ROME (AFP) – Hundreds of thousands of people paraded through central Rome in a gay pride parade on Saturday, with many criticising Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government for failing to grant same-sex rights.
“I want to tell the world, Europe and above all Italy, which is a bit closed, that we have the right to be treated like human beings,” said 22-year-old Nikita, who wore a silver dress with high heels and feathers.
Slogans at the parade read “Different People, Same Rights” and “Equality and Human Rights for All!” as people waved rainbow flags in a festive atmosphere.
There were also more provocative displays including a man dressed as a bishop who had the words “paedophilia” and “sex abuse” scrawled on his costume.
“Italy is the only country that does not recognise LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual) rights,” said Franco Grillini, a member of the opposition Italy of Values party and historic gay rights activist.
“Italy should adapt to the rest of the Western world,” he said.
Activists said they hoped star guest Lady Gaga, who is to address the rally at around 1900 GMT and sing her hit single “Born This Way”, would help amplify their message of defiance against the Vatican and the Italian government.
Italy is one of the few European states that lacks specific legislation against homophobic violence and has no provision for gay civil unions.
Berlusconi last year dismissed a sex scandal with a homophobic comment saying: “It’s better to be passionate about beautiful women than to be gay.”
Organisers estimated crowd numbers at around 400,000 people. Police estimates ranged between 300,000 and 500,000 ahead of the event.
Vladimir Luxuria, a transgender former member of parliament who organised Italy’s first gay pride festival in 1994, said the event was more of a protest than a celebration.
“The fish stinks from the head and we have a prime minister who is a gay-basher,” Luxuria told AFP in an interview.
Paolo Patane, director of Italian activist group Arcigay, said he hoped the parade would help “push out” what he claimed was Italy’s “most backward government” since World War II.
The leaders of two small opposition parties — Italy of Values and Left, Ecology and Freedom — attended the parade, which also came on the eve of referendums that will again challenge the government.
Susanna Camusso, the leader of Italy’s main CGIL trade union, also came.
A group calling itself “Militia of Christ” meanwhile held a small protest with around 40 people in central Rome.
“We don’t agree with gay pride because of natural law, because it promotes a lifestyle that we believe is against human nature,” said Fabrizio Lastei, a spokesman for the group.
Catholic politicians also warned Lady Gaga, who is to give a short speech at 9:00 pm (1900 GMT), against making provocative statements about the pope.
“The gay world does not feel represented by someone who makes videos that offend Jesus,” said Rocco Buttiglione, the deputy speaker of parliament.
“If Lady Gaga attacks the Holy Father or the Catholic Church, millions of gay moderates will not recognise themselves in those comments,” he said.
Carlo Giovanardi, an outspoken junior minister in charge of family policy, dismissed the event as “a chance to mock the Holy Father, make fun of the clergy… and dress up in all sorts of costumes.”
Referring to Lady Gaga, he added: “Maybe she is badly informed about our country since all the opinion polls prove that an overwhelming majority of Italians are against marriage between a man and a man and a woman and a woman.”
The 25-year-old singer, ranked this year’s most powerful celebrity by Forbes magazine, spoke out last year against the now repealed US policy ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,’ which forced gay servicemen and women to keep their sexuality secret or face dismissal
But some weren’t pleased about her participation in the parade.
“Frankly, I feel a bit humiliated” that Lady Gaga has to be the one to come and tell Italy to defend gay rights, Paola Concia, a member of parliament from the main opposition Democratic Party, said at the parade.