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Vladimir v Vladimir: meet the Italian transgender ex-MP who took on Putin

An Italian gay rights activist went to Sochi — and got thrown in jail. Crikey intern Luca Zuccaro profiles the former MP, who has had a colourful life — and more than one brush with Russian homophobes.

Transgender Italian gay rights campaigner Vladimir Luxuria (pictured), a former MP, took the opportunity of the Sochi Olympics to protest against Russia’s anti-homosexuality laws — and got to know the inside of a Russian police station for her trouble.

Luxuria was arrested in Sochi while protesting with a banner reading “Gay is OK” in Russian. The news went viral on Twitter when Imma Battaglia, honorary president of gay rights group Di’Gay Project, reported a text from Luxuria saying: “Help me! I’m in jail, I’m alone.” Thousands of tweets hashtagged #freeluxuria appeared on the social network. Luxuria later clarified that she had been detained, but not arrested: “Undercover Russian authorities stopped me, questioned me and took me to the police station.”

Her protest is the first high-profile act of defiance during the Winter Olympics to draw attention to Russia’s anti-gay laws, with athletes mostly careful to avoid saying or doing anything to protest against the measures, which prohibit speech or actions that could be perceived as “pro-gay”. But Luxuria is no stranger to controversy.

Vladimir Luxuria was born Vladimiro Guadagno in Foggia, in the south of Italy, in 1965. She started her career in show business by organising parties and gay pride events at The Dirty Dixy Club in Foggia. Born as a man, she has lived most of her life as a woman but has not undergone a sex change operation. She told the BBC she did not feel either male or female but defined herself as transgender.

In her 20s she moved to Rome, where she studied foreign languages and literature. Luxuria had quite a successful career as a singer, performer, actress and LGBT activist from the late 1980s onwards, and she organised the first gay pride event in Rome.

In 2006, her candidature with the Italian Communist Party for Parliament caused quite a stir. Her bid was successful, and Luxuria became the first transgender person elected in a European legislature. “Don’t judge me by the way I look; don’t judge me by my sexual orientation. Please, judge me by my ideas,” Luxuria said in an interview with Reuters.

Luxuria’s participation in votes during her political life reached 90%, according to the official data provided by the deputy chamber, making her one of the most active legislators. Her policies were mainly focused on the recognition of gay rights.

Being a transgender gay rights activist in the public eye isn’t easy in Rome, where the Catholic Church has its private kingdom in Saint Peter’s Square and where fascism ruled for over two decades. Luxuria made headlines again in 2008 when she had an intense argument with Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

On Porta a Porta, a TV talk show, Luxuria (who lost her parliamentary seat in 2008) criticised Mussolini for her fascist roots. Mussolini replied ”better to be a fascist than a faggot”, using the derogatory word “frocio”.

There have always been controversies with the Catholic Church, but Luxuria recently declared that Pope Francis seemed to be more open towards the LGBT community than his predecessors. She sent a hand-written letter to Rome’s Bishop last December asking for a meeting.

Sochi was not Luxuria’s first brush with the dark side of Russian politics. Back in 2007 the then-MP went to Moscow to protest against the Putin government’s decision to ban the gay pride event in the Russian capital. Luxuria was physically attacked by nationalist groups during the protest.

This year the plan was to attend a hockey game wearing “a long skirt with train, earrings, bracelets and range with the rainbow colours”, she told an Italian television station days before her detention.

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