Same-Sex Marriage Standoff in Milan
"IT WOULD BE AMUSING TO SEE nationalists and soverignists win the European Elections," says a rather sarcastic Luca Paladini. "Becoming Members of the European Parliament and promoting their protectionist views, they would end up building walls and destroying the common political project of Europe."
It’s a sunny Saturday morning in the north of Milan, just a week after over 250,000 people participated in a protest called People, which aimed to challenge nationalist claims across Europe and beyond.
Luca Paladini and his husband Luca Caputo, both in their 50’s, played an important role in promoting the People protest. Together, they founded I Sentinelli di Milano, which they define as a movement for human rights. The group first banded together in the autumn of 2014 in response to another group of activists, the Sentinelle in Piedi, or the “Standing Sentinels,” who were protesting against the legal recognition of same-sex unions across Italy. The name Sentinelli (misspelled on purpose) was made up to mock the other group—what followed was a battle between the two. I Sentinelli di Milano has also pitted itself against politicians and those who opposed the approval of the “Cirinnà” bill for same-sex unions, which was adopted into law in May 2016.
I Sentinelli di Milano is one of the few bottom-up civic movements in Italy. During People, a peaceful but determined crowd marched down the streets of Milan and gathered in front of the Duomo, the city’s famous cathedral, to commemorate Liberation Day, which is celebrated in Italy on April 25.
“We are tapping into a shared feeling. It is a historical moment for Italy and Europe,” says Caputo. “This kind of mobilization can only be organized by grassroot associations and movements. In these protests, by putting human and civil rights at the center, we’re able to attract more people. It’s less divisive because we don’t try to have an opinion about everything, which is the case with political parties.”
When asked about the evolution of their movement, Caputo recalls the British film Pride. “When we want to galvanize, we say we are the Italian version of the film. The LGBT activists in Pride shift their focus to what is going on in the mines in the northern UK and fight for common social rights to raise money for miners. They do this at their Pride parade. That kind of thing inspires us.”
“At Sentinelli, we talk about human rights as a whole,” his husband, Luca Paladini, continues. There is no ranking of rights. Nobody says that civic rights come before social ones. For example, same sex unions are useless if the welfare state I live in doesn’t provide proper social benefits. Homophobia is still a problem in Italy and by promoting shared values, we want to make everyone’s voice heard on our stage,” says Paladini.
Like so many grassroot activist movements in recent years, the Sentinelli gained momentum through social media, where their messages about fighting fascism and improving LGBT rights reach almost 150 thousand people. “Our language is not always politically correct, but it’s never vulgar,” says Paladini. “Today politics totally depends on what is online. Think of the result of the past election in Italy. The narrative of the right-wing parties concerning migrants has been filtered by fake news through social media.” He highlights the case of Giulia, a young girl portrayed holding a banner and who had been publicly denigrated by Matteo Salvini on his own social-media feed. Paladini himself has been the victim of hate speech and death threats online.
Talking about how in the past, European integration was a key part of People’s manifesto, Paladini says, “We are afraid that sovereignty will increase with Europe's inability to be involved in social movements. This will foster a mood of dissatisfaction among Europeans.”
He thinks the upcoming European elections are of paramount importance. “Even though I don’t know for whom I am going to vote, nationalist movements will likely obtain a large number of seats. But, by putting the nation’s needs first, integration stops,” Paladini says. He adds that even if nationalists win more seats, judging Europe based on the election results would be short-sighted.
“We cannot ignore the protests over the last few months,” he says. “People don’t take part in a march just to wave flags. They are seriously worried by what is going on here. It’s an act of sowing seeds. But we will not harvest for a long time.”
This article appears in Are We Europe #4: This Is Not An Elections Issue