Anti-gender mobilization in Italy. Like in many other countries in the world, in Italy the mobilization against the so-called gender ideology is still very lively. It emerged around 2013, when a vast array of conservative NGOs (such as pro-life and Catholic organizations), right-wing parties and far-right groups joined to protest against proposals aimed at recognizing same-sex families, punishing hate-speech and hate-crimes against LGBT people, implementing school programs to combat gender and sexual stereotypes. Since its emergence, this protest has helped anti-feminist and anti-LGBT subjects to achieve important results. As an example, the law on same-sex civil unions which passed in 2016 does not give recognition to the demands of lesbian and gay parents or prospective parents. Furthermore, the Italian penal code still does not recognize lgbt people as victims needing protection because of their sexual and gender identities.
Generally speaking, the Italian mobilization against the so called gender ideology has developed in two different – although interlocked – domains. The first one is the political protest to block the approval of bills and policies which question the «natural» distinction between men and women and heteronormative assumptions of sexuality, family and parenthood. The second domain is the surveillance of school programs in order to prevent alleged pro-gender activities from entering Italian schools. In both domains the opposition against the enlargement of sexual citizenship for LGBT people plays a crucial role.
Latest developments. From the point of view of political protest, the movement is re-organizing itself around the latest bill on anti-LGBT hostility. Public campaigns and counter-initiatives by MP and right-wings politicians have begun soon after the law-proposal lodged in July 2018. After the Chambers of Deputies approved the bill in November 2020, the mobilization has strengthened and become more visible. The development of this protest has brought to some changes in the national debate on anti-LGBT hostility (see Trappolin and Gusmeroli 2019). For example, the well-known argument on whether or not this hostility does exist has lost its centrality. Lately, anti-gender activists and politicians insist more on the idea that the criminalization of homo-transphobia and any other initiative to prevent anti-LGBT hostility are dangerous. They perceive LGBT claims as having gone too far, envisaging a process of cultural colonization that risk to turn the heterosexual majority into a minority. Adopting a relatively modernized rhetoric about sexuality and individual freedom, anti-gender campaigners appoint themselves as representative of a common feeling violated by a supposedly imposed new sexual order. The diffusion of homo-transphobia is not under discussion; what is at stake are the effects of the democratization of sexual identities. These changes mirror the definitive inclusion of the concept of homophobia in the national debate, and the (rhetorical) appropriation of anti-homophobic narratives by subjects with very different opinions about LGBT rights (see Gusmeroli and Trappolin 2020).
The audience of anti-gender sex panics. The previous section argues that the political opposition to reforms aimed at contrasting homo-transphobia reproduces – although with un-expected outcomes – the interpretation of anti-homophobia as a new standard for the modernization of the country. The same cultural dynamics can be detected in the surveillance against the implementation of alleged “pro-gender” programs in Italian schools. In this domain of mobilization, the involvement of concerned parents and teachers at local level is crucial. The promoters of the anti-gender message – disseminated mostly through public events – directly address the ethos of parents’ and teachers’ responsibilities, encouraging their activation. The discursive apparatus sustaining the anti-gender protest makes abundant use of arguments relating to the victimization and early sexualization of children. The result is the construction of sex panics – or, alternatively, a situation of confusion and cognitive disorientation – that emotionally charges the call to arms of parents and teachers.
The relationship between anti-gender protest and anti-homophobia discourses is clearly visible when investigating how the anti-gender message is received by activists. This perspective of research has gone almost unexplored in the Italian and international sociological literature, even though it allows to avoid studying neo-conservative movements as homogeneous fronts.
Lately we have collected interviews with Italian women who become alarmed about the threat of the so-called gender ideology in schools attended by their children, or where they work as teachers. Our analysis shows that sharing the same worries about so-called gender ideology does not mean a unanimous and unequivocal agreement regarding the content of the mobilization. Our sample’s narratives reflect differences in both political and cultural terms. Some express a broad adherence to the anti-gender movements’ most radical and homophobic content, based on conspiracy theories and claiming the urgency of defending ‘normal’ people’s lives against influential unseen lobbies. Others take a more critical approach, refusing to criminalize LGBT people, and welcoming (albeit in limited terms) a pluralism of gender and sexual cultures. Rather surprisingly, some even call for the defense of pluralism in relation to their own cultural and religious preferences, which they describe as just ‘one among many others’.
The distinction between radicalized and moderate individual narratives reflects different attitudes to the public ethos of (sexual and gender) pluralism. The more radicalized forcefully reject ‘deviant’ ideas and subjectivities, and explicitly defend heteronormativity. The more moderate make strategic use of a pluralist ethos to defend a particular (heteronormative) sexual culture.