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ITALY: Vatican vs Italy on new homophobia bill: why it’s a religious liberty issue

Vatican vs Italy on new homophobia bill: why it’s a religious liberty issue

The Vatican claims the new law would breach the Concordat between Italy and the Holy See, an international treaty. It is not about LGBT rights, it is about freedom of religion or belief.

By Marco Respinti

Bitter Winter (24.06.2021) –  https://bit.ly/3xOKpaN -The Italian Senate is now discussing the so-called “Zan bill,” named after its original drafter, MP Alessandro Zan, of the Democratic Party, which the House of Representatives approved on November 4, 2020. Those favorable to the bill claim that it merely extends to LGBT+ persons (and those with handicaps) the provisions of a 1993 law (known as “Legge Mancino”) against hate speech, and discrimination and violence because of race, ethnicity, religion and national identity, by adding also sexual orientation and handicaps to the categories protected by that law. But critics (among which, by the way, are also some prominent homosexuals, and feminist activists) mention some flaws in the bill, while approving the provisions against all kind of violence and incitement to violence against LGBT+ persons (unnecessary to say, this is also my position). There are two main objections.

The main objection

First, current Italian laws already punish hate, discrimination, and violence against LGBT+ persons. In fact, when identified, perpetrators of hate crimes against anyone, including LGBT+ persons, are arrested, go to court and, if found guilty, serve terms in prison. This would seem to settle the question, but the “Zan bill” introduces a novelty. In addition to sex, gender, and sexual orientation, it also protects “gender identity.” Article 1, paragraph d, of the “Zan bill” defines “gender identity” as “the perceived and manifested self-perception of one’s gender, even if not corresponding to one’s [biological] sex, independently from having concluded a transition path” (“l’identificazione percepita e manifestata di sé in relazione al genere, anche se non corrispondente al sesso, indipendentemente dall’aver concluso un percorso di transizione.) But a “perceived gender identity,” critics of the bill argue, is not unanimously accepted and cannot be clearly defined, thus opening the way to arbitrary interpretations.

The risk, critics say, is that every expression of legitimate criticism of the notion of “gender identity” by anyone can be constructed as hate speech, curtailing freedom of expression. But there is more. Critics argue that in the case of priests and pastors, rabbis and imams, catechists or simple religious believers, every theological, philosophical, and moral criticism of any sexual behavior based on religion and theology could be labeled as “hate speech,” and the supposed trespasser brought to court. It is the case also for agnostics or atheists, who could be sanctioned if they express opposition  to a specific sexual behavior based on their own secular philosophy.

As a matter of fact, article 4 of the “Zan bill,” claims to protect freedom of expression in the field but, only if statements do not create a “danger of discrimination” (or violence). Critics are afraid that a priest, pastor, rabbi, imam, or lay preacher who would, for example, preach that those who have entered into a same-sex union should be censored from the relevant religious community, or lecture his or her flock against same-sex marriage might be accused of creating a situation leading to a “danger of discrimination.” The problem, critics say, is not whether we agree or disagree with such statements. It is whether a law should prevent religious believers from freely expressing them.

An ancillary problem is article 7, instituting May 17 as the National Day Against all Forms of Homophobia, to be celebrated in all schools. Critics of the bill fear that this may compel religious schools, and teachers who have alternative opinions about homosexuality based on their religion, to teach something they do not agree with, and be sanctioned if they don’t.

The Vatican response

Now, in an unprecedent move, the Vatican has asked the Italian government to reconsider some provisions of the “Zan bill,” because they may breach the Concordat between the Italian Republic and the Holy See, and thus religious liberty.

On June 17, Msgr. Paul Richard Gallagher, Vatican Secretary for Relations with the States (in substance, a Vatican Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs) delivered a “verbal note” (this is the technical definition) to the Italian Embassy to the Holy See.

The foremost Italian daily newspaper, Corriere della Serapublished the core sentence of that “verbal note”: “Some current contents of the bill under examination by the Senate reduce the liberty granted to the Catholic Church by Article 2, paragraphs 1 and 3 of the agreement revising the Concordat” (“Alcuni contenuti attuali della proposta legislativa in esame presso il Senato riducono la libertà garantita alla Chiesa Cattolica dall’articolo 2, commi 1 e 3 dell’accordo di revisione del Concordato”.)

The Concordat, also known as the “Lateran Treaty,” was signed by the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See on February 11, 1929. In 1948, it was received in the Constitution of the Republic of Italy at article 7, and in 1984 it was revised. Article 2, paragraph 2, of the 1984 revision grants the Catholic Church “liberty of organization, liberty of public worship, and liberty of exercising its episcopal teaching and ministry,” while paragraph 3 grants “to Catholics and their associations and organizations full liberty of assembly and manifestation of thought in words, texts, and every other way of sharing.”

It is important to note that, unlike the ‘intese” with other religions (a word also usually translated in English as “concordats”), the 1929/1984 Concordat with the Catholic Church was not stipulated between Italy and the Italian representatives of the Catholic Church. It is an international treaty signed with a foreign state, the Vatican, and as such, again unlike the “intese,” can only be litigated in international fora.

Why did the Vatican intervene, invoking international law? The Holy See is afraid that freedom of teaching their traditional doctrine on homosexuality may expose priests and lay believers to the serious penalties imposed by the law against those who create a “danger of discrimination.” Of course, within the Catholic Church, there are different positions about homosexuality. What the Vatican is trying to do is to protect the expression of all of them, conservative as well as liberal.

Accusations to the Vatican of interfering with Italian politics are growing, but this is a false problem. The Concordat is an international treaty, not a part of Italian domestic law. When Italy signed this treaty, it guaranteed to bishops, priests, and lay Catholics an immunity from prosecution when they teach what the Vatican believes to be part, or within the boundaries, of Catholic doctrine, no matter whether these teachings are unpopular, or not shared by non-Catholics (or even by a portion of the Catholics).

It is not about the Vatican’s power, and it is not even about LGBT rights. It is about religious freedom. The “Zan bill” is about homosexuals, but other bills may prevent religions from creating a “danger of discrimination” against their expelled ex-members, or politicians who may be excommunicated from promoting certain laws, or from criticizing the laws of the state on a variety of matters, from social policies to immigration. While the Concordat is unique in its nature as an international treaty, other religions may have domestic remedies based on their “intese,” or on the general principle of freedom of religion or belief, which is protected by the Italian Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. The Vatican’s statement, in this sense, may be beneficial also to non-Catholics.

Photo : Mgr. Paul Richard Gallagher, Vatican Secretary for Relations with the States (credits).

Marco Respinti is the Editor-in-Chief of International Family News. He is an Italian professional journalist, member of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), essayist, translator, and lecturer. He has contributed and contributes to several journals and magazines both in print and online, both in Italy and abroad. Author of books, he has translated and/or edited works by, among others, Edmund Burke, Charles Dickens, T.S. Eliot, Russell Kirk, J.R.R. Tolkien, Régine Pernoud and Gustave Thibon. A Senior fellow at the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal, a non-partisan, non-profit U.S. educational organization based in Mecosta, Michigan, he is also a founding member as well as Board member of the Center for European Renewal, a non-profit, non-partisan pan-European educational organization based in The Hague, The Netherlands, and a member of the Advisory Council of the European Federation for Freedom of Belief. He serves as Director-in-Charge of the academic publication The Journal of CESNUR and Bitter Winter: A Magazine on Religious Liberty and Human Rights in China.


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French government unveils national plan to combat hatred against LGBT people

The French government has unveiled a national plan to combat hatred and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT), which emphasises the importance of inclusive education in stamping out homophobia.


By Christina Okello


RFI (14.10.2020) – https://bit.ly/2HnSCxW – The three-year plan unveiled on Wednesday, aims to make members of the LGBT community “citizens in their own right”, French Junior Minister of Gender Equality Elisabeth Moreno told reporters.


It comprises over 40 objectives designed to tackle homophobia or transphobia in the home, school, university, work, healthcare or sport.


The 42 measures, some of which have already been implemented, will be “amplified” between now and 2023, notably plans to facilitate adoption for LGBT homes, Moreno said.


She also insisted on the importance of education.


“Because discrimination and inequality are rooted in childhood, they can also be corrected, by putting in resources (…) The school must therefore be the first place of awareness and prevention to participate in deconstructing stubborn stereotypes “.


Inclusive education


The gender equality minister has pledged to work with her counterpart at the Education ministry, Jean-Michel Blanquer, to “amplify” training for teachers serving LGBT students.


A website called “Educating against LGBTphobia” is to be set up in order to “give teachers the weapons to fight homophobia and transphobia, and allow the proper inclusion of LGBT students”, Moreno added.


The national plan also aims to act against conversion therapy, “abject and medieval practices” according to the minister, which try to change the sexual orientation of LGBT people. “We want to ban them outright,” Moreno said.


Same sex families have not been left out either. Administrative forms will continue to be adapted to include them, the minister insisted.


Grim figures


Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people continue to face discrimination in France.


In 2019, 1,870 people were victim of homophobic and transphobic acts, according to the interior ministry.


In addition, 55 percent of LGBT people have experienced anti-LGBT acts in their lifetime, the minister said, before adding that gay and bisexual people are four times more likely to commit suicide than the rest of the population. This figure is nearly double when it comes to trans people.


“This situation is unacceptable in the France of 2020”, Moreno said.

Photo: French Junior Minister of Gender Equality Elisabeth Moreno poses in front of her ministery where the LGBT (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) flags hang prior to the presentation of a national action plan for equal rights against hate and discrimination in Paris on October 14, 2020. AFP – LUDOVIC MARIN.

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Homophobia drastically reduced at Australian clubs taking part in pride games

Researchers say a study’s findings are ‘unusual’ as most prejudice reduction initiatives fail or have little impact.


By Mike Hytner


The Guardian (26.08.2020) – https://bit.ly/3bilsKO – The use of homophobic language is drastically reduced at sporting clubs which engage in pride games, new research has revealed, proving diversity-themed events can have a positive impact.


The research, led by Australia’s Monash University, is the first academic study to investigate if such themed games or rounds, which aim to address a range of social issues including homophobia, racism and respect for women, can help stop discriminatory behaviours in male sport.


The study focused on the Australian Ice Hockey League and found players in teams that hold pride games use nearly 40% less homophobic language than those in teams that have not held games. A subsequent, larger study that included community cricket, netball, Australian rules football, field hockey, and roller derby reported nearly identical results.


“These findings are very unusual,” Erik Denison, the lead author of the study, said. “Most prejudice reduction interventions fail or have little impact on attitudes and very few have been shown to change behaviours.”


Slurs such as “fag” were found to be far less prevalent in the two semi-professional AIHL teams involved in pride initiatives than in the other six, after players self-reported for a period of two weeks.


“Holding pride games does not stop discriminatory behaviours but the games seem to mitigate the frequency of homophobic and sexist language used by players on teams that host the events,” Denison said.


“We believe combining pride games with better communication about why language is harmful to LGBT people is key to stopping this behaviour.” But Denison admitted the researchers were not sure why these games had not helped to change the behaviour of others exposed to the games, such as the visiting team.


Diversity-themed games have become commonplace across a range of sports throughout the world since the NHL’s Florida Panthers pioneered the idea in 2013. Pride initiatives are now seen regularly in leagues across the globe, from the NBA and NFL in the US, to the AFL in Australia and the Premier League in the UK.


But a lack of research into – and conclusive evidence of – the effectiveness of such initiatives remains a barrier for some sports administrators, who may legitimately want to do the right thing but do not want to be accused of “virtue signalling” or being “politically correct”.


The research, which was supported by the Australian government, Salesforce, You Can Play and Amnesty International, aimed to address that need for evidence and prove for the first time that diversity campaigns actually help to drive change to discriminatory behaviour and make sports more welcoming for LGBTI people.


Melbourne Mustangs ice hockey player Maxime Langelier-Parent, who took part in the study, said the use of homophobic language in his sport starts early, becomes habitual and is then passed on to the next generation of players.


“It is a vicious cycle,” Langelier-Parent said. “In hockey culture and other male sports there is also a strong pressure on players to conform to the team and those who don’t conform or deviate are often excluded. I think this is why it’s so hard to make these environments inclusive for LGBT people because being different isn’t seen to be positive.


“[Pride games] give us an opportunity to talk about the need to be inclusive and challenge the stereotypes around being a man.”


Another ice hockey player, Kade Matthews of the Southern Lights, said: “Most LGBT hockey players either ignore or just accept the language they hear being used, but it can cut deep and definitely sends the message that people don’t like gay people.


“As more people are willing to speak up against the language and how it affects them, there will be pressure to change the culture as a whole, resulting in better health outcomes for all players, including juniors.”


Previous research has found most discriminatory language in sport typically is not meant with malice or ill intent, but Denison underlined the importance of understanding exactly how a diversity-themed game can drive change to this kind of behaviour.


“For pride games, our working theory is that communications around the game, getting players to wear a special uniform, putting rainbows up everywhere in a stadium, making announcements, meeting LGBTQ+ athletes creates a ‘window of cognitive opportunity’ to short-circuit this normally thoughtless language,” he said.


“One of our study participants described this very clearly. In an interview, he told us he used a homophobic slur during a pride game and said it was like swearing in front of his grandmother. Being part of the pride game made him notice the language he was using without any thought. He said he tried hard to stop using this language after the game.”

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With blackmail list, gay men in Ghana fight conmen posing as lovers

Ghana Gay Blackmail List receives three or four reports of robbery and blackmail each week.


By Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu


Thomson Reuters Foundation (09.06.2020) – https://bit.ly/2YDIl5E – As Benson walked across the street towards his date in Ghana’s capital, Accra, he saw something was wrong – it was not the man he had been messaging on the popular gay dating app Grindr.


Sensing danger, Benson tried to get away but two other men grabbed him from behind, started beating him and ordered him to hand over his bag and mobile phone. When they threatened him with a knife, he also gave them the passcode to his phone.


“I gave them everything because life is more important,” the 27-year-old, who declined to give his full name, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


“After beating me up and pushing me in the gutter, they left … I went home with a broken jaw.”


Benson’s ordeal is increasingly common in countries where homosexuality is illegal. While the internet has made it easier for LGBT+ communities to find and build relationships online, it has also exposed them to new risks.


In Egypt, Morocco and Nigeria, gay men are often blackmailed and outed by fake dates who trick them into sharing intimate photos which they post online. The police also use social media to lure them to false meetings and make arrests.


Ghana is one of more than 30 African countries that outlaw same-sex relations, according to the LGBT+ rights group ILGA.


While prosecutions are rare, homophobia is widespread and those who are outed often have their lives upended as they are ostracised by friends and family and can lose their jobs.


Alex Kofi Donkor, head of local activist group LGBT+ Rights Ghana, decided to fight back last year on Twitter and Facebook with the Ghana Gay Blackmail List, which exposes “notorious persons who steal, abuse & blackmail gay men”.


The group, which has 1,800 followers, has named and shamed about two dozen men by publishing their photos along with the apps they use, the places they frequent and a warning: “Share widely, be alert and don’t be the next victim”.


“We are in a country where our lives are clearly in danger as a result of people’s hatred and their disgust towards the community,” Donkor said.


“A lot of times, we are unable to achieve justice for the crimes that have been committed so the best we can also do is to protect ourselves.”




A link on the Ghana Gay Blackmail List page allows members of the public to report cases, which are investigated within closed gay and bisexual social media groups for additional crowdsourced testimonies before publication, Donkor said.


“Once we have posted, there are retweets and so a lot of people are warned as a result and if they are chatting with them, they (stop talking to) them,” said Donkor, who gets three or four reports of robbery, blackmail and abuse each week.


Nana Kwame, a bisexual man, was robbed and threatened with blackmail after meeting up with a man he’d been messaging on Grindr in a house in Accra.


His date went to use the bathroom and returned with two other men who asked Nana Kwame what he was doing there.


“Before I could answer, I was hit in the face,” said the 24-year-old who declined to give his full name.


One man rushed to lock the door of the room and then they forced Nana Kwame to unlock his phone and erased all of its contents.


“One of the guys brought the Bible and made me swear that if I leave the place I will change,” Nana Kwame said. “I was outnumbered, it was three against one, so I had to submit.”


One of the men said he knew Nana Kwame’s brother and threatened to out him to his family unless he phoned someone to send 500 cedi ($88) to his mobile wallet.


Nana Kwame stayed silent. They gave up and let him go.




As men who have sex with men can face up to three years in jail in Ghana, they are usually too scared to report these robberies to the police as this could lead to them being outed, which carries a far greater personal cost, said Donkor.


“One of the quick actions families take is to sack the person from the home. Once you are outed, that also means that your source of livelihood is also threatened,” he said.


Donkor encourages gay men who have been robbed and blackmailed to report the incidents to the police, telling them “meeting a new friend is not a crime”. But only about 30% are willing to take that first step, he said.


Benson and Nana Kwame said they reported their cases to the police but no arrests were made.


“There is a level of impunity when it comes to the abuse of LGBT+ persons,” said Donkor.


“You sense that kind of laid back attitude from the police … there is a certain level of homophobia.”


Ghana Police Service said that any cases of police misconduct should be reported to more senior officers.


“Persons who have cases to report to the police should not be worried about their sexual orientation,” a spokeswoman said.


“All complainants are treated equally.”


Unable to rely on the police to keep them safe, LGBT+ communities in many countries are searching for their own solutions.


LGBT+ Nigerians also have a blackmail list, called #KitoAlert, although the system’s administrator has complained online that it is ineffective because people do not use it before meeting strangers.


Grindr, which is used by more than 4 million people a day globally, has introduced numerous safety measures to protect users, including unsending messages, blocking screenshots and disguising the app’s icon on their phones.


Donkor believes more can be done. He would like gay dating apps to provide legal support to men who fall victim to criminals when using their apps.


“There should be a mechanism in place to support local organisations to challenge some of the abuses that happen as a result of using the app,” he said.


“It will serve as a warning to others who (plan) to use the app to abuse and blackmail users.”


Benson has found a foolproof solution – he no longer uses dating apps.


“There are a lot of fraudsters on Grindr,” he said. “Anything can just happen to you.”

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YouTube takes down anti-gay ad after outrage in Russia

Russian clip on constitutional referendum that attacked LGBT+ adoptions removed from YouTube after outcry.


By Umberto Bacchi


Thomson Reuters Foundation (03.06.2020) – https://bit.ly/3cCQlJ6 – An online video suggesting Russians back constitutional reform or see gay couples win adoption rights was taken down by YouTube on Wednesday after LGBT+ groups said it incited hatred.


The clip, posted online this week, shows a boy going from joy to heartbreak as he discovers his new parents are men.


The ad had created an online furore that experts said could help garner support for the reform vote, which could let President Vladimir Putin extend his long rule.


It plays on deep-seated anti-gay sentiment in the country, where activists say violence against gay people has been on the rise since the adoption of a 2013 law that banned the dissemination of “gay propaganda” among young Russians.


Only heterosexual couples can adopt children in Russia.


“Here’s your new mum. Don’t be upset,” one of the new adopting parents tells the child as he introduces his partner, who promptly offers the boy a dress. A woman working at the orphanage watches on, then spits on the floor in disgust.


“Will you choose such a Russia? Decide the future of the country – vote for amendments to the constitution,” a voiceover says, suggesting a vote for Putin protects traditional values.


Russia is to hold a nationwide vote on constitutional reforms that include resetting Putin’s presidential term tally to zero, which could extend his rule until 2036.


Anther proposed amendment spells out that marriage means a union between a man and a woman – and nothing else.


During two decades in power, Putin has closely aligned himself with the Orthodox Church and sought to distance Russia from liberal Western values, including attitudes toward homosexuality and gender fluidity.


The video drew a torrent of criticism.


Opposition politician Alexei Navalny wrote on Twitter that Putin officials had gone “completely crazy” over homosexuality.


Russian LGBT+ group Stimul said it had filed a complaint with law enforcement agencies, asking for the clip to be removed and an investigation opened.


“This video incites hatred and hostility towards a group of people on the basis of belonging to the LGBT community, it degrades the dignity of a person (and) is frankly discriminatory in nature,” the group said in a statement on Tuesday.


Patriot Media Group, the firm that produced the clip, said the video was not “campaigning against homosexuals” but aimed to explain the content of the July vote.


“The main point is … the defence of the family institution as a union of a man and a woman,” the group’s head, Nikolai Stolyarchuk, said in a statement, adding the company produced the footage with its own money.


On Wednesday, the video was taken down from YouTube, where it had racked up tens of thousands of views, and replaced with a message saying it violated the company’s policy on hate speech.


The clip is still available on Russian social media VKontakte, where it has more than a million views.


Russia’s investigative committee and the general prosecutor’s office did not immediately reply to a request for comment.


On its website, Patriot lists Evgeny Prigozhin, a businessman dubbed “Putin’s cook” for his close ties to the president, as the head of its board of trustees.


Ben Noble, a Russian politics professor at University College London, said the video seemed designed to stir controversy – possibly to draw attention to the vote.


“It strikes me as being deeply homophobic,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone. “It’s really important for the Kremlin that the turnout is as high as possible.”


Critics have dismissed the vote as a constitutional coup which they fear will be rigged and urged voters to stay away or to reject the proposed changes.


The Kremlin has said authorities will take all necessary measures to ensure voters’ safety.

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