Italy: Treatment of sexual minorities, in particular, lesbians, and the laws, state protection and support services available (2008-August 2012)
1. Treatment of Sexual Minorities by Society
1.1 Treatment of Lesbians
Information on society's attitude toward lesbians and on the treatment of lesbians in Italy was scarce among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.
An article published on the website of the French magazine Têtu, which covers topics of interest to the homosexual community, states that lesbianism is considered to be like a [translation] "pathology" in an official record used by the Italian Ministry of Health (Têtu 5 May 2012). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.
1.2 Treatment of Sexual Minorities
In Italy, homosexual relationships are not criminalized (US 8 Apr. 2011, 25; ILGA n.d.). However, in an open letter sent to the Italian minister of Foreign Affairs, Human Rights Watch states that "discrimination and violence on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity remain serious problems in Italy"(16 June 2011). According to Maclean's magazine, cultural and legal progress made by sexual minorities in the "Western world" is "all but absent" in Italy (25 Apr. 2012). According to Maclean's, the European section of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA-Europe) ranks Italy second to last among European Union countries in terms of its sexual minorities rights record (the last represents the worst ranked) (Maclean's 25 Apr. 2012).
Sources state that, in May 2012, the Italian National Institute for Statistics conducted an opinion survey on sexual minorities in Italy (Courrier international 18 May 2012; Equinet 18 May 2012). The results of the survey showed that 73 percent of those surveyed opposed discrimination against homosexuals (Courrier international 18 May 2012) in employment and housing (Equinet 18 May 2012). An article published on the website of Equinet, a network of European organizations promoting equality (Equinet 10 Apr. 2012), points out that 60 percent of the people surveyed are of the opinion that sexual minorities are victims of discrimination (Equinet 18 May 2012). In addition, 24.8 percent of the people surveyed think that homosexuals should not hold political positions; 41.4 percent think that they should not hold teaching positions (Courrier International 18 May 2012) in primary schools (Equinet 18 May 2012); and 28.1 percent think that they should not be allowed to be doctors (ibid.). According to an article in the Italian daily newspaper L'Unità, reprinted in Courrier International, according to the results of the survey, discrimination against homosexuals seems to be [translation] "stronger" in the southern part of the country; 32.3 percent of people surveyed in that region associate homosexuality with immorality, and 28.3 percent of them consider homosexuality to be an [translation] "illness" (Courrier International 18 May 2012). Other sources also note that, in Italy, homosexuality is perceived by some as an [translation] "illness" (Têtu 5 May 2012) and that some doctors suggest therapies that [translation] "allow homosexuals to convert to heterosexuality" (Courrier International 4 May 2005). According to an article in the magazine Têtu, [translation] "in Italy, public discourse that presents homosexuality as an illness to be treated persists, and it is finding a growing audience, especially in religious environments" (5 May 2012).
A person who revealed his homosexuality during a medical examination for the military service had his driver's licence suspended by reason of a "disturbance of sexual identity" which was considered to have affected his psycho-physical requirements (Têtu 12 Apr. 2011; The Guardian 14 July 2008). According to sources, that incident occurred in 2002 (ibid.) or in 2005 (Têtu 12 Apr. 2011). Sources point out that information on the individual's sexual orientation was sent from the Italian Ministry of Defence to the Ministry of Transport, which then suspended the licence (ibid.; BBC 13 July 2008; The Guardian 14 July 2008). In July 2008, a judge ordered both ministries to pay 100,000 euros to that individual, and the judge stated that these ministries had shown discrimination (ibid.; Têtu 12 Apr. 2011; BBC 13 July 2008) and that homosexuality could not be considered a "mental illness" (ibid.). According to Têtu, although the sum granted was reduced to 20,000 euros, the decision was reaffirmed by a court of appeal in April 2011 (12 Apr. 2011). According to the Guardian, the victim's lawyer stated that it was the first time that the state had been punished for discrimination based on sexual orientation (14 July 2008). Another article in Têtu also mentions a similar case in which a licence was suspended because of the person's sexual orientation in 2011 (14 May 2011). Têtu notes, however, that the recourse request submitted by the individual whose licence was suspended was deemed eligible by the transport administration and that the minister of Equal Opportunities stated that it would intervene in the case to ensure that this type of discrimination did not occur again (14 May 2011).
Sources state that, in 2012, a player on the national soccer team stated during a news conference that he hoped that there were no homosexuals on the team (DH 6 June 2012; Football.fr. 13 June 2012; Chronofoot 13 June 2012). According to football.fr, a sports news website, other Italian soccer players have also made statements of [translation] "intolerance" towards homosexuals in the previous few years (football.fr 13 June 2012).
1.2.1 Acts of Violence Towards Sexual Minorities
Sources note that, during the previous few years, there has been an increase in the number of [translation] "homophobic" assaults in Italy (Le Monde with AFP 23 Sept. 2011; AFP 26 July 2011; Human Rights Watch Mar. 2011, 60-61). According to the US Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2010, there were several cases of violence against gay and lesbian couples in 2010 (US 8 Apr. 2011, 25). According to Country Reports 2010, Arcigay, an association that advocates for the rights of sexual minorities, stated that, between January and August 2010, there were two murders and twenty-nine attacks against members of sexual minorities; in 2009, there were eight murders and fifty-two attacks (US 8 Apr. 2011, 26). Country Reports 2010 notes that several of those crimes resulted from "domestic disputes" (ibid.). Country Reports 2011 notes that "a few" cases of violence against gay men and lesbians were also reported in 2011 (US 24 May 2012, 1).
In April 2011, a female Italian parliamentarian and her partner were walking in Rome when a man shouted: "they should have sent you to the ovens" (ILGA-Europe May 2012, 91; Maclean's 25 Apr. 2012). According to Maclean's, some people reproached the parliamentarian for responding angrily (ibid.). According to the article, the couple was "lucky to be downtown-such encounters usually escalate to physical violence on the outskirts of Rome" (ibid.).
2. Treatment of Sexual Minorities by the Authorities
According to Amnesty International (AI), "[d]erogatory remarks by some politicians and representatives...help to foster a climate of intolerance" (2011). According to the ILGA-Europe's annual report for 2011, in Milan, a right-wing political party threatened to publicly burn a book portraying two families with same-sex couples, and a municipal councillor tried to prevent the book from being distributed to public libraries and schools (ILGA-Europe May 2012, 91).
According to an article in the Guardian, in 2010, there were several cases of homosexuals who were forced to leave beaches after kissing in public (The Guardian 13 Aug. 2010). In one of the cases, a homosexual couple was forced to flee when bottles were thrown at them (ibid.). In other cases, couples have been threatened with fines or arrest (ibid.). According to the Guardian, these cases show a "growing ... prejudice against displays of homosexual affection and a growing readiness of officials to take action against them, regardless of whether any laws have been broken" (ibid.). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.
Sources note that in response to being accused of having sexual affairs, former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi stated that it was better to have passion for women than to "be gay" (Maclean's 25 Apr. 2012; US 8 Apr. 2011, 26; Le Monde with AFP 23 Sept. 2011).
According to Courrier International, the minister of Equal Opportunity, formerly considered to be the [translation] "thorn in the side" of gay and lesbian associations because of his "statements of hostility" directed at homosexuals, changed his opinions [translation] "drastically," and publicly thanked a political adversary for helping him to better understand the situation of homosexuals (18 May 2010). According to Le Monde, the Minister also supported a proposed law against homophobia in July 2011 (Le Monde with AFP 23 Sept. 2011).
Homosexuals can serve in the Italian armed forces (RAND Corporation 2010, 296; Palm Center June 2009). According to information obtained from Arcigay by the Palm Center, an American research centre that supports research on sexual minorities in the armed forces (Palm Center n.d.), although there is no legal precedent in Italy prohibiting homosexuals from serving in the military, in practice "[i]f the presence of a gay service member disrupts military discipline, it appears they can be dismissed" (ibid. June 2009). Similarly, the RAND Corporation, a research institute that is part of the United States Department of Defence, points out that homosexuals may be exempted from the military if they are found to be "unfit" by reason of a "sexual orientation disturbance" (RAND Corporation 2010, 296-297). The RAND Corporation points out that according to interviews conducted by the magazine L'Espresso with homosexuals serving in the army, most hide their sexual orientation because of the homophobia that prevails; however, those interviewed also stated that "the atmosphere had improved considerably" since the end of conscription (ibid., 298).
Sources state that openly homosexual individuals hold political positions (Courrier International 18 May 2010; ILGA-Europe May 2012, 91). An openly homosexual parliamentarian sits in the Italian Parliament (AFP 12 July 2012; Courrier International 18 May 2010). According to an annual report for 2011 by ILGA-Europe, the governor of Puglia, a southern region, is also openly homosexual (ILGA-Europe May 2012, 91).
According to an annual report published by ILGA-Europe on the situation of sexual minorities in Europe, public events regarding sexual minorities take place in Italy with the authorization of the government and without the state's interference (ILGA-Europe May 2012, 90). ILGA-Europe states that it received the support of the Italian senate, the chamber of deputies of the Italian parliament, the minister for Equal Opportunities, the province and municipality of Turin, as well as the president of Italy for the organization of the ILGA-Europe conference that was held in October 2011 in Turin (ibid., 91). Similarly, a summary of an article from the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica, appearing in Courrier International, points out that, in May 2010, representatives of homosexual associations were welcomed by the Italian head of state on the International Day Against Homophobia (Courrier International 18 May 2010).
2.1 State Protection
According to some sources, the National Office Against Racial Discrimination has intervened to fight against discrimination based on sexual orientation (Human Rights Watch 16 June 2011; Equinet 26 Oct. 2011). However, according to Human Rights Watch, the fight against discrimination based on sexual orientation is not part of the official mandate of the Office (16 June 2011). According to Equinet, the Office facilitates informal conciliation in cases of discrimination in the fields of employment, education, housing, social protection and access to goods and services (Equinet 26 Oct. 2011). Equinet also notes that the Office commissioned and financed the survey on sexual minorities produced by the National Statistics Institute (ibid. 18 May 2012).
According to sources, the law does not include increased sentences for hate crimes based on sexual orientation (AI 2012; Human Rights Watch Mar. 2011, 18; ILGA-Europe n.d.).
In July 2011, an anti-homophobia bill was rejected by the Italian parliament (ILGA-Europe May 2012, 91; Le Monde with AFP 23 Sept. 2011). It was the second time that the proposal was rejected (ibid.; AFP 26 July 2011). According to the annual report on the situation of sexual minorities in Europe published by ILGA-Europe, another draft bill against transphobia was also rejected in July 2011 (ILGA-Europe May 2012, 91).
Italy does not recognize the marriage or civil union of homosexual couples (Human Rights Watch 16 June 2011; ILGA-Europe n.d.; Toute L'Europe 26 July 2012). ILGA-Europe's annual report notes, however, that some municipalities offer a form of legal recognition of the cohabitation of homosexuals, but without providing clarification (May 2012, 90). Information on this form of legal recognition could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.
Toute l'Europe, a website with information on European issues, states that according to the Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship in the European parliament, the fact that all the member countries of the European Union (EU) do not recognize homosexual unions interferes with the freedom of circulation of homosexual couples within the EU (Toute l'Europe 26 July 2012). The Commissioner explained that if a [translation] "homosexual couple that was married in one country decides to move to another country that does not recognize that union and therefore the inherent rights (adoption, social security and inheritance), it constitutes discrimination and a violation of the EU right" (Toute l'Europe 26 July 2012). According to media, a court in the Italian city of Reggio d'Emilia granted a residence permit to the Uruguayan same-sex spouse of an Italian citizen; the residence application had initially been rejected by the Italian authorities (Bikya Masr 26 Mar. 2012; West 16 Feb. 2012). The couple had been married in Spain; the judge of the court of Reggio d'Emilia stated that, according to the European Directive 2004/38/EC, the spouse of an EU citizen has the right to family reunification, regardless of the sex of the couple (West 16 Feb. 2012).
Sources state that discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace is illegal (Human Rights Watch 16 June 2011; ILGA-Europe n.d.). Country Reports 2011 states, however, that based on a survey by Arcigay, the results of which were published in October 2011, 13 percent of homosexuals interviewed had already been dismissed from their jobs because of their sexual orientation and 19 percent had been victims of other forms of employment-related discrimination (US 24 May 2012, 21). Human Rights Watch points out that no specific law has been adopted to prevent discrimination against sexual minorities in other areas, such as access to goods and services and to housing (16 June 2011).
According to ILGA-Europe, Italy has implemented "administrative procedures" enabling legal recognition of the gender of transsexual people; however, divorce and sterilization are prerequisites for obtaining that recognition (ILGA-Europe n.d.). However, the annual report of ILGA-Europe notes that, in July 2011, a court of first instance reaffirmed a decision that "sterilization is not a mandatory requirement for gender reassignment, countering the prevailing interpretation of the law in the country" (ILGA-Europe May 2012, 92). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.
2.3 Police and Judicial Apparatus
In July 2012, an Italian daily newspaper stated that a manual being used internally for an exam in the Italian national police force [Carabinieri] states that homosexuality is a [translation] "deviant" behaviour comparable to zoophilia and incest (AFP 12 July 2012). The national police force's commander general explained that a [translation] "careless mistake" had been made in the text and that the manual was corrected immediately (ibid.). Expressing his [translation] "indignation," the President of the Arcigay group nevertheless congratulated the head of the national police force for having quickly made the correction, stating that he was [translation] "'pleasantly surprised'" by the respect shown towards the homosexual community (ibid.).
According to Human Rights Watch, the Italian authorities do not record data about hate crimes against sexual minorities (Mar. 2011, 59). However, that same source states that, in September 2010, the Observatory for the Protection of Minority Victims of Discrimination was created within the Central Directorate of Criminal Police (Human Rights Watch Mar. 2011, 60). According to a representative of the Central Directorate of Criminal Police, the Observatory "will address all instances of bias crimes, with a particular focus on...those based on sexual orientation"(ibid., 61). The mandate of the Observatory is to "receive directly and to compile and monitor progress on reports of bias crimes" (ibid.).
3. Support Services
There are several associations that advocate for the rights of sexual minorities in Italy (ILGA-Europe May 2012, 92; AFP 26 July 2011). Agence France-Presse (AFP) points out that, in response to the increase in violence against sexual minorities, these associations have mobilized to promote the proposed anti-homophobia bill (AFP 26 July 2011). According to Human Rights Watch, the Observatory for the Protection of Minority Victims of Discrimination was created in response to lobbying by the associations that advocate for the rights of sexual minorities (Mar. 2011, 60-61).
One of the associations that advocates for homosexual rights is Arcigay (AFP 12 July 2012). According to Le Monde, Arcigay is described as the [translation] "the foremost homosexual rights organization" in Italy (Le Monde with AFP 23 Sept. 2011). It has several offices across the country (ILGA-Europe May 2011, 92; Arcigay n.d.). The organization was founded in 1985 and works to present information about and promote the rights of sexual minorities (ibid.).
According to Gay Friendly Italy, Arcilesbica, a national association dedicated to women, is also located in Bologna (Gay Friendly Italy n.d.). Gay Friendly Italy lists the other important groups, such as Mario Mieli, an association based in Rome; AGEDO, an association for parents and friends of gays and lesbians; and MIT, an association for the transsexual community (ibid.). Corroborating information on the other associations that advocate for the rights of sexual minorities in Italy could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.
This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.
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_____. 18 May 2010. "Les gays, la ministre et son incroyable mea culpa." <http://www.courrierinternational.com/article/2010/05/18/les-gays-la-ministre-et-son-incroyable-mea-culpa> [Accessed 29 Aug. 2012]
_____. 4 May 2005. "Une thérapie pour guérir l'homosexualité." <http://www.courrierinternational.com/breve/2005/05/04/une-therapie-pour-guerir-l-homosexualite> [Accessed 30 Aug. 2012]
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_____. 10 April 2012. "About Equinet." <http://www.equineteurope.org/-About-us-> [Accessed 7 Sept. 2012]
_____. 26 October 2011. National Office Against Racial Discrimination (UNAR) - Italy. <http://www.equineteurope.org/IMG/pdf/PROFILE_UNAR_IT.pdf> [Accessed 5 Sept. 2012]
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_____. March 2011. Everyday Intolerance: Racist and Xenophobic Violence in Italy. <http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/italy0311WebRevised.pdf> [Accessed 30 Aug. 2012]
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Têtu [Paris]. 5 May 2012. Charlie Vandekerkhove. "Italie: des psys mobilisés contre l'idée de 'guérir l'homosexualité'." <http://www.tetu.com/actualites/international/italie-des-psys-mobilises-contre-lidee-de-guerir-lhomosexualite-21502> [Accessed 30 Aug. 2012]
_____. 14 May 2011. Alistair Dupaquis. "En Italie, une nouvelle affaire de permis suspendu pour homosexualité." <http://www.tetu.com/actualites/international/en-italie-une-nouvelle-affaire-de-permis-suspendu-pour-homosexualite-19416> [Accessed 4 Sept. 2012]
_____. 12 April 2011. Alexis Puzyrev. "Privé de permis de conduire parce que gay : deux ministères italiens condamnés." <http://www.tetu.com/actualites/international/prive-de-permis-de-conduire-parce-que-gay-deux-ministeres-italiens-condamnes-19217> [Accessed 4 Sept. 2012]
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_____. N.d. "Toute l'Europe." <http://www.touteleurope.eu/fr/menu-rapide-haut-2/qui-sommes-nous.html> [Accessed 7 Sept. 2012]
United States (US). 24 May 2012. Department of State. "Italy." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011. <http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/186576.pdf> [Accessed 30 Aug. 2012]
_____. 8 April 2011. Department of State. "Italy." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2010. <http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/160195.pdf> [Accessed 30 Aug. 2012]
West. 16 February 2012. Roberta Lunghini. "Homosexuals: No to Wedding, Yes to Reunion." <http://www.west-info.eu/gay-same-sex-marriage-family-reunification-reunion/> [Accessed 5 Sept. 2012]
Additional Sources Consulted
Internet sites, including: European Country of Origin Information Network; Factiva; Gaylawnet.com; GayTV.it; Italy – Istituto nazionale di statistica, Ufficio Nazionale Antidiscriminazioni Razziali; International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC); United Nations – Refworld; Tels quels.