Singer Elton John slams Venice mayor for ban on gay children's books

British singer Elton John performs on stage during a concert at the Palacio de los Deportes Martin Carpena in Malaga.
British singer Elton John performs on stage during a concert at the Palacio de los Deportes Martin Carpena in Malaga. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (Reuters) - Singer-songwriter and gay rights advocate Elton John has criticised the new mayor of Venice on social media as "boorishly bigoted" for banning books about homosexuality from the Italian city's preschool libraries.

The mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, who was elected last June, banned some 50 books featuring same-sex couples from schools a month later, fulfilling one of his campaign promises.

John, 68, who has two children with his partner David Furnish, took to Instagram to post an image of Todd Parr's The Family Book, which details the lives of various kinds of families, and describe Brugnaro as looking "extremely silly".

"He's stupidly chosen to politicise children's books by banning titles that touch on same-sex families living happily ever after," he posted on Saturday.

"Beautiful Venice is indeed sinking, but not as fast as the boorishly bigoted Brugnaro."

According to the New York Times, the initial list of banned books was whittled down to two following the outcry.

The two still on the forbidden list are Ophelie Texier's Jean A Deux Mamans (Jean Has Two Mummies) and Francesca Pardi's Piccolo Uovo (Little Egg), about an egg that discovers new types of families.

The outrage in Italy - from residents, authors, publishers, librarian associations and even Amnesty International - had led campaigners to carry out a marathon read-in of the banned books. More than 250 authors also wrote to the mayor asking for their books to be removed in an act of solidarity.

Brugnaro, 53, has defied criticism of his decision in a statement posted on his website and on Twitter.

He criticised the "cultural arrogance" of the previous administration which introduced the books without "asking anything to anyone, especially to families". "Dear Elton John, I have no problem with homosexuals," he tweeted last Tuesday.

"Of course I protested. What would happen if my three-year-old daughter came home and asked me, Where is the other daddy?" he was quoted as saying by the Times.

The controversy comes amid wider debate in Italy on same-sex marriage and parenting.

Since Ireland backed same-sex marriage by a landslide in a referendum last May, Italy is now the only country in western Europe where any form of same-sex union - whether civil partnership or marriage - is still illegal.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said last month his government would introduce a law on civil unions by the end of the year. Italy is deeply divided on the issue and protests against civil unions last June brought hundreds of thousands to the streets of Rome.