We can learn a lesson in malicious compliance from Italy

beauty pageant crown
Photo: Adobe Stock

Last year, after Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which prohibited teachers from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom, far-right group Moms for Liberty posted a template they claimed “a teacher in Palm Beach County, FL” shared with them. The template reads:

“Dear Florida parent/caretaker: 

“The Florida House of Representatives has recently ruled that ‘classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.’

To be in accordance with this policy, I will no longer be referring to your student with gendered pronouns. All students will be referred to as ‘they’ or ‘them.’ I will no longer use a gendered title such as ‘Mr.’ or ‘Mrs.’ or make any references to my husband/wife in the classroom. From now on I will be using the non-gendered title ‘Mx.’

Furthermore, I will be removing all books or instruction which refer to a person being a ‘mother,’ ‘father,’ ‘husband’ or ‘wife’ as these are gender identities that also may allude to sexual orientation. Needless to say, all books which refer to a character as ‘he’ or ‘she’ will also be removed from the classroom. If you have any concerns about this policy, please feel free to contact your local congressperson.

Thank you, Mx. XXXXXXXXXX”

It’s unclear whether this was actually a real message or if Moms for Liberty created the meme themselves to drum up outrage from others on the far right. However, they ended up unintentionally giving leftists some clever ideas, even though they didn’t necessarily follow through with them.

It seems like Moms for Liberty has never heard of malicious compliance. The Wikipedia definition for this term puts it simply: “Malicious compliance (also known as malicious obedience) is the behavior of strictly following the orders of a superior despite knowing that compliance with the orders will have an unintended or negative result.” Well, the LGBTQ+ community intended to do just that, since this meme was picked up by leftists across social media. Even this writer had no idea the meme originated from a far-right group until conducting further research.

The idea behind this meme is only theoretical since it doesn’t seem like any teachers actually went through with it. However, we can look to Italy for an actual example of malicious compliance. Last month, Patrizia Mirigliani, the patron for the Miss Italy beauty pageant, told Italian station Radio Cusano that trans women participating in pageants was “a bit absurd,” adding that “my contest has included in its regulations the specification that one must be a woman from birth.”

Rather than have the transphobia beat them down, trans activists in Italy decided to take the “…woman from birth” part of Mirigliani’s statement and run with it. It began when trans activist Federico Barbarossa entered the Miss Italy pageant under his dead name, sharing a screenshot on Instagram confirming his registration. Mixed lgbtqia+, a nonprofit Barbarossa works with, shared his story on Facebook and from there, his story went viral. Now, more trans men are registering to compete in Miss Italy.

In an interview with NBC News, Barbarossa estimated that about 100 trans men have signed up for the pageant. He added that some have even been called for the next step in the selection process. Barbarossa was not one of the people selected, however.

“I didn’t get any message which leads me to think I’ve been blacklisted from them,” he told NBC News with a laugh.

Even though he may never get to meet Mirigliani and give her a piece of his mind, Barbarossa still started a movement. Now, Miss Italy organizers have to go through every application as their leadership’s bigotry looks them dead in the eyes.

Maybe we can take a lesson from Italy’s playbook. The Miss America pageant doesn’t outright ban trans women from competing but the pageant’s leadership recently released stricter rules that essentially polices the genitals of participants. The rules state that “The Applicant must be a Female, which is defined as a born female or a female who has fully completed SRS/Gender Affirming Surgery from male to female, with accompanying medical certification.”

That language, much like the language of Miss Italy’s leadership, is pretty vague. Maybe those who were sparked by that Moms for Liberty meme can bring that same energy to Miss America.

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