By Enrique Anarte
BERLIN, Sept 26 (Openly) - The triumph of a right-wing alliance in Italy's election has raised concern among LGBTQ+ campaigners, who fear nationalist leader Giorgia Meloni could adopt anti-gay policies as prime minister and set back their efforts to boost equality.
Meloni, who is set to become Italy's first woman premier at the head of its most right-wing government since World War Two, fiercely denounced what she calls "gender ideology" and "the LGBT lobby" just months before Sunday's vote.
But she has also played down her party's post-fascist roots and portrays it as a mainstream group like Britain's Conservatives.
So what would her leadership of Italy's new government mean for the LGBTQ+ community?
What is Meloni's stance on LGBTQ+ rights?
Meloni, a Christian, has sprinkled speeches with anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and conservative statements on family-related issues.
"Yes to natural families, no to the LGBT lobby, yes to sexual identity, no to gender ideology, yes to the culture of life, no to the abyss of death," she said as she addressed supporters of Spain's rightist Vox party in the southern Spanish city of Marbella in June.
But in the past few weeks, Meloni has repeatedly denied suggestions she might roll back legislation on abortion or LGBTQ+ rights, while reaffirming her opposition to adoptions and surrogacy for same-sex couples.
Days before the election, however, a senior member of her Brothers of Italy (FdI) group suggested same-sex parenting was not normal.
Federico Mollicone, culture spokesman for the FdI, reiterated his criticism of an episode of the children's cartoon "Peppa Pig" that featured a polar bear with two mothers.
He said further that "in Italy homosexual couples are not legal, are not allowed" – despite the country having legalised same-sex civil unions in 2016, a reform the FdI opposed in parliament.
FdI does not mention LGBTQ+ rights specifically in its election manifesto, but calls for "support for childbearing and the family".
In a Facebook message to an LGBTQ+ activist who confronted her earlier this month, Meloni said: "I believe a child has the right to grow up with a father and a mother."
What is the state of LGBTQ+ rights in Italy?
Italy ranks 23rd in the 27-member European Union when it comes to legal protections for LGBTQ+ people, according to advocacy group ILGA-Europe.
It is the only major country in Western Europe that has not legalised same-sex marriage, though some microstates such as Monaco and San Marino have also not done so.
Italy has legalised same-sex civil unions, but these do not grant gay couples the same rights as married heterosexual couples, particularly when it comes to parenting. Joint adoption is not available for same-sex couples.
"Even if she doesn't introduce any anti-LGBT laws, she will not speed up what we're trying to do to improve the current situation," Roberto Muzzetta, a board member at Italy's biggest gay LGBTQ+ group Arcigay, said from Milan.
"In fact, she will slow it down, or do nothing about it, even though we're already lagging behind our neighbours."
Last October, the Italian Senate voted to block debate over a bill that would make violence against women and LGBTQ+ people a hate crime, effectively killing off a proposal previously approved by the lower house of parliament.
The bill, championed by the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), triggered fierce discussion in Italy, with the Vatican saying that it could restrict the religious freedom of the Roman Catholic Church.
Arcigay said it records more than 100 hate crime and discrimination cases a year.
Despite lagging most of its EU neighbours on LGBTQ+ rights, a 2020 study by the U.S.-based Pew Research Center found 75% of Italians think homosexuality should be accepted.
"Still, Meloni's opponents were just not able ... to make these issues more meaningful (and) promote a different, more progressive vision of society," political analyst Martina Carone at Torino-based consultancy firm Agenzia Quorum told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
What are ordinary LGBTQ+ Italians concerned about?
Some gay, bisexual and transgender people fear Meloni's nationalist stance could increase discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in Italy.
"This morning, when I woke up, I had a feeling of strong discomfort. I felt a great uncertainty, as if I had become aware that things could change for me and my safety," said Cristian Cristalli, a 34-year-old trans man based in the northern city of Bologna.
"I wondered if I didn't deserve a future elsewhere, perhaps in a country worthy of our lives," Cristalli added.
In the northern city of Verona, Stefano Ambrosini, a gay 28-year-old PhD student, said he feared Meloni's election triumph could lead to an increase in homophobic violence.
"A lot of the people who voted for her are the ones who are already perpetuating violence and discrimination against the community," he said.
"Now that she has won, these people will feel empowered and definitely safe in doing the terrible things that they want to do to our community."
Activist Muzzetta said a clear majority in parliament could pave the way for the right-wing alliance to introduce anti-LGBTQ+ policies that have already been discussed in some regions or municipalities, such as LGBTQ-related books and events bans.
But both Cristalli and Ambrosini said they are determined to defend their rights.
"Let's see how it goes. I'm ready to fight back," said Ambrosini.
(Reporting by Enrique Anarte @enriqueanarte; Editing by Helen Popper and Hugo Greenhalgh. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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