ROME – A bill that would criminalize violence and hate speech against LGBT people in Italy has brought together an unlikely alliance of opponents.
Some feminists and lesbian associations have joined with the Catholic Church and the political right in opposing a bill that would add homosexuals, transgender people and the disabled to categories protected by a law punishing hate crimes based on religion and race.
The conflict over the proposed legislation has become an ideological battle at the heart of cultural wars in Italy, pitting freedom of expression against the protection of those at risk of discrimination and victimization.
Catholic leaders say the so-called Zan Bill, named after Democratic Party lawmaker and gay rights activist Alessandro Zan, amounted to “a freedoms”, with conservatives warning that the bill risked criminalizing those who publicly oppose gay marriage or gay adoptions. Opposition from some lesbian and feminist groups focuses on concerns that recognition of gender identity could jeopardize the rights acquired by women.
But even among LGBT and feminist groups, there is a big divide over the bill, with some groups splitting from a prominent national lesbian association after speaking out against the legislation.
Although Italy approved same-sex civil unions in 2016, the country lags behind its EU counterparts and is on a par with Poland, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Lithuania in terms of anti-homophobia measures, according to ILGA Europe, a federation of groups that campaign for civil rights. Italy ranked 35th out of 49 countries in Europe and Central Asia on a list ranking the legal and political situation of LGBTI people compiled by ILGA.
A helpline against homophobia and transphobia run by the Gay Center association in Italy receives around 20,000 requests for help per year from people who are victims of violence or threats.
The Zan bill was approved by the lower house of parliament last year. But his move to the upper house, or the Senate, to make it law was delayed by a change of government and by the obstruction of the Right-wing League, for whom it became a rallying cry at a time when , forced to be in the so-called government of national unity, the party struggles to differentiate itself.
The case of Malika Chalhy, a 22-year-old Tuscan girl, who was evicted from her home and sent death threats by her family when she became gay earlier this year, has led to further calls for the urgent approval of the bill.
But the League, which controls the Senate justice committee, said a vote on the bill was not a priority during a pandemic and would be divisive for the national unity government, and refused to set a date for a debate in the Senate. Andrea Ostellari, chairman of the committee, denies any obstruction. The League and the far-right brothers of Italy have presented an alternative bill that would reduce homophobic crimes to a mere aggravating circumstance in common law crimes, and make no provision for transphobic crimes.
Opponents of Bill Zan insist their critiques are not homophobic but prevent the creation of a thought crime and have a problem with the phrase “gender identity”.
During a demonstration last weekend in Milan, Massimo Gandolfini, conservative Catholic neurosurgeon and leader of the movement against gender politics in Italy, hailed “the support of a diverse front ranging from feminists to bishops, from liberals to lesbians, who had united to oppose. gender identity and limitation of freedom of expression. “
Speaking at the protest, League leader Matteo Salvini said it was a “gagging law” that risked putting in prison “those who think a mother is a mother and that a father is a father ”.
Gualtiero Bassetti, president of the Italian bishops’ union, told Italian media that “defending homosexuals against insults, attacks or violence has never been a problem”. He added that the term “gender identity” was moving into “dangerous territory” because questioning the distinct identities of men and women, fundamental to the Church, is “unacceptable”.
A group of 17 feminist and lesbian associations, citing authors Germaine Greer and JK Rowling – who has been accused of transphobia for her tweets – while challenging the bill, said the term ‘gender identity’ had been ‘used as a weapon against women ”. If enshrined in law, they argued that it could allow men to identify themselves as women with negative consequences for the rights acquired by women during decades of struggle for emancipation, life private and equal opportunities.
Using gender identity instead of biological sex means that “anything dedicated to women can be occupied by men who identify as women or say they perceive themselves as women,” the groups said in a statement. .
When ArciLesbica, one of the country’s leading national lesbian associations, signed the joint letter, several of its local affiliates distanced themselves from its position.
Zan also rejected the letter. “To say that trans women are not real women is not acceptable,” he said. “We are talking about people who are particularly discriminated against.” There are more murders of transgender people in Italy than in any other European country, he said, “showing an extremely high level of cultural discrimination”.
His bill does not clamp down on free speech, he said, but only incitement to violence and hatred. “If I say that my son is gay and that he should be burned alive, it is clear that this is not an opinion but an incitement to violence.”
Zan said it was unfortunate that the left was not united: “Unfortunately, some statements by historical and radical feminists have the same content as the far right and religious fundamentalists.
Despite the bill’s setbacks, there are signs that Bill Zan has increased popular support.
Italy’s most influential Instagrammers, powerful couple Chiara Ferragni, a fashion mogul, and rapper Fedez, have taken the cause to heart. There were protests in support of the bill in 54 cities across Italy over the weekend, suggesting the younger generation of Italians may be ready to address the lack of LGBT protection.
Even feminists are changing, according to Zan. “The new generation of feminists are inclusive and not exclusive – for them, giving someone rights does not take away someone else’s rights.