July 13, 2015

Mayor of Venice bans gay-friendly children’s books


Not in Venice, he doesn't.

Not in Venice, he doesn’t.

In the wake of the landmark Supreme Court decision of Obergefell v. Hodges, the United States became a major (and overdue) addition to the handful of countries that recognize same-sex marriage. With this new opportunity to take stock of global progress for LGBTQ rights, a depressingly familiar story was reported out of Venice.

Newsweek reports that Venice’s new right-wing mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, has officially banned children’s books in schools that “include themes of homosexuality and disability”, delivering on a campaign promise to rid schools and nurseries of gay-friendly content. Politicization of children’s books that portray gay folks are normal: it’s not just an American pastime!

Thousands of copies of children’s books such as And Tango Makes Three, about a baby penguin in New York’s Central Park Zoo which is brought up by two male penguins named Roy and Silo, among others were introduced into the education system by the previous centre-Left administration.

However, a statement which appeared on the mayor’s website yesterday read: “Not having a complete and exhaustive overview of the matter, it was decided to recall all the books distributed by the previous administration so as to be able to establish without haste and with complete understanding of the issue whether they are, or indeed are not, suitable for children of preschool age.”

The statement further promises a thorough evaluation of all targeted books to take place during the summer holidays, and while this is clearly a power move, it’s a fairly blithe one. While Venice has made some small steps toward recognizing the diversity of the family unit, like using gender-neutral language for school documents involving parents, Italy’s progress has been hobbled unsurprisingly by the influence of the Roman Catholic Church.

And while Pope Francis hails from Argentina, one of the 18 countries that currently recognize same-sex marriages, and has been way more publicly gay-friendly than every other pope, the invoking of “traditional family values” is an sound bite courtesy of the Church, and it’s still as old a canard as they come.

Earlier this year, Brugnaro told La Repubblica newspaper: “We don’t want to discriminate against anyone and at home parents can call themselves daddy number one and daddy number two, but I have to consider the majority of families, which have a mum and a dad.”

You’ve heard this story before, and we will continue to hear it. Brugnaro’s approach to shoring up his conservative support certainly isn’t a novel one, but it’s highly strategic act in his first month in office, especially in the wake of a corruption scandal that caused the previous mayer, center-left Democrat Giorgio Orsoni, to resign.

And so while five of Venice’s six boroughs are still governed by the Democrats, Brugnaro likely wanted to make a power move early. Like a sfogliatella made of homophobia layered with fear-mongering and filled with authoritarianism, this decision is a tasty treat for his supporters but as policy it’s empty calories. Which, in a city that’s facing an accusation of fleecing tourists to an unconscionable degree, and is still, you know, SINKING INTO THE OCEAN, really stands out as politics as usual.

But as usual, librarians know censorship when they see it.

Venetian libraries are up in arms about the decision. Several libraries have encouraged people to read the banned titles, putting up signs in their shop windows reading: “Blacklisted books, be a rebel, read them”.

Camilla Seibezzi, a councillor with responsibility for anti-discrimination policies who was behind the initial campaign to introduce the books, has accused the new mayor of “censorship“.

So maybe this is something to consider if you’re a very rich American planning to give the city lots of your money at the Venice Film Festival later this summer.


Liam O'Brien is the Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.