Italy: Rome Authorities Restrict Basic Liberties of Transsexuals, Bisexuals, Lesbians, And Gays

Caught between the moral imperatives of the Catholic Church and the obligations of a secular democracy to its citizens, municipal authorities in Rome have increased their surveillance and harassment of transsexuals, bisexuals, lesbians, and gay men in recent months, in defiance of recognized rights to expression and assembly. Urgent action is needed to defend the principle of equality and the basic rights of all Italian citizens. Support is also needed prevent official interference with the upcoming World Pride 2000 celebrations in Rome.

The recent murder of a closeted gay man who was also a "gentleman" of the Vatican called attention to the hypocrisy of the Church in condemning homosexuality and in campaigning against gay and lesbian equality in societies around the world. The situation was still more dramatically highlighted in January 1998 by the suicide of a gay man who burned himself to death in St. Peter's Square to protest officially sponsored intolerance.

On January 15, 1998, when the Pope made a historic visit to Rome's center of secular power, members of an Italian transsexual, gay, and lesbian organization, Circolo di Cultura Omosessuale "Mario Mieli" held a peaceful demonstration against Church morals in the Piazza del Campidoglio in Rome. Five members of the group were arrested. As a result, the Mayor of Rome, Francesco Rutelli, finally agreed to a meeting with members of the Circolo--an encounter for which the group had been lobbying for five years. At the meeting, he promised to remain neutral and vowed to treat all of the citizens of Rome equally.

Almost immediately, the Mayor began to break this promise. Gay transsexual, and lesbian meeting places and organizations have been subjected to a campaign of escalating harassment. On the night of February 13, 15 police officers raided the Qube discotheque. Allegedly their purpose was to question the owner about an administrative technicality; however, they disrupted the discotheque on a night when the Circolo holds its regular "Muccassasina" party. Patrons were harassed; a number were locked in a rest room for an extended period of time; names and Italian identity card numbers of those attending the event were taken. During the same week, police made repeated raids on the Casino delle Rose within Villa Borghese, a space which serves as a cruising area for both gays and straights. Only persons appearing to be gay were questioned and harassed during these raids.

Within days, police also came to the headquarters of Circolo "Mario Mieli," investigating unspecified "irregularities." They behaved in an abusive and insulting fashion. As a result, the Circolo has suspended most of its activities.

The Circolo is a sponsor of the World Pride 2000 celebrations, an international gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender event to be held in Rome in the millennial year--a year which will also see the Catholic Church organizing a jubilee celebration in the city. Within days of their meeting with the Mayor, media reported that the Mayor intended to ban all non-jubilee related events in 2000 in the metropolitan area of Rome. Activists with Circolo "Mario Mieli" see an emerging campaign to "clean up" Rome for the jubilee--to suppress not just World Pride 2000 but virtually all public expression of gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender identity.

The Circolo will hold a press conference on March 16 to promote World Pride 2000 and to draw attention to repressive actions by the authorities. Please support them by faxing the Mayor and the Questore (Chief of Police) of Rome, demanding that the crackdown on gay, lesbian, and transsexual activities cease. Call on the authorities to allow World Pride 2000 to continue unhindered; to end harassment of Circolo "Mario Mieli" and its activities; and to stop interference with or intrusion upon gay, transsexual, and lesbian meeting places. Stress that the freedoms of assembly and of association are protected under Article 11 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and Articles 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Moreover, decisions by both the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations and the European Court of Human Rights hold that pretexts of "public morality" cannot be used to deny these fundamental rights on the basis of sexual orientation. Actions against the Circolo "Mario Mieli," or against legal and peaceful gatherings of lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals, and gay men, constitute a flagrant violation of Italy's international commitments.

Please write or send faxes to:

Sindaco di Roma (Mayor of Rome)
The Honorable Francesco Rutelli
Piazza del Campidoglio
00186 Rome Italy
fax: +39 6 678 4239
Questore di Roma
Dott. Antonio Pagnozzi
via di San Vitale 15
00184 Rome Italy
fax: +39 6 46862171

You may also email copies of your letter to the Circolo at mario.mieli@agora.stm.it .