by Selisse Berry | I’m in Rome for the 4th International GLBT Business Leader Forum, being held with Europride in Italy this week. There has been an absolutely packed agenda! It’s been a wonderful opportunity to connect with friends from all over Europe, including Ivan Scalfarotto, the executive director of PARKS, an Italian organization that advocates for LGBT rights at work. (You can visit their website in English or Italian.)
I’ve been really moved as I’ve heard story after story about the challenges that the LGBT community face here in Italy. I’ve been inspired by their incredibly strong witness as they try to change the tide of oppression here. The difficulties they experience are largely due to the Vatican’s opposition to LGBT equality. In my travels here, we did pass one church with a “no gay” sign and a handful of protesters.
There is also an incredible amount of celebration here because people have been able to come together and join the Italian community here in Rome. We were all so inspired to hear from Nichi Vendola, the openly gay president of the Apulia region of Italy. In one of his campaign speeches for the last election, he said (quoted on gaycitynews.com),
“Do you really believe that happiness is only heterosexual? Do you really think a gay cannot be happy? No, it is not, it cannot be that way. What makes you miserable are hypocrisy, secrecy, fear of being what you are. Declaring who you are may be painful, even bring exclusion, even bring violence, but I’ve never been afraid to be who I am. And if there’s a thought that gives me more anxiety than that, it is to imagine living a lie. This is misery! Just this.”
Very powerful. We also heard from other exciting voices including Paola Concia, a lesbian member of the Italian Parliament, and Harry van Dorenmalen, Chairman of IBM Europe. IBM is the presenting sponsor of the business forum. Accenture sponsored the Welcome Dinner last night, where I was honored to be able to deliver the keynote address.
I’m really excited to be here with business leaders and advocates who are making such a difference in Europe and around the world.