Rome Mayor Revokes Funding for Homosexual Event

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

( - Organizers of an international homosexual celebration, scheduled to take place in Rome this July, sent out an appeal for funds Tuesday after the mayor of the Italian capital announced the city was revoking sponsorship of the event.

The decision was an important victory for opponents of World Pride 2000, who are campaigning to have the event either cancelled; postponed until after the Roman Catholic Church's millennial jubilee celebrations; or moved away from the city which encompasses the Vatican.

Meanwhile a Rome newspaper has quoted an assistant to President Clinton as saying that Italian authorities should follow the example set by the Clinton administration when it comes to relating to homosexuals, rather than bow to Vatican pressure.

The decision by Rome Mayor Francesco Rutelli not to contribute some $170,000 towards the cost of the event came amid growing pressure from the church and some politicians.

Rutelli said the city would nonetheless still "be the guarantor of the gays' freedom to demonstrate."

Franco Grillini, an official in the Italian government's equal opportunity ministry, slammed the reversal, saying Italy was either a "free and democratic" secular country or a "Vatican serfdom."

"You know that a great event [like] World Pride costs a lot of money," the organizers said in an appeal sent out Tuesday. "You have to know that in Italy is not easy to find big sponsors for a gay parade because they think it's not good for them."

Vice-President Al Gore has endorsed World Pride, a week-long program of seminars, sport, "cultural" and other events, culminating in a mass march on July 8. Earlier this month, 11 Italian Catholics, including politicians and academics, urged Gore in an open letter to withdraw his support.

Organizers say they expect up to 200,000 foreign participants to join the Italian homosexual and lesbian community.

When the City of Rome agreed last January to support the event, Rutelli told the city council: "Rome has a tradition of hospitality and respect which goes back millennia, and that won't change in 2000."

But on Friday, the Italian bishops' conference increased pressure on government leaders, saying World Pride should not be given official support.

Cardinal Camillo Ruini, president of the conference, said it was not opposed to demonstrations. "What it is asking is that this demonstration should not go ahead in Rome during the Jubilee year.

"I don't think it is a coincidence that they chose Rome and that they chose this particular year."

The Mario Mieli Center in Rome, which is organizing World Pride, has repeatedly insisted that planning for the event began several years ago, and that there was no intention to coincide with the jubilee program.

Prime Minister Giuliano Amato found himself at the center of a political storm last week when he said the event's scheduling during the jubilee year was "inopportune" but that the Italian constitution "unfortunately" did not allow the government to ban it.

Opponents criticized Amato after he told parliament: "There are the conditions to limit the rally to a defined place, to isolate it from the rest of the city. But unfortunately we must adapt to the situation ... as we are bound by the constitution."

"Follow Clinton's example'

There are signs the dispute may be reshaping the event into an international protest.

La Repubblica, a leading Roman newspaper, last Friday quoted Virginia Apuzzo, a lesbian former nun who works for President Clinton, as saying U.S. homosexuals planned to participate "not only for reasons of solidarity, but because the attack of the Italian government has international implications."

She said Americans "will not forget the obligation of solidarity and active support. And I want to encourage my Italian friends to being firm, having courage, not to get intimidated, to fully exercise their own rights, to remember that this episode is only the last of a long series of attempts to segregate. But neither [prime minister] Amato, nor the Pope will succeed."

Apuzzo, a leading campaigner for homosexuals, said the Italian authorities should follow the example set by the Clinton administration, rather than bow to the Vatican.

The Clinton presidency, she said, "has marked a turning point in American history and indicated an example, valid for every country of the world, on how to set up relationships with the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual communities."

In 1997, Apuzzo was named as assistant secretary to Clinton for policy, management and budget. She was said at the time to be the highest-ranking openly lesbian person in the federal government.