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The Vatican intimidated the Italian government into withdrawing permits and funding for Gay Pride events.

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toga'd queers

In Eternal Rome
Gays 1, Vatican 0

By Toby Eglund

JULY 8, 2000. There's jubilation in Rome this afternoon. The celebration of the third millennium of Christianity has slipped from the self-congratulatory choke-hold of the Vatican into the hands of common, oppressed people unshackled for an afternoon of true jubilation and celebration, the kind to which Jesus himself would have brought wine.

Shortly before 4 p.m. (10 a.m. EST), an estimated 200,000 lesbians, gay men, and bisexual and transgendered persons, and their supporters, stepped onto the streets near the historic center of Rome for the World Pride 2000 march. Some are already calling the watershed event the Italian Stonewall.

The Vatican's Neo-Fascist Allies
The Vatican fought tooth and nail to get the march canceled. Their allies were the neo-fascists of the National Alliance and their conservative partners, who now control most Italian regions, including that of Rome.

Led by the Vatican, they forced a weak, intimidated Italian government to withdraw permits and funding for the week-long Pride events. The Vatican even tried unsuccessfully to get the hotel hosting Pride conferences, and activists, to kick them out.

A big boost in the Vatican's dirty war against queers was provided by the Archbishop of San Francisco, California, William Levada, and by Forza Nuova, a thuggish neo-fascist group. Levada, outraged at having to live in a city where queers command respect, and in a country where the Constitution and the separation of church and state still mean something, started meddling in Rome back in May, making inflammatory declarations to the Italian press.

"This kind of demonstration is not controllable," he warned them darkly and knowingly, though he reportedly vacations away from the city during San Francisco's Gay Pride Parade and has never seen one.

He then sent highly-selective videotapes of the San Francisco Pride parade, the kind Jerry Fallwell used to peddle in Peoria a decade ago, to the Italian authorities, urging them to ban World Pride. The tapes also found their way to big-screened anti-gay events organized by right-wing, conservative Catholic, and neo-fascist groups.

Using the Jackboot
Last Saturday night, a few hundred jackbooted Forza Nuova skinheads provided the brawn for the brains of Levada, the Vatican, and rightist, neo-fascist politicos. They took to the streets of the historic center of Roma vowing to prevent the queer march by any means necessary.

The Rome administration, which gave permits to the Forza Nuova march as quickly as it had retracted them from the queers, used the threats to point to public order as the reason for denying queers their permit (any other reason would have gotten Italy in trouble with their European partners: the European Convention on Human Rights covers gay people.)

toga'd queersAuthorities clearly hoped that the Forza Nuova chest-thumping would scare march organizers, who had threatened to march without a permit, and therefore without police protection.

Tellingly, the Vatican, which had spewed bile for months at the prospect of queers marching in the center of Rome, remained silent before the Forza Nuova show of force.

While a few hundred jackbooted thugs would not stop a queer march in New York, San Francisco, London, or Paris, the queer rights movement is just beginning in Italy. Also, the separation of Church and State there, particularly in the shadow of the Vatican, is as thin as the constitutional piece of paper on which it is written.

So, a few days ago, march organizers and Rome authorities reached a compromise. The march would get a permit, but only if it was rerouted. Instead of approaching the Colosseum through the front door, via the majestic Via dei Fori Imperiali, ancient Rome's Fifth Avenue or Champs Elysee, queers were shoved to the back streets and allowed only a glimpse of a side of the Colosseum.

Both sides claimed victory. Gay-haters crowed that queers were kept out of the symbolic heart of Italy and Western Civilization. March organizers, saving face, said that they were nevertheless touching the Colosseum, as they had vowed.

Big Winners
The big winners of the day, hands down, are the millions of Italian lesbians, gay men, bisexual and transgendered people whose closets are as deep, and often as hopeless, as the Roman catacombs.

This afternoon, they can see themselves on television, marching toward the Colosseum's side door.

Courtesy of Vatican and Co., they have been the hottest political news in Italy for months. Their few visible leaders have been lionized by the media. Politicians and celebrities have been forced to take sides. Straight politicians on the Left have been nimbly jumping on the queer bandwagon. Most importantly, a sweeping debate on gay rights has finally been unleashed throughout the country.

The silence of the ages has been broken.

This afternoon, the queer millennium began with a big bang in eternal Rome. The score so far—Gays 1, Vatican 0.

Related links:

For Italy's Gay Web Portal (Italian)

For the official page of World Pride Roma 2000. (Italian and English)

For the Italian National LGBT Rights Group ArciGay. (Italian)

For the Italian National Lesbian Rights Group ArciLesbica. (Italian)

For Complete Coverage Gay Mundo

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