Culture Clash in Rome: Observations of Homosexual Festival
CNSNews reporter Justin Torres was in Rome last week to cover the homosexual gathering, World Pride 2000. The event coincided with the Roman Catholic Church's Millennium Jubilee, a commemoration of the 2,000th anniversary of Jesus Christ's birth. The following are excerpts from Torres' reports, plus photographs taken of Saturday's World Pride march in Rome. Some of the photos may be offensive to readers.
At Night, Roman Marchers Let Loose
Rome (CNSNews.com) - July 7 - Both the religious pilgrims and the homosexual marchers who gathered in Rome, spent their days in serious activities - prayer and sightseeing for the former, conferences and cultural events for the latter - but in the evenings, the two groups pursued far more divergent activities.
For a portion of the 65,000 Poles who came to Rome for a weeklong pilgrimage marking the Millennium Jubilee, last Thursday evening was spent in prayer. More than 2,000 Poles gathered in the famous Piazza Navona in the center of Rome for Eucharistic Adoration, a Catholic religious ceremony.
Members of the European homosexual community in Rome for the World Pride 2000 rally and march, by contrast, made the rounds of a variety of celebrations.
Thursday, the festivities were kicked off at Alcatraz, a famous Roman homosexual bar near St. Peter's. Hundreds of partygoers braved a fierce heat to choose Rome's "Most Sexy Foreign Tourist" and dance to European discotheque music for a small cover fee. A 26-year-old tourist from England took home the prize of one million Italian lire (around $500).
Then the crowds moved to the Foro Italico, an outdoor stadium and complex south of central Rome in the EUR section, built by Mussolini in the Industrial style of the 1940s. At the SPQCLUB at the Foro, a mostly under-30 crowd of more than 5,000 people danced until close to 4:00 am.
Partygoers in the dark corners of the club also engaged in more flagrant activities, including rampant drug use, especially of a form of methamphetamine known as "poppers," which when snorted gives the user a burst of nervous energy and heightened sexuality.
Pairs of men frequently made their way to the corners for brief sexual encounters, and by the end of the evening more than a few partygoers had shed the majority of their clothing.
Despite the high seriousness of the conferences and panel discussions sponsored by the International Lesbian and Gay Association during the day, many of Thursday's partygoers indicated they came to Rome for unofficial activities such as the gathering at the SPQCLUB.
"We're here to march for equal rights, to say that queer people are here and visible, but I'm also here to have a f***ing good time," said Simon, a 22-year-old university student from London, who said he had spent most of his nights the past week at the Europa Club, a homosexual sauna near Alcatraz which was offering reduced memberships during World Pride.
Turnout Lower Than Expected, But March Organizers ''Satisfied''
Rome -July 8 - World Pride 2000 reached its height Saturday with a march through the outskirts of Rome that drew more than 150,000 attendees.
That figure was more than official government estimates of 100,000 derived from hotel occupancy rates, but it was significantly less than the 250,000 expected by march organizers.
Immo Battaglia, head of the local homosexual cultural center that organized the march, said he was pleased with the turnout, despite the march not meeting attendance expectations.
"The world gay community has turned out for equal rights today, and we've shown that we are here and must be heard," said Battaglia through an interpreter.
The march began more than an hour late as Battaglia negotiated with the Roman government -- including the mayor of Rome, who was present at the march -- to reroute the march past the Colosseum.
Last month, under pressure from the Vatican, the Roman government withdrew financial support for the march and changed the route away from the center of Rome for fear it would interfere with activities related to the Roman Catholic Church's Millennium Jubilee.
Saturday's march began near the important Catholic basilica of St. Paul's, and proceeded to the site of the ancient Circus Maximus.
Security was tight for the march, with more than 6,000 carabinieri, or local Roman police, as well regional security forces and Italian federal police, present to keep order. There were no reports of violence or arrests.
Despite the fact that Battaglia and other organizers stressed that the Catholic Church was not a target of the march, anti-Catholic sentiment was high, especially that directed at Pope John Paul II.
Several marchers were dressed as Catholic priests, including a marcher from Milan who carried a picture of naked young man crucified and who performed mock blessings on other marchers.
Another marcher carried a sign that read, "Maximum respect for the pope, even if he was gay," and several marchers held signs saying, "God is Gay."
A group of 350 Italian Catholics carried signs calling for the church to change its position on the morality of same-sex relations.
A homosexual couple from the Netherlands, newly married under a recent Dutch law allowing same-sex marriage, said it was "important that Rome understand that the Holy Year is for gays as well as heterosexuals."
But many marchers complained that Rome was less than accepting of homosexual couples.
Nicole, a 21-year-old student from the University of Texas in Austin, Texas, said she had spent two weeks in Rome, and felt "like I was the only lesbian in Rome. . . . It's been great the past few days as more lesbians came to the city."
But Mark Rees, a New York native who attended the recent homosexual Millennium March in Washington, D.C., said he was disappointed by the turnout.
"This was supposed to be the whole world, so I would have thought there would be more people."
See Photos From World Pride 2000 March