Connect to share and comment

Italians debate whether "gay" is an insult

Court decision implies that calling someone "gay" can be an insult punishable by law.

“It’s not because the word ‘gay’ itself caused the injury, but it was the context that caused the offense,” said Franco Grillini, a politician and director of, a news site. “A stick by itself isn’t offensive. But if I hit you with it, it hurts.”

“It’s the association between being gay and being a pedophile that’s inacceptable,” said Patane.

But others, like Mancuso, see the court’s decisions as reflecting a larger discomfort in Italy's predominantly Catholic society.

“I’d like to understand why being called gay is so offensive in this country,” Mancuso said.

After the verdict was announced, Luciano’s lawyer, Michele Brunetti, took pains to point out his client wasn’t homosexual. “Certainly, he goes on vacation with male friends and he’s never been married,” he told the Italian daily La Repubblica. “But I never had the impression that he had those tendencies.” 

According to University of Bologna sociologist Luca Pietrantoni, gay rights in Italy remain behind other European countries. Homosexuals are much less likely to be open about their sexual preference, especially in the work place.

As is often the case in Italy, when it comes to homosexuality, people are generally tolerant in the public sphere — the country elected the first transgendered parliamentarian in Europe — but conservative at home.

“Gay people aren’t totally rejected by their families,” said Pietrantoni. “There’s a kind of negotiations of don’t ask don’t tell.”

According to a 2006 poll, 31 percent of Italians favored of gay marriage, compared to 42 percent in the Europe Union as a whole and 82 percent in the Netherlands. Only 24 percent of Italians agreed that homosexuals should be allowed to adopt, compared to 31 percent in the EU and 69 percent in the Netherlands.

The word “gay” is considered shameful, said Pietrantoni. Politicians tend to use synonyms: "different,” “those people.” When Bologna hosted a Gay Pride parade in 2008, the permit forbid the demonstrators from entering the city center or passing in front of churches.

“There’s a culture of avoidance,” said Pietrantoni. “As if gay identity is embarrassing, shameful.”