In Italy They Are All Men

“It doesn’t matter what you do in the bedroom as long as you don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses.”

― Daphne Fielding ―

In 1926, Italy’s dictator at the time, Benito Mussolini, reintroduced the penal code to enforce the rule of Fascism in Italy. The Rocco Code (1930, in force from 1 July, 1931) added more crimes to the list of those punishable with the death penalty, and reintroduced capital punishment for some common crimes. However, when Mussolini came under fire for not including specific laws against homosexuality, he declared “In Italy, they are all males

Unlike the Nazis, who treated gay people as an evolutionary degeneration of the Aryan race and persecuted them under Paragraph 175 of the German penal code, Mussolini’s fascist regime saw homosexuality as a characteristic typically found among the Germans and the English — an affliction from which the virile Italian male was immune. (Today we hear similar arguments from countries like Uganda and Nigeria, saying that homosexuality is un-African…)

As a result, Italy’s strategy was to ‘cover up’ the issue of homosexuality by creating a hostile climate in which open displays of homosexual affections were not tolerated. It was not until 1936, with the outbreak of World War II, that a more visible intolerance towards gay people (men in particular) occurred. During this period, the fascist regime sentenced gay men (often based on mere rumours or accusations) without due process, all in an effort to mimic Hitler’s racist and homophobic policies.

Italia Sono Tutti Maschi (In Italy, They Are All Males), is a beautifully illustrated graphic novel by Luca de Santis and Sara Colaone, which tells the story of the confinement of homosexuals during the Italian fascism regime. There are very few books depicting this part of our history and the authors have gone through great lengths to faithfully reproduce extracts from letters, reports and interviews with survivors — one of which inspired the central character of the book, Antonio.

The elderly “femminella”(effeminate) Antonio, also called Ninella, suffered the painful experience of political exile because of his sexuality. Torn from his family and his work as a tailor, after falling into a trap by the police, Ninella was sent to San Domino — an island in the Adriatic where gay men were exclusively interned.

On San Domino, Ninella makes friends with other unfortunates like him: the foul-mouthed Paterno, the petulant priest Don Nicholas, the slimy dealer Dante and the disguised Attilio, called Chinchilla. Over time Ninella receives the attention of Brigadier Dudiez, his supervisor, and he also falls in love with the young Mimi.

Even though Italia Sono Tutti Maschi is historically factual, it is never didactic. This true story is touching and intense and because of the subject matter, Italia Sono Tutti Maschi is a challenging but memorable and impressive read.

Italia Sono Tutti Maschi, is a must-have for all LGBT history enthusiasts. It has been hailed as one of the most important examples of Italian graphic novels that deal with historical themes. It was first published by Kappa Publishing, in September 2008, and has since been translated in French, German, Polish and Spanish. An English translation is not available yet.

Italia Sono Tutti Maschi is a touching and intense true story

Italia Sono Tutti Maschi is a touching and intense true story

Images: Open source editorial images
Text: FR Lubbe, Little Red Shoes

The Circle — Switzerland’s Forgotten Homophobic Past

“Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.”

— Malcolm X —

World War II was a bleak time for LGBT people in Europe. Gay men in particular suffered open and often brutal persecution by the Nazis, with many perishing in concentration camps.

However, given Switzerland’s policy of political neutrality and tolerance it’s no surprise that homosexuality was decriminalised in 1942. This meant that, even during WW2, Switzerland had a thriving Gay community. In fact, many people are not aware that during the 30s, 40s and 50s Switzerland was by far a pioneer in terms of gay rights and allowing homosexual relationships.

Having said that, as LGBT people we know all too well that legal ‘privilege’ and social tolerance is a far cry from complete acceptance… even today, many of us still find ourselves often pulling on the shorter end of the social hypocrisy stick. A case in point is the docudrama The Circle (Der Kreis), which is due for release later this year.

Der Kreis - Due for release on 23 October

Der Kreis – Due for release on 23 October

The Circle (German with English subtitles) tells the true story of a Zurich gay club and magazine, called Der Kreis, which was founded in 1942. Der Kreis — a membership-only group — published a bimonthly illustrated magazine with pictures, stories, articles and gay art. There was official state censorship back then, which allowed full-frontal nudity in drawings but not photographs. The magazine by-passed censorship laws by printing illustrations and drawings, and racier texts were written in Shakespearean language, which the censors and even Karl Meier, the founder and editor-in-chief of Der Kreis, couldn’t read. The magazine was delivered in neutral envelopes, with Meier closely guarding the subscription list.

Along with the magazine, Der Kreis also organised get-togethers and special costume balls where their members could meet and mingle. To further protect the identities of their members, membership cards featured just numbers and no names, and most of their social events were held underground. Suffice to say, despite the fact that the law offered relative security to the Gay community in Switzerland, it was largely based on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach and social intolerance remained a hold-over. It’s safe to say that personal attitudes took longer to change than the laws of the land.

The film’s director, Stefan Haupt, beautifully reconstructs this era in careful detail as he follows the real-life story of schoolteacher Ernst Ostertag — a naïve young French-literature teacher — and drag singer Robi Räpp — a hairdresser by day. The couple met and fell in love at one of Der Kreis‘s costume balls, in 1956. Shortly afterwards, both Ostertag and Räpp are targeted when police implicate the underground activities of Der Kreis and its gay subculture in a spate of murders among gay rent boy.

The police threats to the Gay community and raids on Der Kreis increase (similar to the witch hunts seen in some countries today) when the murders start to make headlines, resulting in acerbic and homophobic articles appearing in the mainstream press. This puts Ostertag at risks of being exposed as a gay man, putting his unconfirmed job as an educator in jeopardy — a potential embarrassing scenario for Ostertag’s bourgeois and stiff upper lip family.

The young Robi Rapp as portrayed by Sven Schelker

The young Robi Rapp as portrayed by Sven Schelker

Young Räpp, on the other hand, finds comfort and support from his widowed German mother, who worked as a cleaner and a theatre wardrobe lady. She embraces and accepts her son’s homosexuality and even helps to make the dresses for his drag performances.

The film eloquently illustrates the many hurdles a same-sex couple who simply wanted to be together had to jump through in the 1950s. The documentary element comes into play when Ostertag and Räpp are featured, in their old age in the present time, throughout the film in talking-head segments as they reminisce about leading conflicted public and private lives. They reflect on the impact of living in a society that, while nowhere near as officially punitive as Nazi Germany, still persecuted those whose lives were deemed inappropriate.

During one of the interview segments the couple argues about how long it took Ostertag to finally introduce Rapp to his parents. Ostertag did not come out to his family until his 70th birthday, even though he lived with Räpp since the 1950s and it’s rather poetic that in 2003 Ostertag and Räpp become the first Swiss couple to register as same-sex partners. Their struggles and having lived through decades of changing attitudes is at the very least a testimony that they are in some ways the guardian angels of the collective memory of the Gay movement of German-speaking Switzerland.

The Circle boasts a stellar cast, with Matthias Hungerbuehler as Ernst Ostertag, Sven as Robi Räpp and Marianne Saegebrecht, who is excellent in her bit part as Räpp’s mother. The film won the Teddy Award for best documentary with LGBT themes as well as the Panorama Audience Award at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival. It is due for release 23 October 2014.

A Dad’s Unexpected Advice To His Gay Son

When Sir Ian McKellen — co-founder of the UK charity, Stonewall — took to the stage on Trafalgar Square, introducing the headline act, Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst, as part of the Pride in London 2014 celebrations, he spoke about a 91 year old man in wheelchair who insisted on being at the parade… despite the rain. Sir Ian also mentioned a 78 year old man who specially came from Iceland to celebrate Pride with the rest of the 300,000+ supporters that showed up in London.

These are the pioneers of LGBT rights and there are plenty of them who are often forgotten — believers who never gave up in their fight for equality. These men and women have fantastic stories that serve as an inspiration and a source of wisdom for the younger LGBT generation enjoying so much more freedom, safety and acceptance than ever before in the history of the global LGBT community.

As part of the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots — the pivotal moment when the Gay Rights Movement was born , in 1969, when gay protesters clashed with police in New York — StoryCorps has launched an initiative, called OutLoud, to preserve the stories of LGBT people.

In the spirit of Pride and in the spirit of remembering the stories of the men and women who came before us, I want to share one of the stories StoryCorps recently archived:

During the 1950s Patrick Haggerty, now 70, lived as a teenager in rural Washington. Patrick decided to perform in a school play. On the day of the performance, Patrick’s brother took him to school. On their way there, he started covering his face with glitter — to his brother’s horror. Patrick’s brother dropped him off at school and then immediately called their father.

Dad, I think you better get up there,” his brother said. “This is not going to look good.

Charles Edward Haggerty, their father, who was a dairy farmer, showed up at the school in dirty farming jeans and boots. When Patrick saw his dad in the halls, he ran away to hide from him.

It wasn’t because of what I was wearing,” Patrick says. “It was because of what he was wearing.

After the play, in the car on their way home, Patrick’s father called him out on his attempt to hide: “I was walking down the hall this morning, and I saw a kid that looked a lot like you ducking around the hall to avoid his dad. But I know it wasn’t you, ’cause you would never do that to your dad.

Patrick wanted to melt way into the car seat out of embarrassment, but finally exclaimed: “Well, Dad, did you have to wear your cow-crap jeans to my assembly?

His father replied: “Look, everybody knows I’m a dairy farmer. This is who I am. Now, how ’bout you? When you’re an adult, who are you gonna go out with at night?

Now, I’m gonna tell you something today,” his father continued “and you might not know what to think of it now, but you’re gonna remember when you’re a full-grown man: Don’t sneak. Because if you sneak, like you did today, it means you think you’re doing the wrong thing. And if you run around spending your whole life thinking that you’re doing the wrong thing, then you’ll ruin your immortal soul.”

Recalling his father’s words, Patrick says that out of all the things a father in 1959 could have told his gay son, his father told him to be proud of who he was and not to sneak.

Patrick added: “He knew where I was headed. And he knew that making me feel bad about it in any way was the wrong thing to do. I had the patron saint of dads for sissies, and no, I didn’t know at the time, but I know it now.

**  The original story was published online by NPR. To listen to a recording or Patrick’s story, follow this link: **

Patrick Haggerty in 1959 © NPR, courtesy of Patrick Haggerty

Patrick Haggerty in 1959 © NPR, courtesy of Patrick Haggerty

Images: Open Source Editorial & Francois Lubbe (Main article Image)
Text: FR Lubbe, Little Red Shoes

Russian Oligarch Hosts Secret Anti-Gay Meeting In Vienna

“Humor brings insight and tolerance. Irony brings a deeper and less friendly understanding.”

~ Agnes Repplier ~

Earlier this year, at the Sochi Winter Olympics, in Russia, there was some poetic justice when the 5th and final snowflake-like Olympic Circle failed to open during the opening ceremony. For me and many of my LGBT friends it was a symbolic moment, highlighting the cry for help from the Russian LGBT community for international support against Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay propaganda law.

Since the introduction of this infamous anti-gay propaganda law in June 2013, the country has witnessed a sharp increase in the number of violent attacks (some resulting in torture and even death) on members of its LGBT community, while those protesting the legislation have found themselves often targeted by police brutality and arrest.

In the run up to the Winter Olympics, the LGBT activist group All Out called on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to stop the Games from taking place in Sochi and to ensure that future Olympic host countries do not have similar discriminatory laws on their books.

All Out presented the IOC with a global petition signed by 322,000 members of the group and another 41,000 All Out members sent the IOC personal messages raising their concerns. Shortly after receiving the petition, the head of the IOC spoke out against Russia’s anti-gay law and assured the LGBT community that this new law will not impact fans and athletes attending the Games — which was not exactly the assurance All Out and the international LGBT community asked for.

Brian Ellner, a board member of Athlete Ally — a group working to end homophobia and transphobia in sports — commented at the time by saying: “Today’s IOC statements are troubling on many levels. First, despite continued ‘assurances’ from the Russians the IOC itself remains confused as to whether these anti-LGBT propaganda laws will be enforced against athletes and fans.”

He added that while the safety of athletes and fans was important “we are also seeking a clear condemnation of the propaganda laws from the IOC. After the games are long gone the Russian LGBT community will still be living under these cruel laws and it’s time for the IOC and the world to voice loud and clear condemnation as a matter of human rights and fundamental fairness.”

Olympic Circles Fail to Open at Sochi 2014. © Unknown

Olympic Circles Fail to Open at Sochi 2014. © Unknown

Responding to the petition and the IOC’s request for Russia to clarify its position in terms of implementing these laws, Dmitry Kozak, the Russian deputy prime minister who oversaw the Olympics said: “Please do not touch the kids,” echoing what Russian President Vladimir Putin simply said earlier: “Just leave kids alone, please”, implying that LGBT people are paedophiles.

We all know how that story ended… The Winter Olympics were hosted in Sochi regardless and the IOC has not yet clarified their position in terms of choosing future host countries having to no discriminatory laws including protecting all human rights…

As for Russia? Russian leaders maintain that the country is not homophobic, despite the fact that violence against Russian LGBT people are now at its worst with many seeking to leave the country in fear of their safety. They remain defiant, by claiming that their only goal with this draconian law is to safeguard youth, by prohibiting the airing of so-called ‘gay propaganda’ around minors…

History has taught us time and again that seemingly ‘innocent’ laws are usually just the beginning of backward political ideations hidden behind a diplomatic smokescreen sugar-coated hogwash… Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law is no exception.

Today, it transpired that despite Russia’s empty promises, this past weekend, a secret meeting was held in Vienna to discuss ways to rid Europe of the ‘satanic gay lobby’. The meeting was attended by a host of far-right MPs and ultra-conservative Eurasian ideologists and was held literally across the road from where the Life Ball — one of the biggest AIDS charity events in the world — was hosted inside Vienna City Hall the very same night.

This year, the winner of Eurovision 2014, Conchita Wurst stole the show at Life Ball when hoots of approval, applause and whistles greeted the Austrian bearded drag queen dressed in figure-hugging silver lame, as she belted out her winning torch song Rise Like a Phoenix.

I cannot help but to see the irony here: In the build-up to the Eurovision Song Contest’s Finale, activists from Eastern European countries, including Russia, Armenia and Belarus, have blasted Conchita as an example of the West’s ‘decadence’ and branded the Eurovision contest as a ‘hotbed of sodomy’.

After her Eurovision victory, when asked if she had anything to say to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Conchita said: “I don’t know if he is watching this now, but if so, I’ll say it: ‘We’re unstoppable.'”

Cochita Wurzt at Life Ball, 2014.  © Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images Europe

Cochita Wurzt at Life Ball, 2014. © Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images Europe

Yet, this weekend, while guests at the Life Ball celebrated life and raised money to support HIV/AIDS victims, on the other side of the street the Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeew and his Saint Basil the Great Charitable Foundation held an ominous meeting attended by nationalists and Christian fundamentalists from Russia and the West… I cannot imagine a greater contrast between two worlds. It’s like an invisible Berlin Wall divided the streets of Vienna.

The meeting was an invitation only and guests included the chief Russian ideologist of the Eurasian movement Alexander Dugin, the nationalist painter Ilja Glasunow, and MPs from far right parties including the Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache. A star guest was Alexander Dugin, a Russian political scientist and Eurasia ideologist who believes in Russian supremacy and authoritarianism, and wants to see a ‘conservative revolution’ across Europe.

According to Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger, who confirmed the event took place from two independent sources, the meeting was hosted at Vienna’s Palais Liechtenstein under conditions of extreme secrecy.

The newspaper’s sources said that as well as discussing the ‘gay lobby’ the topic of fighting liberalism in Europe was also high on the agenda at the secret meeting. However, the official theme of the event was to mark the historic Vienna congress, which settled issues following the Napoleonic Wars and French revolutionary wars, 200 years ago.

Russian oligarchy, far-right politicians, secret meetings, the ‘gay lobby’ (what does that even mean?)… Do we have reason to be concerned?

Sadly, I think we do.

I for one don’t like scaremongering, but I also detest the inconvenience and irritation of ‘hindsight’.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if anything, the fact that the IOC allowed the Winter Olympics to continue in Sochi this year — despite Putin’s blatant homophobic and human rights abuses — carried startling (if not frightening) resemblances to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which took place amidst Hitler’s crackdown on the European Jewish community…

Back then, the world turned a blind eye and in the horrifying aftermath of the Holocaust said ‘We did not know.’

LGBT people are the only minority group in the world who find themselves in the awful juxtaposition that rights that are given to us with one hand are taken away by another… This leaves all of us in a treacherous position… one we may not want to think about, but nonetheless one we cannot ignore.

The only way we can prevent history from repeating itself is by reminding the world — those who still scoff at us and those who don’t want to believe us — how complacency, ignorance and inaction often (if not always) have dire consequences…

…something to think about as we gear up to celebrate Gay Pride this year…

LGBT Russian Youth After Being Attacked By Anti-Gay Militants  ©

LGBT Russian Youth After Being Attacked By Anti-Gay Militants ©

Children 404 – Film Disrupted by Antigay Protesters

“Understand that sexuality is as wide as the sea. Understand that your morality is not law. Understand that we are you. Understand that if we decide to have sex whether safe, safer, or unsafe, it is our decision and you have no rights in our lovemaking.”

― Derek Jarman ―

Children 404, from producer-directors Pavel Loparev and Askold Kurov, is a new documentary about LGBT children in Russia. The film takes its name from an online mutual support group for gay Russian youth, which in turn is a play on the common Internet error message (404 Page Not Found) that appears on screen when a page cannot be found. The title poignantly suggests that in today’s Russia, the LGBT youth are banished in a similar way that the recent anti-gay propaganda law bans the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relationships” among minors. (Last year, Russia ranked number one in teen suicides in Europe.)

Children-404, the Russian public internet project which supports LGBT teenagers in Russia.

Part of Vladimir Putin’s efforts to build an inward-looking and nationalistic Russia involves conflating homosexuality with Western culture in general, which lies at the root of Russia’s gay propaganda law that prohibits any positive information about LGBT people being distributed to minors. Since this draconian law came into force, the Russian LGBT community has been targeted with violence, intimidation and in some cases torture and even murder.

Children 404‘s premiere, on 23 April 2014 at the Moscow ArtPlay Centre, was disrupted by angry anti-gay protesters demanding to know if any minors where present and belittling “Western depravity”. The protesters, who were already in the audience, made their presence known with signs with slogans like “Get Sodomy Out of Russia” and “Western Depravity Must End”. Some also wore ribbons with religious iconography.

During the disruption, police checked the identification of attendees, after protesters claimed that minors were in the audience. This turned out to be a false claim, because no minors were present, so no law was broken. The film resumed, and the Heinrich Boell Foundation (a non-profit organization striving to promote equality) held a discussion afterwards. According to Colta, an arts group that backed the film, the audience offered “cheerful resistance” to the antigay demonstrators with some attendees describing the disrupters as “professional trolls.”

Children 404,will also be showing at this year’s Hot Docs film festival in Toronto.

Images: Children 404 Image logo
Text: FR Lubbe, Little Red Shoes