to our offices at 1.415.255.8662 (we'll be happy to fax this for you!).

IGLHRC's mission is to protect and advance the human rights of all people and communities subject to discrimination or abuse on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV status.