The Restless Youth Issue

What Does LGBTQ Activism Look Like in Italy?

"Just because I'm gay doesn't mean I'm an atheist. And I feel sorry for those who deny their sexuality in the name of religion."

by Vincenzo Ligresti
01 May 2017, 1:00pm

This story appears in the May issue of VICE magazine. Click HERE to subscribe.

The relationship between the Church of Rome and sexuality is extremely complex and famously restrictive, and the LGBTQ community usually bears the brunt. According to the catechism, "[homosexual acts] do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity" and "under no circumstances can they be approved." This has an enormous influence over Italy's secular society as well. While civil unions were passed into law last year after consistent pressure from the European Court of Human Rights, and more people have become vocal about the need for all Italians to have equal rights and maintain their identity—without having to renounce their faith—there is still a long way to go.

Kairos, an Italian Christian LGBTQ activist group in Florence, is among the most active when it comes to challenging the church's stance on homosexuality. I talked with Iacopo Ialenti, a 22-year-old Kairos member, about what it is like to be young, Catholic, and gay in Italy today.

Portrait by Mattia Micheli

VICE: When did you join Kairos?
Iacopo Ialenti: Almost two and a half years ago. After I came out, I moved to Florence to study and was put in touch through an LGBT group in Milan. My parents didn't take it that well; my father told me that he'd rather have a disabled son. But the toughest part is coming out to yourself—as a Christian, you have to face an internal homophobia, which makes you your worst judge. And then there's the law of God; when you are told you are unnatural, it's oppressive.

What happened next?
One day, my mother came to visit, and I took her to a lectio divina (divine reading) with Kairos members. When we got back home, I told her, "Mum, they were all gay." She almost fainted. My parents have changed since then. Now my father is looking for a husband for me.

What portion of the country's homophobia do you believe is encouraged by the church?
I think 70 percent of the homophobia is because of the church. Italy should be a secular state, and, unfortunately, it's not. The Bible doesn't talk about men falling in love, which is what defines me. I'm not just sexually attracted to men; I fall in love with them.

Do you have hope that the church can change?
During the 2015 synod of bishops [a meeting of church-council members], we asked the church to stop considering homosexuality a tendency and start to consider it an affection. But the power of the church is based on the people's perception, and until the believers change their point of view, Rome won't change. I still hope that a kamikaze pope comes along and writes an encyclical letter [a papal document that addresses Catholic beliefs and teachings] saying that homosexuals are the same as straight people, in God's grace.

How long do you think that will take?
Centuries. I suppose I won't be able to see the light of this new era.

What are you doing to influence the change?
I've been touring schools and speaking to kids about my experience. Also, I'm a member of the Florentine groups Azione Gay e Lesbica (Gay and Lesbian Action) and Gruppo Giovani GLBTI (LGBTQ Youth Group) and have protested in the streets for gay rights many times. With Kairos, we are trying to do our part in the national Catholic LGBTQ network by organizing self-help groups and parent events. We've actively tried to make ourselves and our struggle known to the church. In 2013, Kairos members were the main supporters of a letter to the pope [requesting a dialogue about homosexuality]. He got back to us and gave us his blessing, but that was it.

When you came out, did you consider walking away from the church?
Just because I'm gay doesn't mean I'm an atheist. And I feel sorry for those who deny their sexuality in the name of religion.

Have you ever felt excluded from the gay community because of your faith?
My whole life is discrimination! You have no idea how many guys dumped me after discovering I was a Catholic.

Kairos was one of the organizers of the first pride celebration in Florence last year. It was a bit shocking for some; do you feel it helped to change opinions?
The pride celebration was over the top because it's a moving city, and so many different people participated: the drag queen, the Catholic, and many others. We were a tiny but explosive group. There was even Sister Fabrizia, who hosted us in her convent. So let's hope they all start to open their eyes.