December 14, 2010 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
U.S. takes anti-bullying message to Italy

A screen capture from Ambassador David Thorne's 'It Gets Better' video.

The Obama administration’s participation in the “It Gets Better” campaign to stop anti-LGBT bullying and teen suicide moved to Europe last week when the U.S. ambassador to Italy appeared in a video promoting an Italian helpline (watch the video here).

Speaking in Italian and addressing viewers of Italy’s version of MTV and YouTube, Ambassador David Thorne said the American Embassy was “focusing on the rights of gays” this year to commemorate Human Rights Day on Dec. 10.

“If you are a victim of discrimination or acts of bullying, talk to someone who is ready to listen,” he said. “Call the helpline number listed on the screen. Your life is important. You are not alone. Things will get better.”

Thorne’s video recording follows similar videos on the subject of bullying and LGBT teen suicides related to bullying that have been recorded by President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and four cabinet members, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. John Berry, the gay director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, also recorded such a video.

Each of the videos, including the one recorded by Obama, calls on LGBT youth subjected to bullying or harassment to remember that things get better once they finish school and enter a career and that they should seek help and support. The videos are modeled after the first such video made by gay columnist and author Dan Savage, who founded the “It Gets Better Project” to address LGBT teen suicides triggered by harassment and bullying.

Paula Thiede, a spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Italy, said Thorne made his video through recording facilities at the embassy in Rome after seeing an ‘It Gets Better’ message directed to LGBT young people delivered by Secretary Clinton in a video released earlier this year.

Thiede said Thorne’s video message appeared on Italy’s MTV channel Dec. 8-10.

A press release issued by the embassy directed to the Italian media also announced that the embassy organized a free concert Sunday [Dec. 12] called “Broadway Night” at a Rome theater that was “dedicated to the lesbian, gay and trans community.”

The news release says the concert, which was open to everyone, was sponsored by the City of Rome and the surrounding provincial and regional governments together with the Italian Gay Help Line.

“The concert last night was a huge success, the theater was standing room only, with a lively crowd who really enjoyed the music, calling for encores and requesting their favorite American songs,” said Fleur Cowan, deputy cultural attaché for the U.S. Embassy in Rome, in an e-mail on Monday.

“Guests came from as far away as Naples, and we were approached by many people thanking us for the event and underscoring how important the U.S. example of tolerance and social inclusion was for the LGBT community here,” Cowan said.

Thorne’s video attracted considerable coverage in the Italian news media, including stories in two of Italy’s leading mainstream newspapers — La Repubblica and Corriere della Sera.

“This year, both President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton wanted to underscore respect for gay rights,” Thorne said in a statement. “On the occasion of World Human Rights Day, my embassy in Rome decided to collaborate with the associations supporting the Gay Help Line to sensitize public opinion on a very important theme, and to help homosexual young people who are victims of discrimination and bullying.”

Thorne’s video aired at a time when the Italian public and media have been closely following the release by the controversial group WikiLeaks of confidential cables from the U.S. Embassy in Rome that were highly critical of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The embassy cables were among thousands of classified and confidential U.S. documents WikiLeaks obtained from unidentified U.S. sources. The Justice Department is investigating the matter.

Although Thorne’s video steered clear of internal Italian politics, it also followed a Nov. 2 comment by Berlusconi about gays that offended Italian gay activists and drew criticism from opposition party leaders.

In responding to allegations that he hosted parties in his private villas in which young women provided sexual favors to guests — an allegation that Berlusconi strongly denies — the prime minister told reporters at a public gathering, “It is better to like beautiful girls than to be gay.”

His office said the remark was a joke and not intended to offend anyone.

Berlusconi’s government barely survived a vote on a motion of “no confidence” by opposition forces that sought his ouster from office and a call for a national election.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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