“Discriminations are a daily occurrence”, Ezio De Gesù tells us straight out. Member of Arcigay, the main LGBTI Italian non-profit association, Ezio is also coordinator of a school project which aims to support students, give the right information and fight discrimations and bullying.
Arcigay is the most important LGBTI Italian association. Founded in 1985, it operates throughout the country thanks to its 71 territorial committees and other acceding associations. It promotes equal rights and self-determination to overcome prejudices and stereotypes towards LGBTI people, fighting any kind of discrimination. “The promoted projects concern in particular healthcare, socialization, education and youth policy, in order to create a laic, inclusive, open society based on solidarity, equality, anti-racism and anti-fascism”, he explains.
Ezio, thanks for the interview. What is your role in Arcigay?
I have been a member of the National Secretary for three years. More specifically, I am focusing on school activities: I coordinate school projects, deal with the Ministry of Education and try to improve competences and activities on the ground, betting on our trainers’ education and wellness.
What kind of struggles and discriminations could a homosexual or transsexual person face in Italy?
Discriminations due to sexual orientation and gender identity are still very strong and deep-rooted in the Italian society. A heteronormative society takes for granted, in both its rules and representations, that all the people are heterosexual. Behaviours like that are legitimised by a political class which is not really geared to recognizing diversity, the same one that used homo-transphobia to obtain votes and consent. Discriminations are a daily occurrence: obstacles concerning employment, family refuse, difficulty in renting a house, physical, psychological and verbal violence at school, etc. In addition, penal aggravating circumstances punishing homo-transphobic behaviours are not foreseen by the law, thus the idea that denouncing harassment and assault is useless is quite widespread.
What is the situation in Italy compared to other European countries?
It is possible to get an analysis thanks to the Ilga annual map, which assigns a score to each European country based on LGBTI rights laws. Italy’s score in this map is equal to or lower than those of former Soviet countries. Certainly, we are the only EU founding member that hasn’t approved equalitarian marriage and without a law against homophobia. In my view, Italian society is more advanced than its politicians. Nonetheless, I noticed a new surge in homo-transnegativity which became less evident in recent years.
Recently, the Minister for Family Lorenzo Fontana has spoken in favour of the so-called traditional family. Do you think stances like this could have an impact on public opinion? In your opinion, which position is the current government taking on civil rights?
What Minister Fontana has said is in contrast with dozens of judgments of the Constitutional Court, the Court of Cassation and municipalities, all recognizing the familial bond between two individuals of the same sex and their kids. In my view, associations must supervise carefully the government’s conduct. Decisions like that of closing our ports or the proposal of a Gipsy people census demonstrate that rights, even those already obtained, can be called into question in every moment. Fortunately, Italian Courts are differing with the vision of recognizing LGBTI rights. However, I am concerned about the increasing popular consent the Northern League is obtaining and the consequential support that some ideas could get in society. We can say that the growing homo-transphobia acts are definitely incited by the words of Minister Fontana.
Let’s talk about the Arcigay school project. What are its goals and how does it work?
The Arcigay school project started in the fall of 2002 in Bologna, for the purpose of establishing a structured and continuous dialogue with schools and, above all, with pupils. The workshops that we organized in these last sixteen years had two targets: middle- and high-school students and their teachers. With students, we usually deal with the issue of identity, self-approval, discrimination, homo-transphobic bullying, coming-out and the creation of an inclusive situation. Instead, with teachers and other employees, we develop activities to provide useful means to educate pupils in the abovementioned issues. In twelve months, 738 different workshops took place, reaching over 46 thousands students aged between 13 and 19.
Our operators are trained by the National Team of Education at national and international level. They follow a two-years-long training focused on learning those subjects, how to deal with groups and how to handle emotions. Our operators are mostly aged between 20 and 35, so that they can establish a closer connection with students.
In your experience, can a well-conducted school project be crucial to avoid bullying and discrimination?
A well-conducted project has a lot of potential: on the one hand, it provides the right information, eradicating prejudices and stereotypes underlying homo-transnegative behaviours; on the other hand, it allows LGBTI boys and girls to find a reference and a foothold. We regularly receive gratitude by those who feel supported after our meetings.
How do students respond?
New generations are certainly more open-minded than older people. However, they usually have never dealt with those issues, about which there is still an impressive lack of knowledge. We rarely find hostility, whereas in most cases we experience curiosity and openness. It is not uncommon that some students come out with operators during our meetings, to then do it with their parents, teachers and schoolmates.
Have parents or teachers ever complained about the school project?
Yes, there have been increasing complaints in the last few years. In some cases, we have been working without problems for sixteen years, whereas, in others, parents and teachers hinder the projects for fear of bringing gender ideology to school. In most cases projects take place, but sometimes operators have been forced to cancel workshops scheduled a long time ago and already included in the school educational plan.
Any advice for the young Italians who feel discriminated for their homosexuality? Which services or support group can they contact?
I suggest them to be always themselves and to be aware that things are changing fast and positively. For any legal or psychological support, or simply to socialize, there are 71 Arcigay points throughout Italy, available on www.arcigay.it.