Chiara Rolla, 27, was threatened by her own mother 

BY JANE FAE

As the world marks IDAHOBIT 2021, a heartbreaking and horrific story slips into my Twitter mentions from Italy. It deserves to be heard in full, if only for the bravery of the young woman speaking out. Though I have not the slightest doubt that today, as yesterday, as the day before, hundreds of young lesbian women across the globe suffer as much, or worse, in silence.

Last week, 27-year-old Chiara Rolla took to Instagram to tell how she was forced to flee her home because of her mother’s threats against her and her girlfriend. The full video is available here, though in Italian. It is a harrowing listen.

She begins: “I’m Chiara. On Tuesday morning I was forced to run away from home after countless threats from my mother. My only fault is that I love a woman.”

Chiara continues explaining that she has been suffering psychological violence for years: “My mother threatened to commit suicide over this, she ran out of our house and attacked my father who was trying to defend me. She also tried to run him over.”

Clearly affected, she tells how she hastily packed a bag with four dresses and took the first bus to Milan where her girlfriend lives. A girlfriend, moreover, that she had to meet in secret, because for this love, Chiara’s mother labelled her a “punishment from God”, “unnatural”, and “sick”.

Even more chilling, she adds: “My mother threatened to find my girlfriend, to stab her, to quarter her alive, finish her off and then finish me”. The night before she ran, Chiara did not sleep. When she arrived in Milan with a few coins in her pocket, she first found an Airbnb where, for now, she is hosted by some people who have come forward “understanding the gravity of the situation”.

Chiara talks of threat after threat: terrorism perpetrated by her entire family. “I don’t have a job and I don’t have money, I thank my hosts but I’m terrified because I no longer have a home”, she says, as her voice cracks and she tries to hold back the tears. Chiara’s father has told her that if she wants a roof, she has one. It is clear, however, that this comes with strings attached: a return to a situation where all are free to criticise her choices and she has no right to answer back.

But if she does not go home, they will ostracise her. Meanwhile, other family members have applied moral blackmail, with her grandmother telling her that she is having a stroke.

How can we, how should we, respond to such a situation? Italy is bad when it comes to LGBTQI rights, though it is not quite the worst. According to ILGA’s latest country ranking, it is 23rd in the EU, just ahead of Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia and, in last place, Poland.

I foreground it because I am familiar with the country – might even be living there were it not for the “benefits” of Brexit – and have worked with some of the main LGBTQI groups there. It is not a good place to be LGBTQI. Worse, as a country in love with a certain macho approach to life, and wedded to a highly traditional view of women’s role in society, it seems an especially bad place to be lesbian and/or trans.

This is compounded by the fact that there remains an expectation that families continue to live together as they grow older. It is not uncommon for “children” to be living still in the family home in their 30s, 40s even, still subject to parental authority.

This gives to much Italian hate crime a flavour akin to that which underpins so-called “honour killings” in the UK. Because what you do as an individual reflects on your family: and if you “go too far”, they, collectively, will exact revenge.

In April of this year another young woman, Malika Chalhy, 22, was kicked out her home in Firenze province, where she lived with her mother, father and brother. She, too, made the mistake of coming out to family, who then pursued her on social media. One WhatsApp message read: “You are disgusting, lesbian, if I see you, I’ll kill you. Don’t bring that bitch into my home because I’ll cut her throat. You’re the bane of our family”.

No surprise, therefore, that the ILGA annual report cites multiple instances of violence and worse against lesbians and trans women, last year. Meanwhile, in April 2020, the Italian Supreme Court ruled against a lesbian couple, deciding they cannot both be on their child’s birth certificate as mothers. This reflects, in part, the fact that their child was born in Italy, but conceived abroad through medically assisted insemination, which is not legal for same-sex couples in Italy.

On the plus side, one of the big debates in Italian politics right now is the Disegno di Legge (DDL) Zan, a piece of legislation put forward by Alessandro Zan, a deputy/member of the lower chamber of parliament. This – effectively a private member’s bill – would put in place “measures to prevent and combat discrimination and violence for reasons based on sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability”.

It is a pretty comprehensive bill, with a lot of support. But to date it has run into strong headwinds in the Senate, the upper chamber, from right-wing parties Lega and Fratelli d’Italia. Still, its opponents seem to be running out of delaying tactics. So maybe this year, Italy’s LGBTQI community will have something to celebrate.

Today, as yesterday, IDAHOBIT remains very necessary. Because while hate for LGBTQI people may take many different forms around the world, it is still there, and in country after country, young LGBTQI people must daily choose between being out and proud, and enduring the hatred of society and family, or staying deep inside the closet.

As more and more choose to come out, so, for now, the hatred burns even hotter. And sadly, stories such as those of young women like Chiara and Malika will not be the last.

@JaneFae.

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