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  • Gays in Italy Seek Fairness
    Homosexuals receive an olive branch from the city of Roma after protests against discrimination
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    AUGUST 12, 2007 - I have news for Italians. Gay people exist, even in Italy. In the predominantly Roman Catholic country, homosexuals have suffered from prejudice and injustice for years. But this week, the group witnessed a small victory of sorts - a stretch of 325 yards in Roma was labeled a safe zone for gays.

    This comes as a result of protests after a homosexual couple said they were detained by authorities for kissing near the Colosseum. The police said it brought the men in for lewd acts, which can carry a sentence of up to two years in prison, according to MSNBC.com. The gay community responded by holding public kiss-ins in front of the historical Colosseum. Gay rights activists say the police were discriminatory, and some legislators promise to bring up the issue in parliament, according to the UK's Guardian Unlimited.

    Now, the two blocks of bars and restaurants leading up to the Colosseum, according to MSNBC, will be closed to traffic from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. from Thursday to Sunday, so the gay community can be at ease and enjoy. But some owners of the bars and restaurants say the move is bad for business because it's driving out families.

    Italy has a different culture, one that is rooted in religion. Despite the fact that gays in most of the Western world are living more openly than ever, the Vatican, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, still plays a role in Italian politics and practices. For ages, the Church has maintained that homosexuality is a sin, and recently Pope Benedict has been promoting traditional marriage between a man and a woman in light of recent talks in Italy to legalize same-sex marriage.

    What I find crazy about all of this is that foreigners tend to think of Italy as the land of love, where people go to live the dolce vita or sweet life. If that's true, then wouldn't you think Italians would be open minded and understanding of any form of love? And wouldn't the Church, which is supposed to promote good will toward man, be more open minded - and welcoming - to different lifestyles?

    I was a bit shocked to see, especially in the south, a homophobic and xenophobic attitude among some of the people, even those who are well educated and refined in most other aspects of life. With one in 10 people being gay, there is no denying that there are gays in Italy, too. In fact, I've met a few of them. Many of them live in secret from their families. In a country, where family is upheld, this is a tragedy. If you're lucky enough to find love, you should be able to share the news - or a kiss - without fear. You should have your family by your side, too.

    This "gay street" in Roma is just the first step toward integration into Italian society. I bet 10 years from now, we'll be looking back to show just how far the country has come in regard to gay tolerance and rights. Let's hope everyone is free to be themselves. Live and let live might be a cliché but it's a great motto for any country.

    For more information on all things Italian, visit www.francescadimeglio.com.

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