Italy as (Yet Again) A ‘Lighthouse’ for Anti-Gender and Anti-Immigration Politics

In 2016, the President of Family Day – Difendiamo I Nostri Figli, a prominent Italian anti-gender organization, defined Italy as a ‘lighthouse’ in safeguarding Western (read as ‘Christian and white’) civilization. Since 2013, when Italian anti-gender campaigns began to emerge, the country had been framed as an outpost to counter an alleged ‘gender ideology’ (an expression purposely never translated into Italian), considered as a threat to the ‘Italian national identity’. Since the last decade, references of attacks to ‘Italian values’ have brought anti-gender actors and right-wing parties increasingly closer, leading to a politicization of the Italian ‘anti-gender crusade’.

This politicization has developed in  two phases. The first one, occurring between 2013 and 2017, was characterized by emerging collaborations between anti-gender organizations, far-right groups, and right-wing parties, which successfully hampered the enactment of new laws on LGBTQIA* rights. In this phase, gender became the ‘symbolic glue’ uniting the Vatican, anti-gender organizations, and right-wing groups around the same cause. Still, Vatican institutions were not fond of increased collaborations with far-right forces, and distanced themselves from the more politicized anti-gender organizations.

In the second phase, between 2018 and 2022, the links between anti-gender organizations and right-wing parties rose exponentially. The most crucial event of this phase was the World Congress of Families held in Verona in 2019, which saw the participation of several members of the Italian Government, and yet the absence of representatives of the Vatican State. This alliance was sealed by the opposition to the so-called ‘Zan bill’,  a law meant to fight discrimination on the grounds of sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and disabilities (rejected in 2021). The opposition to this bill was also supported by so-called ‘gender critical’ feminists and some left-wing intellectuals, who jointly refused the concept of ‘gender identity’. During this phase, anti-gender claims increasingly entangled with Islamophobic and anti-immigration rhetoric, diffusing a vision of both LGBTQIA* individuals and migrants as ‘threats’ to the national identity and reinforcing patterns of intersectional marginalization and exclusion.

This passage is crucial to understanding the role of anti-gender movements in de-democratization processes and the worrying state in which Italy finds itself after the establishment of its first far-right Government in 2022. With active members of anti-gender organizations working as Parliamentarians and Ministers, the government led by Giorgia Meloni has further fuelled anti-gender and anti-immigration politics as two faces of the same far-right coin. On the one side, legislative means are employed to constrain gender equality and the rights of LGBTQIA* minorities. In June 2022 the Government presented a law to frame surrogacy as a ‘universal crime’ with the aim of impeding same-sex couples from having children abroad. Simultaneously, the Ministry of Interior forbade local Municipalities from registering both parents of children born abroad through assisted reproduction techniques. These provisions show the intention of the Government to rip same-sex couples of their parenthood desires and rights, affecting the same children that far-right forces claim “to defend”. At the same time, Parliament rooms were tragically empty during official discussions about the discrimination and violence endured by LGBTQIA* individuals in the country (as shown in the picture below). All this falls on top of long-lasting attempts to limit, rights that were achieved decades ago, such as that of abortion. Abortion rights, indeed, are threated by the combined pressure of moral stigma and growing levels of endorsement of the so-called “conscience clause” that allows medical personnel to refuse to perform an abortion whenever it is deemed incompatible with their values.

Figure 1: Empty Senate room on September, 14th, during a session on strategies to contrast LGBTQIA*-phobia.

Source: https://www.repubblica.it/politica/2023/09/14/news/diritti_lgbtq_governo_senato_aula_vuota-414461355/ [Last accessed 13.11.2023]

On the other side of the coin, the current Government has taken several initiatives to impede migrants from reaching Italian soil, and to deny them legal protection, arguing that such policies would ‘safeguard’ Italian citizens and, especially, ‘guarantee’ the safety of Italian women and children. Amongst such provisions, the so-called ‘Decreto Cutro’, approved last May, stands out. This provision limits and criminalizes the activities of NGOs saving migrants at sea, extends the possibilities to deport migrants, and obliges them to deposit to the State around 5000 euros to avoid detention in deportation centres. More recently, the Italian Government seems to have reached an agreement with Albania to open migration hubs on Albanian soil and derail migrants found at sea to other Mediterranean shores. 

In our view, these policies raise important concerns over the renewed role of Italy as a ‘lighthouse’ not only for anti-gender stances, but also for racist politics. Instead of shedding light on paths towards social, gender and racial justice, this lighthouse illuminates a battleground in which exclusionary forces are harming people’s lives under the assumption that LGBTQIA* and migrants’ rights pose a threat to the ‘Italian national identity’.

By Aurora Perego, Olivia Burchietti, and Elena Pavan