Several prominent members of the governing League party are expected to attend the controversial three-day event, despite their coalition partner calling it a gathering for “right-wing losers”.
Pro-rights groups are planning a counterdemonstration on Saturday to coincide with the arrival of Interior Minister and League leader Matteo Salvini, who has said he will attend “to defend the family that consists of a mother and a father”.
He will be accompanied by Italy's Minister for Families, Lorenzo Fontana, one of the US-based WCF's biggest supporters in Italy. Fontana, a fellow member of the League and Verona native, is a conservative Catholic who has made no secret of his opposition to same-sex families and women's abortion rights.
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Also attending are Education Minister Marco Bussetti, the governor of the Veneto region, Luca Zaia, and governor of next-door Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Massimiliano Fedriga, all members of the League.
Other guests include Silvana De Mari, an Italian doctor and fantasy author who claims homosexuality “doesn't exist” and has compared LGBT people to criminals and satanists; Dimitri Smirnov, a Russian Orthodox priest who says abortion is “scarier than the Holocaust”; Theresa Okafor, a Nigerian activist who campaigned for her country's bill declaring homosexuality “unnatural”; and Forza Nuova, an Italian neofascist party.
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Women's right group Non Una di Meno has organized its own alternative conference in Verona throughout the weekend, including a march on Saturday in support of reproductive and LGBT rights that thousands of people, including activists from all over Italy and Europe, are expected to attend.
Several non-League politicians have said they will attend the counterdemonstrations. Members of the Five Star Movement, which governs in coalition with the League, were urged to stay away from the conference by party leader Luigi Di Maio, who alongside Salvini is Italy's joint deputy prime minister, and who said the event celebrates “the Middle Ages” and called its attendees “right-wing losers”.
The prime minister's office demanded that Fontana remove official government branding from the event's promotional materials, after he apparently used it without authorization.
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The organizers bill the conference as an international initiative that “affirms and defends the natural family as a fundamental unit of society”, and say they expect it to attract thousands of supporters. The WCF, an umbrella organization that groups together international opponents to LGBT rights, is based in Illinois and designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Centre watchdog.
Verona is fertile ground for its anti-choice message, the conservative local council having declared it a “pro-life city” and promised to fund anti-abortion groups.
Meanwhile another northern city, Turin, took a stand against the Verona conference on Friday by hanging a banner from city hall celebrating couples of diverse sexuality and race. “Torino loves and welcomes all kinds of families,” the English-language poster read.
Turin last year became the first city in Italy to allow same-sex couples to legally register their children to both parents.
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Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP