Italy: Government Threatens Freedoms of Speech and Assembly; Act Now to Defend World Pride Roma 2000

Italian organizers of World Pride, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) festival scheduled to take place in Rome in July 2000, face a mounting campaign to close the event down. The Catholic Church and the extreme right, including Italy's powerful neo-fascist movement, are pressuring Italian authorities to deny or revoke permits for the event. Basic freedoms of expression and assembly are in danger. IGLHRC urgently requests communications to Italian officials:

  • Protesting these denials and restrictions; and
  • Urging immediate support and protection for the event--and for the essential rights of all.

Fax your letters now!
Form letters to:
Minister Bianco of Italy Mayor Rutelli of Rome

Minister Katia Belillo
Department of Equal Opportunity (Dipartimento per le pari opportunita)
Tel. 39 06 677 952 785 210
Fax 39 06 6990265
Minister Enzo Bianco
Minister of the Interior (Minister Affari Interni)
Fax 39 06 46549534
(If you can only write to one address, write to this one!)
Fernando Masone
Chief of Police (Capo della Polizia), Rome
Fax: 39 06 46549681
Questore (Police officer) Arnaldo La Barbera
39 06 46863010
(Switchboard number: ask to be routed to the fax)

Letters should also be sent to the President of the European Parliament and her advisers:

Madame Nicole Fontaine
President of the European Parliament
nfontaine@europarl.eu.int
Mr. Ilias Kavalierakis and Ms. Raquel de Vicente
Advisers to the President of the European Parliament
ikavaleriakis@europarl.eu.int
rdevicente@europarl.eu.int

Please stress the following points:

  • The freedoms of expression and association are protected in numerous international covenants and standards, including both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR). Italy has ratified both those treaties. Moreover, both those treaties have been interpreted by their enforcement bodies as banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. If Italy forces the cancellation or postponement of World Pride, it will violate basic human rights, and will grossly break its own international obligations.
  • Article 13 of the Treaty of Amsterdam, the basic treaty of the European Union, specifically empowers the Union to take action in cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation. The European Union has already shown that it will act against prejudice and incitement to hatred: when a neo-fascist movement joined the government of Austria, that country found itself isolated by European institutions. If Italy bows to the pressure of neo-fascism within its own borders, it can and should expect to become a magnet of outrage and international condemnation.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION:

The Circolo di Cultura Omosesuale Mario Mieli, an Italian NGO supporting LGBT rights, has been planning and organizing World Pride for almost three years. It will include a series of events stretching from July 1-9 2000, among them a peaceful and celebratory march, 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.

The Catholic Church, however, has consistently opposed the event, particularly because it would coincide with Jubilee celebrations bringing Catholic pilgrims to Rome. (Organizers of the march had deliberately planned a route which would avoid the major basilicas and religious sites.) Opposition gained both momentum and force after local elections on April 16 showed significant gains for right-wing forces, including not only the conservative party of former Premier Silvio Berlusconi, but his coalition partner, the National Alliance of Gianfranco Fini, which openly declares itself a successor to Mussolini's fascist movement. Rightist parties captured a majority of regional governments, including that of Lazio, the region surrounding Rome. The center-left national government collapsed; it was reconstituted, but with only a tenuous and insecure 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 national government and the Prefecture (mayoralty) of Rome to revoke permission for the World Pride event. According to the newspaper Il Messagero, closely associated with the Vatican, Storace stated that the festival would "make a mockery of the holy spirit of the Jubilee." On May 7, Il Messagero reported that three National Alliance members of Parliament had proposed a "Week of the Family" to coincide with the march, and had formally requested permission to hold rallies in the same public squares where the march was simultaneously planned. Another neo-fascist group, the "Forza Nuova," asked the Questura (police) to give them permits for rallies at all the times and venues slated for World Pride, in an attempt to block what they called the "Festival of the Perverts." At the same time, Cardinal Ersilio Tonini, a Vatican spokesman, said that "Common sense should suggest to postpone the gay pride. It is evident that such a demonstration has a temper of total opposition, seeking to engage in a struggle."

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. The hotel hosting Pride conferences has reportedly been pressured by the Vatican to expel gay and lesbian activists and events. Il Messagero also carried a statement allegedly by Archbishop William Levada of San Francisco, who said, 'I can't believe it's possible that this should happen in Rome during the Jubilee . . . 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 on permission for 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 stated in 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 clearly intimidated by the impact of Catholic and rightist agitation on its own electoral prospects. Italian activists fear that the government may sacrifice basic freedoms to its own preservation.