Open Letter to Conte’s Cabinet & the Current Italian Parliament
Published 09/18 in Italian for Il Manifesto
We write as three individuals who are directly affected by the ways that mainstream Italian society facilitates and perpetuates racism, patriarchy, ableism, trans antagonism and homophobia. This letter comes from a shared investment in the creation of a more just and anti-oppressive Italian government. We have at times precarious links with British, American, and Italian academia, but our interest in Italy is necessarily more than a scholastic one. We have personally witnessed how geopolitics and arbitrary frames such as national borders have intensified these oppressive structures as we have (been) shuttled between them and witness others being (at times forcibly) moved. Our families, colleagues, and comrades are also bound to the legacies and futures of a more just and compassionate Italy, Europe, and world. With this letter, we give voice to our anger and our fears; in calling out these issues and those parties responsible, we take a step toward the changes that we, and those with us, not only desire, but demand.
For the past two years, we’ve run a research network on queer Italian cultures, theories and politics, sponsored by the AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council). In our most recent activities (i.e., our workshops, conferences, discussions, publications), it has become clear that Italy remains an extremely hostile environment for many people who are seen to transgress a narrow set of socio-cultural norms. We are dismayed that these problematically conservative and racist norms continue to persist and that, to paraphrase Dr Martin Luther King Jr, despite the fact that the long arc of the moral universe bends towards justice, the Italian government–along with much of the western world–appears to be snapping back abrasively against that inevitability in our contemporary moment. We remain hopeful that grassroots organisations will continue to agitate for a just future against authoritarian regimes of hate and oppression. The recent elections have seen the ascent to power of individuals whose views on sexuality, race and gender identity are violently, and often fatally, discriminatory. Their views have already led to extremely serious incidents, and are met with little to no public outcry from the state, although there are many dissenting voices on social media and coming from the politically conscious public. This situation is extremely dangerous.
Many associations/ad-hoc groups such as MigraBo, Movimento Identità Trans, and Mario Mieli have been working for years in their local contexts to fight for human and civil rights for LGBTQ populations, for migrants, black people, and people of colour in Italy. We support their work and acknowledge its urgency and resilience in the face of antagonism and structural oppression. However, many mainstream LGBT resource centres, though invaluable in Italy, adhere to a troubling tendency common to other westernised nations, namely they afford the most attention to the least vulnerable within their ranks, rather than extending their attention to the most marginalised. One such example is the prioritising of normative issues such as marriage equality and the legal recognition of nuclear families for same-sex couples over things like housing, healthcare, anti-violence platforms in support of trans and gender-nonconforming people; rights that we believe are more urgent and fundamental. What we do not seek is to engage in “oppression Olympics.” There ought not be discrimination against couples or individuals who do not maintain the patriarchal nuclear family. However, for us, the concept of queerness carries within it a recognition that the structure of marriage regulates property and power, not love and kinship. A queer agenda is one that must necessarily include the rights of all LGBTQ people, racialised and migratised people against discrimination, even as they do not uphold such norms. Stronger laws are required against hate speech, and the laws that are already in place need to be enforced more effectively.
It’s important to acknowledge that we’re not speaking in a vacuum, or without having engaged the work of many organisations and communities who have come before us and are still resisting daily. There are also transnational groups who focus on issues of gender and sexuality and take it upon themselves to offer guidelines and directives for a more just society. For example, ILGA Europe (International Lesbian and Gay Association) recommend that Italy improves its laws on hate speech. It also recommends other improvements to legislation which we fully endorse, such as prohibiting medical intervention on intersex minors when procedures have no medical necessity and can be postponed until the individual can provide consent. In our view, there is a deeply problematic drive in contemporary Italy, that seeks to exclude those who don’t fit with understandings of Italians as necessarily white, cisgender, Christian and heterosexual. These are hypernationalist discourses that police identity and reiterate or reinstate fascist policies. There are dangerous physical, mental, social, cultural, economic, and political consequences to this. There are many campaigns that attempt to force all individuals to conform to narrow ideas of identity, and which block efforts that seek to increase acceptance of contemporary realities of difference such as Family Day, anti-gender activism, and statements from the Vatican and politicians. These approaches are damaging, dangerous and infringe people’s human rights which are protected by EU law (Treaty of Amsterdam 1997, Lisbon Treaty 2009).
Homophobia in Italy is rising at about 2% per year, there are over 50 victims of trans/homophobia a day, but only 1 out of 40 people make official reports. These statistics are direct reflections of the mentalities and beliefs that contributed to putting your government in office. Not only that, but these general numbers–alarming as they are in and of themselves–are much lesser than the current realities that we’ve witnessed and know to be true, especially once we consider that given the government’s anti-LGBT and anti-migrant stance, there are many other attacks that go unreported. Victims of this kind of violence see making reports as futile when ministers, other elected officials, police, and other state-sanctioned groups repeatedly jeopardize the rights of minoritised people such as queers, migrants, and people of colour to exist free from discrimination.
These aggressions and discriminatory acts extend to other areas of social and cultural value. We have worked with queer performers and artists in Italy. On a local and regional scale, there is widespread censorship and repression of the work from these cultural creators by politicians and the media–a tactic invoking those employed by the Nazi and Fascist parties of the twentieth century. There is undeniable value in the contributions these artists continue to make; we understand their work as activist and radical not least because of the resistance it poses to the state, and the alternative discourses it produces.
In a just society, it should not be important whether certain individuals conform to a dominant narrative of what it means to be a citizen, or to be human. We should seek instead for a reparative and inclusive society that recognizes, with historical consciousness, how the ills of the past are concretised in the present. Queer people have been teaching us this for generations. Mario Mieli, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Porpora Marcasciano, and many other people, movements, and communities in Italy have at turns acknowledged and demanded an intersectional (post)humanist approach to the reordering of social and political subjugation. Engaging with queer, trans, intersex, black or other people of colour, migrant, disabled, Roma, and other historically marginalised individuals from within, without and beyond the reach of the discrete category known as ‘Italy’, allows us to make sense of cumulative discrimination and dispossession. There are ample resources coming from within and beyond Italy’s national borders, should you consider striving for the realisation of an Italy that is not about divisiveness, suffering and oppression. We remain vigilant and stand in solidarity with all oppressed peoples that encounter and influence Italy. We insist that the leaders of the Bel paese resist its current authoritarian bent and acknowledge its moral and sociopolitical imperative.
The “Queer Italia” Organising Team (in alphabetical order):
Dr. Julia Heim
Baruch College, City University of New York
Dr. Charlotte Ross
Senior Lecturer in Italian Studies
University of Birmingham
Dr. SA Smythe
Assistant Professor of Black European & Mediterranean Cultural Studies
Department of African American Studies
University of California, Los Angeles
Julia Heim is a translator, a co-organiser for the Queer Studies Caucus of the American Association for Italian Studies and a communications fellow at Baruch College in New York. Her research focuses on representations of LGBTQIA+ people in contemporary Italian media. Charlotte Ross is Senior Lecturer in Italian Studies at the University of Birmingham. Her research focuses on issues of gender, sexuality, and embodiment in Italian culture and society. SA Smythe is a poet and Assistant Professor in the African American Studies Department at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a co-organiser for the Queer Studies Caucus of the American Association for Italian Studies. SA’s research focuses on Italian literature and performance concerning how politics of citizenship, race, and sexuality inform contemporary and colonial Mediterranean migration. Together, they comprise the project team for “Queer Italia.” More information can be found about the project (in Italian and English) at queeritalia.com.