“We were revolutionaries”: Angelo Pezzana, founder of the first Italian LGBT movement
FUORI! was founded in another era – before divorce and abortion were legalized in Italy (in 1974 and 1978, respectively), before openly LGBT people took pride of place on TV shows and movies, and decades before same-sex civil unions were allowed (in 2016).
Pezzana describes how his bookstore became something of an informal hangout and safe space for homosexuals – his name, Hellas, served as a subtle reference and tribute to the open-minded attitude of the ancient Greeks towards the ‘homosexuality.
“At that time,” he said, “we [gay people] were invisible, and society often spoke to us in very offensive ways and with insults. We were only forced to live at night and we couldn’t build strong and lasting relationships because of discrimination.
FUORI! fought for “respect, not tolerance,” he adds. “We just wanted to be human beings like everyone else, and be part of a society that was striving to be ‘modern’, including other fights for abortion, divorce, etc.”
Despite the difficult context, FUORI! Instantly found supporters and succeeded in making Italian LGBT people and their demands visible nationally for the first time.
Within two months, Pezzana said, they had 40 active members and copies of their magazine had been read nationwide. Their first public demonstration took place in April 1972 – a counter-demonstration against an international congress discussing “sexual deviance” in the seaside town of Sanremo.
It was a historic moment, not only for FUORI !, but because it was the first public demonstration against anti-gay oppression and for the liberation of LGBT people.
Another turning point came in 1974, when FUORI! started collaborating with the Radical Party, a small left-wing political party whose leaders included Emma Bonino, “Italy’s pro-European and pro-immigrant conscience”. In the 1970s, she helped lead campaigns to legalize abortion and was jailed for terminating her own pregnancy illegally.
FUORI! distributed its materials through the national network of party offices, which, according to Pezzana, “helped us gain visibility.” It was essential, he explains, to break the silence around gay life and to support LGBT self-awareness and communication.
The group’s protests gained national recognition, appearing on television news programs and on the front pages of newspapers. “The revolution has started. We have worked in several areas, such as cinema, music, literature, politics and many others, ”Pezzana recalls.
FUORI! dissolved in 1982, because its members did not agree on the extent to which they should engage with political parties and institutions. The Italian association for the defense of LGBT rights Arcigay was founded in Sicily in 1980, becoming a national organization a few years later. Pezzana briefly entered parliament, wrote books, and later became involved in the political debate on the Middle East, as a staunch supporter of Israel.
The history of the movement remains “the most important chapter in the history of homosexuals in Italy”, affirms Marizio Gelatti, co-founder (with Pezzana) of the Fondazione Sandro Penna Fuori in 1980. Also based in Turin, it is about the main archive of FUORI !, and the most comprehensive on LGBT activism in Italy.
“Many young people do not know this story, continues Gelatti, even if the revolutionary reformist and peaceful push of FUORI! led to the founding of the current rights movements. This is why the Fondazione is working on the opening of a new museum dedicated to the life and rights of LGBT people in Italy, “to fight against discrimination, to make known the forgotten battles to new generations and to consolidate the reputation of Turin by as the capital of rights ”.