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Son of Auschwitz survivor, who faced threats, loses seat

Italian women and LGBTQ advocates raise the alarm after far-right election win

Activists warn that Giorgia Meloni, who ignored plea from Holocaust survivor to change party’s fascism-linked symbol, will promote ‘white, patriarchal and heterosexual nation’

Women wear signs with writing in Italian that say "Welfare is not the same for all," left, "It's not a woman's job," second from left, "Men advance; childbirth is not their problem," and "I don't have children but to be discriminated it's enough to be a woman," right, during a demonstration in front of the Finance Ministry on International Women's Day in Rome, March 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, File )
Women wear signs with writing in Italian that say "Welfare is not the same for all," left, "It's not a woman's job," second from left, "Men advance; childbirth is not their problem," and "I don't have children but to be discriminated it's enough to be a woman," right, during a demonstration in front of the Finance Ministry on International Women's Day in Rome, March 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, File )

ROME (AP) — Swept away by Italian elections that are expected to see Giorgia Meloni soon form the nation’s first far-right-led government since World War II were veterans of successful battles for civil rights, including divorce and abortion, as well as lawmakers still struggling for freedoms like same-sex marriage.

Worried that the conservative tide of political sentiment that emerged in Sunday’s voting for Parliament might erode hard-won civil rights, Italy’s women are mobilizing, organizing rallies in a dozen cities for Wednesday evening to raise their voices in defense of abortion rights.

Organizers said they feared Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party will launch “a triad of ‘God, homeland and family,'” policies — a reference to her political manifesto.

That could impose “rigid gender roles and assign women the task of reproduction and growth of a white, patriarchal and heterosexual nation,” organizers said in their announcement of the rallies against the agenda of Meloni, who would become Italy’s first far-right premier of the post-war period and its first woman in that office.

Perhaps Italy’s most celebrated living civil rights activist, Emma Bonino, lost her Senate seat to a Rome city councilwoman from Brothers of Italy, the party co-founded a decade ago by Meloni, who exalts motherhood and “traditional” families and who decries LGBTQ “lobbies.” Lavinia Munnino’s no. 1 campaign priority was growing Italy’s birthrate.

Bonino told the AP by phone she was too busy on Tuesday preparing an appeal for a recount in the close race to discuss worries about civil rights. “Anyway, I already said all that” in the campaign. While campaigning, Bonino voiced concerns that Meloni would make access to abortion difficult.

FILE – Demonstrators march to celebrate the International Women’s Day in Rome, Tuesday, March 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, File )

Italy allows abortion on request in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, or later if a woman’s health or life is endangered.

As a young woman, Bonino, now 74, spearheaded successful drives in the 1970s to legalize both abortion and divorce, two rights that were aggressively opposed by the Vatican, which wields political influence in Italy.

Before the September 25 election for Parliament, Meloni said she would respect the 1978 law, but would push for measures, such as economic help, for women who decide to give birth instead of aborting.

The law allows for health personnel to register as conscientious objectors so they won’t have to perform abortions. In some regions, including one where Meloni’s party governs, the percentage of objectors is so high that women are forced to travel to other parts of Italy to obtain an abortion, Bonino has noted.

Among others defeated by right-wing candidates was Monica Cirinna, a Democratic Party lawmaker behind the passage of a 2016 law legalizing same-sex unions. Italy had been the last holdout in Western Europe on that recognition, but Cirinna was thwarted in efforts to permit adoption by same-sex couples.

Alessia Crocini, who heads the Rainbow Families group advocating rights for LBGTQ families, called Meloni’s victory “terrible news.” Rights activists had expected it, “but when something like this materializes it becomes real, it is pretty shocking,” she said.

Far-Right party Brothers of Italy’s leader Giorgia Meloni speaks to the media at her party’s electoral headquarters in Rome, early September 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

“I have been an activist for a very long time and there are people who I do not know who are writing to me on Instagram, ‘I am afraid,’ ‘I don’t know what to do,’ ‘I am very worried, I want to cry.'”

Crocini claimed that Meloni’s objective is “to break the LGBTQ movement.”

Also defeated was Democratic Party Senator Emanuele Fiano. The son of a survivor from the Auschwitz death camp during World War II, Fiano has battled against the rise of neo-fascist political movements. The recipients of antisemitic threats, Fiano has a police escort.

Democratic Party lawmaker Emanuele Fiano, second from right, argues with Italian premier Giuseppe Conte at the Lower House in Rome, June 6, 2018 (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Besting him in a Senate district race in a Milan suburb was Isabella Rauti, a Brothers of Italy senator whose late father, Pino Rauti, help found the Italian Social Movement, a party nostalgic for fascism formed just after the end of the war.

Meloni ignored a demand by Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre, who is a senator-for-life, to remove from her party’s symbol the flame in the three colors of the Italian flag that belonged to the Italian Social Movement.

Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre speaks with young students on the occasion of an Holocaust remembrance, at the Arcimboldi theatre in Milan, Italy, January 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

Meloni tweeted she was proud of her party’s symbol. She has decried the anti-Jewish laws of Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime.

Wednesday’s marches, taking place in cities across Italy, are being organized by civil rights groups under the banner “Ready? Furious!” They are demanding that abortion rights remain in place.

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