Bill Offering L.G.B.T. Protections in Italy Spurs Rallies on Both Sides

ROM – Protesters came into force on Saturday for rival demonstrations calling for a bill that would turn violence against LGBT people into a hate crime, with tougher penalties than current law and despite the recurrence of coronavirus cases in the country by the hundreds Rome comes out.

Ahead of a parliamentary vote planned for next week, demonstrations were planned across the country, in which the supporters formulated the measure as a long overdue means of guaranteeing basic human rights and protection against attacks and the opponents presented this as an overarching step that also suppressed opinion and religious convictions .

“We have been through centuries of discrimination,” said Marlon Landolfo, 21, who last month reported on a vicious homophobic attack on him and another man in northern Italy. “Now is 2020 and we are still debating a law that will protect us for who we are.”

The bill under discussion would explicitly recognize anti-LGBT and anti-women hate crimes and hate speech by including those crimes under an existing law that criminalize discrimination, violence or incitement to violence based on a person’s race or religion power, which can be punished with up to four years in prison.

Current law has no specific name for such crimes against LGBT people. As a result, homophobic or transphobic attacks are tried with fewer charges than racially motivated or anti-Semitic attacks.

The bill, which appears to be supported by a parliamentary majority, makes discrimination based on gender, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity an aggravating factor that could mean additional time for punishment.

Decades of efforts and multiple attempts to extend protection to LGBT people have failed in Italy, making the country an outlier among Western European democracies such as Great Britain, France and Spain. Italy approved same-sex civil unions in 2016 but does not allow same-sex marriage.

Within the European Union, Poland, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria are not responding to the European Parliament’s demands on Member States to prosecute hate crimes and hate speech motivated by homophobia and transphobia.

Proponents of the law are facing opposition from traditional opponents like Conservatives and the Roman Catholic Church, but also from some less anticipated corners like a group of feminists.

Proponents say a change would allow authorities to keep statistics on homophobic and transphobic attacks, act as a deterrent and send a clear message that they are hate crimes.

Mr Landolfo, whose ankle was still sore after being hit last month in the city of Padua, said he was discouraged by the debate on the new bill. He and another young man, Mattias Fascina, had held hands and exchanged a quick kiss one September evening when a gang mocked them, then punched and kicked them while shouting homophobic slurs. Under Italian law, the couple cannot be considered a victim of a hate crime.

The attack on Mr Landolfo is not an isolated incident. Arcigay, Italy’s leading LGBT association, records more than 100 episodes of violence, hatred and discrimination each year. In September, a man in the northern city of Novara kicked his lesbian neighbor and broke his nose. In the city of Bergamo, residents of an apartment complex insulted and threatened two homosexual neighbors and caused them to move out of their apartment temporarily.

“These episodes rarely become official complaints,” said Francesca Rupalti, an attorney at Rete Lenford, a network of lawyers specializing in LGBT rights. “Without a specific law, it is difficult to prove homophobic behavior.”

Alessandro Zan, a center-left Democratic Party MP who proposed the law, said ratifying it would mark a major cultural shift in a society with deep patriarchal and conservative roots.

“These people are particularly exposed to hate crimes,” he said. “That’s why we have to protect them particularly.”

Unlike the United States, where the language is largely protected by the first amendment, Italy and many other European countries marked by fascism and Nazism have stricter laws against preaching racial or ethnic superiority. They also banned apparently discriminatory associations or groups.

“Laws need to balance freedom of expression and hatred,” said Zan. “This law clearly states that discriminating against LGBT people and inciting violence against them is not an opinion.”

Some opponents of the bill say it will cross the line of censorship. You have tabled hundreds of amendments – including one that mockingly asked that protection be extended to bald or white-haired people – to slow down the legislative process.

One objection is that what opponents have called the “gag law” bill could be used to suppress dissenting views on same-sex marriages or adoption by homosexual couples. A prominent opponent, Matteo Salvini, chairman of the Nationalist League, said the bill “put ideas to justice” and insisted that Italy would not discriminate anyway.

Supporters say the bill would not violate freedom of speech or freedom of religion. They say that groups or individuals will continue to be able to promote and discuss their values ​​as long as they do not behave violently or incite violence and hatred.

The Catholic bishops of Italy have joined the nationalist and conservative political opposition. This irritated the proponents of the bill, who had been encouraged by the tolerant statements made by Pope Francis. The Pope told a gay man in 2018 that God made him that way and in 2013 famously said, “Who am I to judge?” When asked about a priest supposed to be gay – a dramatic change in tone in the Vatican Commentaries on Homosexuality.

However, the Italian Bishops’ Conference, which influences domestic politics, has argued that the measure could criminalize the expression of the Church’s belief that marriage should be between a woman and a man if interpreted as inciting discrimination would.

The bishops said in a statement that Italian law already has tools to punish violent and discriminatory behavior and that adding more “incriminating norms” would jeopardize freedom.

Some left-wing opponents have also joined the fight against the proposed law. Although many leading feminist groups in the Western world have expressed support for the protection of LGBT people, a group of well-known Italian feminists criticized the upcoming bill for a broader definition of women using the term “gender identity” that would include transgender women .

In an open letter posted on a notable feminist website, the 13 signatories argued that advances in sexual discrimination against women in Italy would be undercut if the broader concept of gender identity were applied.

Francesca Izzo, a former Democratic Party MP who signed the letter, said that while fighting homophobia and transphobia is important, it is a separate issue from general women’s rights.

Proponents of the law reject this argument.

Mr Zan, the lawmaker, said feminists and LGBT people were fighting the same battle. “Violence against LGBT people is just another consequence of sexism,” he said. “Anatomy is not a person’s fate.”