Whether it's newlywed visitors to the canals of Venice, lovers under Romeo's and Juliet's balcony in Verona or bronze-skinned couples on the beaches of Sicily, public displays of affection have long been part of the everyday scenery in Italy. But if you're gay, it could put your life at risk.
As reported in Corriere della Sera, Christopher Jean Pierre Moreno, a 24-year-old from Nicaragua, was assaulted on a Rome metro platform in February after he'd exchanged a kiss with his boyfriend, Alfredo Zenobio, 28. Before them, a young man had to go under reconstructive surgery after a group of seven people beat him up. His crime? Holding hands with his partner in the central Italian city of Pescara.
These and other stories (with video evidence) have been widely shared by LGBTQ activists who continue to call for a better legal protection of gay people. Some 8,000 people turned out last Saturday for a demonstration urging senators to pass long-awaited anti-homophobia legislation, La Repubblica reported.
Italy remains one of the few European countries deprived of a law specifically punishing homophobic discrimination and violence — the Netherlands passed its Equal Treatment Act as early as 1994, while Britain and France respectively passed similar discrimination protections in 2003 and 2004.
Too many in Italy still see gay people as a threat to the traditional idea of a family.
Over the course of the last 25 years, many attempts have been made by legislators to include LGBTQ rights in Italian law with the most recent being "Ddl Zan", a bill drafted last November by Parliament Member Alessandro Zan. If approved by the Parliament, this new law would punish violence and hate speech with additional fines of up to $7,200 and four years in prison.
With the historical influence of the Catholic Church, too many in Italy still see gay people as a threat to the traditional idea of a family. Despite recognizing same-sex unions five years ago, Italy has the highest rate of social, political and institutional homophobia in Europe, according to the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA).
Catholic organisations such as Courage continue to categorize homosexuality as a disease, reports Italian news website Linkiesta, proposing to cure it through so-called "conversion therapy," a practice still legal in Italy.
Though Pope Francis has gone further than any of his predecessors in defending the rights of LGBTQ, the Italian Bishops Conference and rightwing politicians continue to block progress. "There is no need for a new law," the Bishops said in a statement. "(It) would risk opening up to controls on freedom; whereby, rather than sanctioning discrimination, the expression of a legitimate opinion would be targeted." Right-wing League party leader Matteo Salvini recently declared that his duty was to "defend the right of a child to have a mother and a father."
Matteo Salvini joins a demonstration against a proposed trans-homophobia law, in Rome, in June 2020. — Photo: Tenagli Piero/Abaca/ZUMA
Ever since November, the hate-crime legislation has been blocked in the Senate by Salvini's party allies, recently citing the priorities of the pandemic as a reason to stonewall.
One potential breakthrough came at a widely viewed televised concert on May 1 when popular Italian rapper Fedez took to the stage to accuse the League of homophobia. The 31-year-old rapper, very publicly married to fashion icon Chiara Ferragni, made his declaration in Rome, just a mile or so from the metro station where Christopher Jean Pierre Moreno was punched for simply kissing the man he loves.
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