Repressive tolerance: The gay movement and the Vatican in Rome

Mudu, P.

Go to article

Mudu, P. (2002). Repressive tolerance: The gay movement and the Vatican in Rome. GeoJournal, 58(2–3), 189–196.

gay , Italy , public space , Rome , Vatican

The World Gay Pride week convened in Rome in July 2000 at the same time the Catholic Church planned on celebrating its Holy Year Jubilee. Thousands of gays came together, and by the end of the week more than 200,000 marched through the streets of Rome's historical centre. This unique event provides an opportunity to examine the causal relationship of the gay movement acquiring a political identity of its own while the city of Rome was trying to assert a `proper' identity for its public spaces. Acting in solidarity for the first time since its formation, the gay movement drew attention to the difficulties in securing unrestricted access to Rome's public spaces. Conservative sectors of society challenged the right to demonstrate, as guaranteed in Italy's Constitution, which resulted in the delay of obtaining the necessary permit. On the one hand, this revealed the existence of sectors of society not yet willing to acknowledge gay rights or even discuss gay issues in public; on the other, it helped make clear that the process for building Rome's identity is governed by a specific political design. In particular, policies for the privatisation of urban space in conjunction with discriminatory planning processes in the city's historical centre, point to tourism as a powerful tool to control urban space. Resisting this spatial marginalization the gay movement has significantly widened the scope of its social and political action in order to contest prevailing practices and trends which are shaping the city.

Main finding
Following increased secularization and retreat of the Church form its traditional public spaces, there has been a resurgence in the Vatican to reestablish its former influence in city politics. In part, accomplished via entertainment model through special events and tourism to build revenue - using the Jubilee year of 2000 to influence city planning in their favor. Through partnership with the municipal administration, the Vatican controlled a large sum of government money, placing the needs of religious tourism over social-cultural issues while opposing the upcoming World Gay Pride (WGP) Parade - taking place the same year - partially on terms of its publicness. The author argues that the WGP Parade created a new, but short lived, minority public space that echoed, on a global scale, issues of hegemonic sexual violence and challenged Rome’s image as a Catholic City. This fight over urban space united gay organizations and formed gay identities.

Description of method used in the article
Data is based on analysis of news articles, relevant to the conflict between the Vatican and gay movement, published in three of the major Italian and Roman daily papers.

Of practical use

Organising categories

Physical types
Geographic locations