Underdogs unite: Jews support July gay pride festival in Rome

ROME — Italy's Jewish community has recently weighed in on an issue that is dividing the nation — whether Rome should host a World Gay Pride festival in July, despite protests from the Vatican and many politicians.

Amos Luzzatto, Italian Jewry's senior lay leader, issued a statement of solidarity with the gay community and reminded Italians that gays had been victims alongside Jews in Auschwitz.

"We Jews are extremely sorry about this harsh debate against homosexuals," Luzzatto, the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, said in a statement last month.

He expressed solidarity with the gay community, pointing out that under Nazi Germany, homosexuals were forced into death camps, too.

"We with our yellow triangles and they with their pink triangles — they suffered all those unspeakable horrors beside us and with us." Luzzatto also said that respect for minorities was a measure of democracy and civil society.

The issue of the World Gay Pride festival, scheduled for the first week of July and culminating with a parade on July 8, has become a test of wills among political parties and also between Italian political forces and the Vatican.

The Roman Catholic Church has designated this year as a Jubilee, or Holy Year, marking the beginning of the third millennium of Christianity. As a result, millions of pilgrims are converging on Rome for a series of Holy Year-related ceremonies and festivities, many of which spill outside the bounds of the Holy See, the Church's headquarters in Vatican City.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that homosexual tendencies are not sinful but that homosexual acts are.

Senior Vatican officials have made clear their disapproval of the Gay Pride festival, saying that such a celebration — which often includes what is known as camp, a public parodying of sexual and religious conventions — would be inappropriate during Holy Year.

Right-wing Italian politicians agree.

Last month, Rome Mayor Francesco Rutelli drew ridicule from fellow politicians on the left when he told World Gay Pride organizers that the city council could no longer give its official backing to the event.

Rutelli also told World Gay Pride organizers that the city disagreed with some of the events scheduled for the week, including a fashion show in a Rome square that is also the site of a Catholic church.

The city council said it would still give organizers the $145,600 it had pledged and the events could go forth as planned, but World Gay Pride could no longer use the Rome city logo indicating sponsorship for its events.

Meanwhile, Luzzatto hopes Jewish support of the festival will help outweigh the protests.

"It involves and marginalizes a minority group which has always been the object of discrimination," he said, adding that gay men and lesbians should be afforded the right to assemble in the same way other groups can in Italy.