Banning children’s books because they touch upon subjects like homosexuality or disability: the recently elected mayor of Venice, Luigi Brugnaro, has made the international news with this decision, less than a month after taking office.
At the beginning of the race for office, it looked as if Brugnaro’s opponent Casson, a left-of-centre senator from the Democratic party (PD) of prime minister Matteo Renzi, would have an edge over him. However, Brugnaro emerged as the victor because he gained the support of conservative allies in the right-wing Northern League party. Taking inspiration from the party’s populistic and theatrical approach, Brugnaro made the news during the first week of his mandate because of his sudden decision to chase after two “North African drug dealers” in the centre of Venice during a political event.
There is a certain irony in the fact that one of the first official actions of Brugnaro, whose campaign slogan was “Neither right, nor left”, was banning books about single-sex partnerships and gay adoption from schools and nurseries. Just a month earlier, Rome had hosted the VI Italian Pro-life march, an event supported by Pope Francis himself and right-wing parties, where Gender Theory was twisted into an unspecified “Gender Ideology”. Brugnaro, in a similar attempt to misuse Gender Theory, decided to revoke a project of the previous centre-left administration that taught children how to deal with physical, religious or racial discrimination, and had actually been praised by other Italian administrations for being an example of good practice.
The reason given by Brugnaro, and written on the mayor’s website, was that “Not having a complete and exhaustive overview of the issue, it was decided that all the books that had been distributed by the previous administration should be recalled so as to be able to establish whether they were, or indeed were not, suitable for children of preschool age without haste and with a full understanding of the issue”. Leaving the question open on who is going to judge if the books are suitable or not, Brugnaro said in an interview with 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”.
Camilla Seibezzi, a councillor responsible for anti-discrimination policies who was behind the initial campaign to introduce the books, has now accused the new mayor of “censorship” in an open letter. Moreover, several bookshops and libraries have encouraged people to read the banned titles, putting up signs in their shop windows reading: “Blacklisted books, be a rebel, read them” and starting a hashtag war under #fiabepertutti.
Following this campaign, with an intervention from Amnesty International and a polemic Instagram post by Elton John himself, Brugnaro finally whittled his list of banned books to “just” two.
Another thing to be noted: Beyond banning these children’s books, one of Brugnaro’s first decisions included firing the external labour force of the city’s libraries – and replacing them with new librarians directly hired by the municipality.