Thirty years ago, if you had said that there would be a group of women holding ministerial posts in this decade, your prediction might have been met with a wry smile and a condescending pat on the shoulder. If you then added that an openly gay man would be a regional president in the staunchly conservative South, you could have expected a hearty guffaw.

The Milan Pride Parade.

The Milan Pride Parade. Photo © Elena Gatti Photography, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Travel magazines regularly rate Italy as the top destination for gay travelers.Sure enough, in April 2005, the people of Puglia elected as their president 46-yearold Nicola Vendola, a gay man and a Communist to boot. What a difference a generation makes. That Vendola’s election did not elicit more than casual attention shows just how openly accepted gay men can feel in Italy, even, amazingly, the South. The North and Milan especially have hosted a very visible gay culture for years. This city obsessed with fashion, with Giorgio Armani as its king, has made sure that homosexuality was nothing other than mainstream. Its gay clubs are extremely popular with a diverse crowd, public displays of affection between men on the street are regular, and there are times when a straight man in the publishing world feels squarely in the minority at parties.

Turin, Venice, Florence, and Rome aren’t much different in that regard. Each of them has a vibrant gay community, and even small cities like Bergamo, Treviso, Perugia, etc., have their own gay associations under the umbrella group, Arcigay. Travel magazines regularly rate Italy as the top destination for gay travelers.

In fact, it seems almost silly to stress the point, but it’s probably necessary when we consider that this is, after all, the home of the Roman Catholic Church. Roughly 50 percent of voters in the last national election chose a coalition that includes a number of Christian-oriented parties that, at least theoretically, believe that homosexuality is a sin. When that center-right coalition was in power, there were indeed police raids on popular late-night cruising grounds, and they installed lights in the darkest of them.

Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Living Abroad in Italy.