On a street near St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome, a Nazi swastika
and the words "No Gay Zone" have been painted on the asphalt. Among
the graffiti, another under a nearby window reads, "gay =
The rhetoric of far-right groups has added to tensions in the
Italian capital, as thousands of gay-rights supporters converge on
the city for World Pride 2000, a weeklong international festival
celebrating gay life that has angered the Roman Catholic Church and
caused a political furor. The controversy pits the Vatican's desire
for an "untainted" celebration of Catholic values against Rome's
backing of free expression by all citizens. It has also sparked an
open discussion of homosexual issues, long a taboo subject in Italy.
"We're looking to achieve equality and respect," Deborah Oakley-
Melvin, a festival organizer, told Reuters as the festival began on
The opening event in the gardens of the Philharmonic Academy was
met with a pair of protests. The far-right Forza Nuova (New Force)
sponsored a march through central Rome that the group said was "in
defense of traditional family values." About 700 members gave the
Nazi salute and waved banners saying "stop gay pride."
Religious groups and the far-right National Alliance party held
an evening torchlight parade, which they said was to "repair the
shame" gays are bringing to the center of Roman Catholicism.
Planned since December 1996, World Pride 2000 coincides with the
Holy Year of spiritual renewal proclaimed by Pope John Paul II to
mark the anniversary of Jesus' birth. The Vatican -which considers
homosexual acts a sin - has said gay-rights supporters have the
constitutional right to demonstrate, but the festival should not be
taking place during the church's year-long celebration.
Cardinal Ersilio Tonini told state television on Saturday, "You
cannot prevent us from considering you our brothers and sons - you
will always find an open door here." He added, "a dialogue is
something else, though. By choosing the Holy Year, the Jubilee ...
one chooses provocation."
The festival, which runs through July 9, coincides with several
Holy Year events, including a special gathering for the pope's
Polish compatriots on July 2, expected to draw 200,000 people.
But it's the climax of the World Pride festivities - a march
organizers want to hold around the Colosseum on July 8 -that has
proved a political hot potato.
The Rome city council first backed the march, then, expressing
deep concern about offending the Vatican, withdrew its official
In January, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, referring to the World
Pride demonstration, said, "This is only a squalid provocation
against the Holy See and Catholic morality."
The desire to avoid confrontation between an aging and widely
respected pope and thousands of potential protesters led national
and local politicians in Rome to work publicly and behind the scenes
to see if there was a way to avoid the demonstration. …