50.50: Feature

‘I’m scared that the rights we have today will be under attack’

LGBTIQ+ Italians tell of their fears as a far-Right coalition looks set for victory in the upcoming elections

Alessandra - 1.JPG
Alessandra Vescio
6 September 2022, 9.58am

Elections in Italy 2022: campaign posters in Palermo, Sicily


Antonio Melita / Pacific Press via ZUMA Press Wire

With the latest polls indicating that the right-wing coalition is most likely to win the Italian general election on 25 September, Italy’s LGBTIQ+ community is fearing the consequences of a far-Right government.

The coalition is made up of two far-Right populist parties – Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy and Matteo Salvini’s League – as well as Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right party, Forward Italy, and some smaller centrist allies.

Brothers of Italy is currently expected to win the most votes (24%), just ahead of the centre-Left Democratic Party.

Activists and members of the LGBTIQ+ community predict that such a victory will be bad news for them. Virginia, a 33-year-old bisexual woman, told openDemocracy that she is “profoundly scared” that a far-Right government would legitimise “phobic behaviour”.

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She explained: “I fear it will become culturally acceptable to perpetrate violence against the community, and beyond.”

Italy’s right-wing parties have “cleared the way for violence against the LGBTIQ+ community and indeed have instigated it”, said Porpora Marcasciano, head of trans rights organisation Movimento Identità Trans, and also a city councillor and president of the equal opportunities commission in Bologna.

Caterina, a 29-year-old lesbian from Italy, who is now based in the UK, shares their fears. “The cultural shock I have every time I go back to Italy and then come back here is already as pronounced as it could be.

“Right-wing parties are already normalising homophobia, racism and sexism, through their rhetoric as well as their votes and their electoral promises. I’m scared that LGBTIQ+ rights will take not only a backseat, but the rights we have today will be under attack. The future is very bleak.”

Resistance is vital

Marcasciano is not surprised by the rise of the Italian Right, which she believes is a result of the Left's crisis. “The more the Left disunites, the more the Right grows,” she says.

Mario Colamarino, head of LGBTIQ+ organisation Circolo Mario Mieli and chair of Roma Pride, agrees: “The extreme Right identifies a few clear-cut ideas that are nothing but propaganda and sticks to them, in a coalition that appears cohesive – unlike the Left, which is complex and divided.”

Not everyone fears that a far-Right government will pass laws directly targeting the LGBTIQ+ community. Giorgia, a lesbian woman aged 27, is more afraid of being ignored and increasingly marginalised.

“There are those who want to flee Italy and those who find the strength to come together and shield themselves,” she says. “The greatest fear is that the [LGBTIQ+] community will split. This would make us less strong, and resistance, both cultural and civil, would be even more difficult.”

Right-wing parties are normalising homophobia, racism and sexism through their rhetoric, votes and promises

Resistance is vital, says Marcasciano: “The patriarchal culture in which we live is always trying to take from us what we have conquered. That is why we must keep fighting to reclaim our rights, spaces, dignity.”

Colamarino said that Circolo Mario Mieli has been working with political parties, local government and corporations for the past ten years and thinks it will be able to continue to collaborate with them, since inclusivity and equality are now established facts in civil society.

However, he also fears a far-Right government may hamper progress and slow down new projects. He said: “Political decisions that are nothing but propaganda… can create a toxic debate… What worries us is that we may plunge into the Middle Ages of rights.”

Rights already under attack

Last year, Brothers of Italy and the League blocked ratification of the so-called Zan bill (named after Alessandro Zan, the politician and gay rights activist who proposed it). The bill would have made violence against the LGBTIQ+ community a hate crime.

The proposed bill was amended several times and LGBTIQ+ activists described the latest version as sugar-coated, but the two parties still opposed it, saying the bill was unnecessary, would have created ‘thought crime’ and killed freedom of expression.

A booklet on Brothers of Italy’s website explains the party’s reasons for opposing the bill. It claims it promotes ‘gender ideology’ – a loaded term that far-Right groups often use to convince the public that feminist and LGBTIQ+ movement want to erase gender differences.

Abortion rights could also be at risk if far-Right parties win the election, if recent decisions taken by local governments are typical of what lies ahead.

A new national policy permitting medical abortion up to nine weeks of pregnancy was approved in 2020, provoking outraged comments from Matteo Salvini and Giorgia Meloni, as well as objections from right-wing local governments. Hospitals and clinics are meant to provide the service, but hospitalisation is not required.

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The new policy was restricted just a month later in the Piedmont region, led by Forward Italy, which also approved funding for anti-abortion organisations. In Abruzzo, governed by Brothers of Italy, medical abortions are available only in hospitals.

In Marche, an east Italian region also led by Brothers of Italy, the policy was not even applied. The vast majority of doctors in the region refuse to provide abortion services because it is against their moral values. In a recent debate on the topic, Filippo Saltamartini, Marche's councillor for health, said the protection of life is a Christian principle.

Many consider Marche an example of what a far-Right national government might mean for reproductive and LGBTIQ+ rights. This year, the regional government refused to sponsor Marche Pride, because it “has the character of a political event”.

International network of far-Right groups

Brothers of Italy and League are closely associated with other far-Right parties in Europe and beyond. Trans rights activist Marcasciano said: “For at least 20 years, far-Right parties in Italy have aligned themselves with the extreme Right all over the world, mixing religious values and fundamentalist ideas.”

This includes the US-based World Congress of Families (WCF), an anti-abortion and anti-LGBTIQ+ group that believes in the idea of ‘natural family’, based on the marriage between a man and a woman and their biological children.

Described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “political power broker”, the WCF has influence in several countries, including Italy. The 13th WCF meeting was held in Verona in 2019.

What worries us is that we may plunge into the Middle Ages of rights

The event was sponsored by the provincial and regional government, and the Italian minister for families, at a time when Lega’s Matteo Salvini was both deputy prime minister and minister of the interior. When it was announced that the event would be held in Italy, he proudly said: “This is the Europe we like.”

Both Salvini and Giorgia Meloni spoke at the congress.

This June, Meloni went to Spain to support Macarena Olona from the far-Right Vox party in the Andalusian regional elections. In her speech, Meloni cried: “Yes to the natural family, no to the LGBT lobby! Yes to sexual identity, no to gender ideology!”

Despite Brothers of Italy and League’s attempts to distance themselves from fascism, their origins, their symbols and above all their political views have left many feating that a government led by them would endanger LGBTIQ+, reproductive and equality rights in Italy.

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