Italy steps closer to making violence against LGBT people a hate crime

Bill approved in Italy's lower house of parliament and now needs final approval from upper house before becoming law.

Italy's lower house of parliament has passed an anti-discrimination bill that makes violence against LGBT people and disabled people, as well as misogyny, a hate crime.

Under the legislation - approved by 265 votes to 193, with one abstention - those found guilty of such attacks would risk longer prison terms.

The bill now needs final approval from the upper house, where it is backed by the ruling coalition parties, before becoming law, reports Reuters.

Alessandro Zan, the politician and LGBT activist who promoted the bill, described it as a “big step forward against discrimination, hatred and violence.”

Nicola Zingaretti, the leader of the centre-left Partito Democratico (PD) which backed the bill, welcomed the vote as paving the way for a "more humane and civilised Italy."

The bill, which modifies an existing law punishing racist violence, hatred and discrimination, would see people convicted of such crimes facing up to four years in jail.

The bill focused originally on tackling offences involving homotransphobia and misogyny however during examination in the assembly greater protections were extended to disability, with the consent of the centre-right.

However the bill has faced months of strong opposition from right-wing parties, conservative Catholic groups and the Italian Catholic Church.

One of the most contentious elements is the marking of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia on 17 May with initiatives and ceremonies in Italian schools, reports Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

Denying that the bill would impinge on free speech, Zan said it would "criminalise hate" against LGBT people and disabled people as well as punishing misogyny, reports The Guardian.

Zan said that, once the bill becomes law, "Italy will finally be a country that accepts LGBT rights, because right now we are among the last countries in Europe for the social acceptance of LGBT people.”

Arcigay, Italy's foremost national gay rights organisation, records more than 100 hate crime and discrimination cases each year - according to Reuters - however over the last 25 years numerous attempts to create a law to punish acts of homophobia and transphobia have failed.