Gays tell Italian minister: Wake up to prejudice

ROME Mon May 19, 2008 11:11am EDT

Two men kiss during a gay protest at the Colosseum in Rome July 29, 2007. REUTERS/Max Rossi

Two men kiss during a gay protest at the Colosseum in Rome July 29, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Max Rossi

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's new minister for equal opportunities has angered rights groups by refusing to back a "Gay Pride" march because, she says, gays no longer suffer discrimination in Italy.

The appointment of 32-year-old former Miss Italy contestant and television showgirl Mara Carfagna to the equal opportunities post is seen by some rights groups as a deliberate provocation by conservative Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Berlusconi, a 71-year-old media mogul, portrays himself as an unashamedly old-fashioned "ladies' man", and earned a public reprimand from his long-suffering wife for flirting publicly with women politicians including Carfagna.

During the campaign he said women on the right were prettier and called his older women supporters "the Menopause Section".

Carfagna said in comments published on Monday she would not back the June "Gay Pride" event in Bologna "because 'Gay Prides' are pointless".

"Homosexuality is no longer a problem, at least not the way the organizers of these demos would have us believe," she said. "Gay Pride's real aim is official recognition for homosexual couples, on a level with marriage. I cannot agree to that."

"Gone are the times when homosexuals were declared mentally ill. Nowadays they are integrated into society," Carfagna told Corriere della Sera. She said she would sponsor seminars dealing with "discrimination and violence" against gay people.

The rights group Arcigay asked how she could say gay people suffer no discrimination in a country where they "are forced to hide their sexual orientation at home, at school and at work".

Arcigay head Aurelio Mancuso said Carfagna lived in "a fairy-tale land". He said 14 gays or lesbians had been murdered in Italy in the last two years, 50 had suffered grave violence and thousands had been discriminated against.

The centre-left government that collapsed in January failed to win legal status for same-sex unions due to opposition from Roman Catholic politicians. Italy is in a dwindling group of European Union countries not to have recognized gay marriage or civil unions.

The centre-left opposition's shadow minister for youth, Pina Picierno, said Carfagna was being manipulated in the battle between Catholics and secularists over gay marriage.

Communist politician Manuela Palermi put Carfagna's lack of backing for the march in the context of the new government's tough line on immigrants and social issues.

"Immigrants hunted down, Roma camps set on fire, a boy in Verona killed by neo-Nazis, women attacked on abortion," she said. "A racist country turning more and more Taliban, incapable of secular thought: that's the image Italy is projecting."

(Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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