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Italian transgender ex-MP in Sochi gay-rights protest

Vladimir Luxuria challenges Russian law inside Olympic park

17 February, 19:55
Italian transgender ex-MP in Sochi gay-rights protest (By Sandra Cordon) (ANSA) - Sochi, February 17 - Italian transgender ex-MP Vladimir Luxuria was detained for the second consecutive day Monday after she defied Russian police and the country's law against gay propaganda with continued protests at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Shouting to media cameras: "It's Ok to be gay," Luxuria, a veteran gay-rights activist, wore the rainbow colours of the gay flag during her protest outside an Olympic hockey game.

Her detention with two TV presenters from a satirical Italian program Le Iene (The Hyenas) came one day after she was detained by police and later released without charge for showing a banner with the same slogan -"it's OK to be gay" - printed in Russian.

Witnesses said the trio were taken away in an unmarked car.

Luxuria, a television personality who became Italy's first openly transgender MP in 2006, is protesting against Russia's laws outlawing gay propaganda in the presence of children promoted by the government of President Vladimir Putin.

Human rights and gay activists say they fear the law criminalizes homosexuality because it is so broad.

Luxuria said the first time she was detained, she was interviewed in a barracks, where "they asked me to not show writings linked to gay propaganda".

Some Russians she met were not familiar with the rainbow flag, "and many girls have mistaken me for a fairy and they asked to be photographed with me," said Luxuria.

She also appealed Monday to Italian premier-designate Matteo Renzi to defend gay rights in his international duties.

"I ask the new premier Renzi not to forget civil rights when he talks to world leaders about economic issues," she said.

Earlier, Luxuria posted her arrival in the Russian resort of Sochi on her Twitter feed with the message: "Greetings in the colours of the rainbow. In Putin's face".

She also posted a photo of herself in a tank top, bearing the script: "I (heart) Trans(gender)" and waving a blue feather boa.

Luxuria has a long and colourful history of protest in Italy. Outside bilateral trade meetings in November between outgoing Italian Premier Enrico Letta and Russia's Putin, Luxuria joined hundreds of banner-waving gay-rights activists who were protesting Putin's visit.

"There's a cold and violent wind coming from the East, a wind of repression and silence for human rights," said Luxuria.

"Human rights can't be sold off in bilateral deals," she added.

"It's okay to talk about the economy, but we must lift the veil of silence on dissent that exists in Russia and other Eastern European countries". In Rome, the city's Gay Centre suggested Monday that as premier, Renzi should name Luxuria as the new Minister for Equal Opportunities to signal an openness to gays, lesbians, and transgender individuals.

At the same time, a handful of Italian politicians expressed their support for Luxuria and her Olympic protest.

"We express our full solidarity with Vladimir Luxuria," said Fabrizio Cicchitto of the New Centre Right (NCD) party.

He added that Russia should consider greater openness of opinion.

Meanwhile, Nichi Vendola of the leftist SEL party, tweeted words of support for Luxuria, saying she is a "rebel, free, without fear of the guardians of the morality of the State.

Thanks". Skier Christof Innerhofer, who has won two Olympic medals for Italy at the Sochi games, did not directly comment on the controversy.

But he said it was likely easier for gay people to live in large cities than in small villages.

"Surely gays who live in cities have less work than those who live in the valleys," he said.

"People (in the city) are more open-minded," he added.

"Gay men who live in valleys or in the north, where the mentality is more closed, have more work," in order to live openly and in peace.