Marketing the Rainbow

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Even though Italian men are more physical in their interactions than most Westerners, the movement of gay liberation, which precedes Marketing the Rainbow, has been slow. Until not long ago, particularly owing to a lack of regulations protecting unions between people of the same sex Italy was classified as one of the least gay-friendly countries in Western Europe.


Regional developments

Supposedly, Venice was the first Italian town which accepted homosexuality in the 18th century... but there are no sources to confirm that.

Since 2003, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment is illegal throughout the whole country, in conformity with EU directives.

In 2004, Tuscany became the first region to further ban discrimination on the basis of sexual identity in the areas of education, public services, and accommodations. The Berlusconi government tried to reverse this regional law in court, and failed.

An advertisement by the Tuscany region against discrimination shows an infant wearing a wristband labelled homosexual, in a photo released October 25, 2007. The campaign sparked a furore in Italy, with the Vatican and conservative politicians panning it as excessive. The image of the rosy-cheeked baby, accompanied by the caption "sexual orientation is not a choice" went up on billboards across Tuscany as part of a regional drive to curb discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversial campaign was used previously in Quebec.

In 2012, the elections for governor in deeply conservative Sicily resulted in the victory of openly gay, anti-mafia campaigner Rosario Crocetta. Corriere Della Sera, Italy's leading newspaper said that Sicily – better known for its homophobic Mafiosi, macho aristocrats and conservative intellectuals – had stolen a march on the north of Italy.

Before him, Nichi Vendola, a left-wing politician and LGBT activist was a Member of the Chamber of Deputies from Apulia from 1992 to 2005 and President of Apulia from 2005 to 2015. He was one of the first openly LGBT Italian politicians.

"Fun" fact: in 1938, a 'gay island' was created by the Italian fascists. Gay men were labelled "degenerate", expelled from their homes and interned on the island of San Domino in the Tremiti archipelago. In particular, the police prefect in the Sicilian city of Catania made a case of suppressing open manifestations of homosexuality, and 45 men believed to be homosexuals in Catania were rounded up and consigned to the island. Unwittingly, the Fascists had created a corner of Italy where you were expected to be openly gay. 

IOne San Domino veteran, named only as Giuseppe B, said that in a way the men were better off on the island.

"In those days if you were a femminella (a slang Italian word for a gay man) you couldn't even leave your home, or make yourself noticed - the police would arrest you," he said of his home town near Naples. "On the island, on the other hand, we would celebrate our Saint's days or the arrival of someone new... We did theatre, and we could dress as women there and no-one would say anything."



As the last Western European country to introduce the measure, the Italian parliament voted to allow same-sex civil unions in 2016, after years of rancorous debate. Five Star Movement politicians staged a kissing protest during the parliamentary proceedings. Hundreds of thousands of people, possibly even a million, took to the streets with the cry, "Wake up Italy, it is time to be civil!" Demonstrations took place in the squares of some 100 Italian towns and cities, in what has been termed "the biggest LGBT manifestation that ever took place in Italy."

The so called “Cirinnà Law” had been fiercely resisted by conservative politicians and the Catholic Church, which argued that same-sex relationships should never be accorded the same status as marriage between a man and a woman. But in a resounding victory for Matteo Renzi, the prime minister, the lower house of parliament voted 369-193 in favor of a vote of confidence in the government over the issue, making approval of the contentious civil unions bill automatic.


The new law extends some, but by no means all, of the rights enjoyed by heterosexual married couples to gays, such as the right to receive a deceased partners' pension, to inherit each others’ assets and to take each others’ surnames.

Until that time, some sources said that "a symbolic wedding function could be the ideal solution for LGBTQ lovers who wish to seal their eternal love through a romantic ceremony", promoting romantic spots in Italy for both the ceremony and the "honeymoon". They claimed that an advantage of such a symbolic ceremony was that it could be performed in the most spectacular settings of Italy without restriction. From June 2016, same sex weddings, called in Italy “Unioni Civili” are permitted and the ceremony takes place in the Town Hall or in properties approved by the Italian government. Only in certain Italian locations (approved by the local authorities) the ceremony can be performed outdoor or private or exclusive venues.

The brands join in

Of course, a civil rights fight is not complete without the big brands and media joining in (in the USA, this was paramount in the run up to the SCOTUS case in 2015). In Italy, the lead was taken by - who else - IKEA, the Swedish retailer, who has been at the forefront of Marketing The Rainbow since the '80s. They called for for a very alternative Family Day: inviting everyone to join in for in-store kissing flash mobs, in order to celebrate an open idea of family — because you don't need instructions to build a family; "love is just enough.

Then it was the turn for Coop, one of the biggest Italian supermarket chains, who made its point through a personalized message ("family is having someone doing grocery shopping and thinking about you").

Bottled water brand Vitasnella (

 and pasta producer Althea also showed their support, as did television networks and radio stations: TV channel Real Time broadcasted a docu-reality on same-sex families and stylized itself as Real Love.

Finally, Twitter Italia also stepped in by launching a beautiful and colorful social media campaign: "Love is love. Support equal rights for those who love each other."


Several website refer to a number of Italy's cities as gay-friendly or having a "satisfying gay scene": Rome, Milan, Florence, Naples, Bologna, Verona (in spite of the homophobic conference early 2019), or some of the smaller places like the villages Torre del Lago, Porta Venezia and Taormina. But no organized marketing has been done to attract rainbow visitors. 

There are local events, like Friendly Versilia, Gay Village in Rome's Testaccio, the Turin and Milan Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (sponsored by Dutch ING group), Italy Gay Summer Party in Gallipoli, and the 

Florence Queer Festival. There is a listing of gay beaches, gay(-friendly) hotels, 


The IGLTA has two dozen or so members from Italy, most notably some prestigious hotels (often member of an international chain), and the Italian National Tourist Board, ENIT. When latter joined in 2017, Executive Director Giovanni Bastianelli said: "The Italian National Tourist Board is proud and excited to embark on the inaugural collaboration with IGTLA in recognition of the fundamental importance of LGBT travelers for Italy. We are committed to working with tourism businesses to expand welcoming infrastructures that will help foster inclusion and strengthen our brand image as a country of tolerance, respect, progress and open mindedness for all. We endorse the UNWTO Global Code of Ethics for Tourism which states that Tourism is “an irreplaceable factor of self-education, mutual tolerance and for learning about the legitimate difference between peoples, cultures and their diversity”.


And then there is the Italian Gay & Lesbian Tourism Association (AITGL). It was founded in Milan in 2010 by Italian based representatives of Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism, San Francisco and Philadelphia CVBs, Quiiky Italian LGBT Tour Operator and TTG Italia Travel Trade Media. In 2010 it became partner of IGLTA and in 2014 of Visit USA Italy. It has over 50 members in the travel industry and sponsor Expo Gay Tourism every year, the first B2B gay travel show in Bergamo and B2C in Rome. Their website is professional, but only in Italian (which is not very professional) excerpt for one page on Gay Friendly Italy. They estimate the annual volume of LGBT-tourism in Italy at EUR2.7 bln. 


There are some travel agencies for gay tourists, but only a few campaigns have been run to attract the LGBT visitor, either on a national or a regional level. For instance Italy Gay Travels, who have original travel options such as sailing tours, yoga holidays, cooking workshops and bike trip. 

Among the top 10 Italian gay-friendly holiday destinations rank Gallipoli, Catania 

GailyTour (part of Ignas/TUI) seems to specialize in wordplay: "You can also add to your HoliGay, our Private and Shared LGBT Gaily Excursions. Now choose your next GAYstination and travel with us!".


A report presented at TTG Incontri in Rimini in 2016 (by the Sonders & Beach group, in collaboration with AITGL and IGLTA), describes that the Italian LGBT tourists have an elevated education level and higher income than the average. They spend an average of 800 euros for a 9-days holiday, and of 235 euros per person for a weekend. The length of their stay is usually longer than the Italian average, with a 67% of people who stay in a tourism destination for more than 5 days, if compared to a 42% of the Italian average.[1]


In 2017 the BIT Observatory concluded that LGBT tourism was growing in Italy. Besides the most typical Italian gay tourist destinations, like Milan and Rome among the cities, or Torre del Lago, Riccione, Gallipoli and Taormina among the holiday locations, there is an increasing demand among travellers for alternative destinations and travel experiences. For example, LGBT sports holidays on offer are on the rise, like bike tours in regions like Marche or Puglia, or relaxing holidays in the minor islands like Lampedusa, and cultural tours like those around the Greek temples in Sicily.


For those who have a more “tranquil” idea of fun, an excellent alternative may be holidays to wellness centers, thermal hotels, and gay-friendly Spas. Naturally, the foodie craze has also affected the LGBT community, and the top destinations in Italy for a food and wine holiday are Tuscany and Puglia, but also Rome, where the new trend of luxury, gay friendly accommodation is growing.


Another growing segment is the gay wedding sector, and not just the best known destinations like the beaches in Sardinia or photogenic Tuscany. Wedding locations are multiplying in the North and in the South, even in unexpected locations, like the Prealpi Orobiche, or Brianza in Lombardy.[2]



The city of Turin showed their rainbow side in 2017, when they announced new streetlights featuring gay and lesbian couples holding hands to be installed in the center of the city, ahead of the Torino Pride parade. The local council passed a motion backing the installation of lights replacing the little green man with little green same-sex couples. They were a first in Italy, albeit not in Europe. Many conservative lawmakers boycotted the vote as a sign of protest. However, the streetlights were placed in the central area of the city where they will not have any traffic regulation function.


“It is a way to sensitize people of the topic of equal opportunities,” first district president, Massimo Guerrini, said. The proposal was launched with the intention to manifest the values of respect and equality fighting discrimination based on sex or sexual orientation. The streetlights will also serve as a way to increase LGBT tourism in the city. “Turin is traditionally a gay friendly city so we thought to encourage LGBT tourism,” Turin’s mayor, Chiara Appendino, said.[3] 

In 2018, Turin became the first city in Italy to allow same-sex couples to legally register their children to both parents.

Verona's homophobic conference

Early 2019, the World Congress of Families (WCF), an anti-gay and reproductive rights organization and a designated hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Centre watchdog, held a conference in Verona. It met with a lot of controversy, due to its outdated views on family and women's right. However, several prominent members of the governing Lega Nord party were in attendance. Pro-rights groups held a counterdemonstration to coincide with the arrival of Interior Minister and League leader Matteo Salvini, who has said he attended "to defend the family that consists of a mother and a father". He was accompanied by the Minister for Families, Lorenzo Fontana, one of the WCF's biggest supporters in Italy. Fontana, a fellow member of the League and Verona native, is a conservative Catholic who has made no secret of his opposition to same-sex families and women's abortion rights. Other leading members of the League were ministers and governors, as well as celebrities  like Silvana De Mari, an Italian doctor and author who claims homosexuality "doesn't exist" and has compared LGBT people to criminals and satanists; Dimitri Smirnov, a Russian Orthodox priest who says abortion is  "scarier than the Holocaust"; Theresa Okafor, a Nigerian activist who campaigned for her country's bill declaring homosexuality "unnatural"; and Forza Nuova, an Italian neofascist party. The Five Star Movement, which governs in coalition with the League, urged to stay away from the conference and said the event celebrates "the Middle Ages" and called its attendees "right-wing losers".

Verona is fertile ground for its anti-choice message, the conservative local council having declared it a "pro-life city" and promised to fund anti-abortion groups. Meanwhile another northern city, Turin, took a stand against the Verona conference on Friday by hanging a banner from city hall celebrating couples of diverse sexuality and race. "Torino loves and welcomes all kinds of families," the English-language poster read. 


Rome Pride 25

Gay Street, or Via San Giovanni in Laterano, a road behind the Colosseum, was formally designated Rome’s gay area in 2007. Each year, the city also hosts Gay Village, a summer-long festival of live music, sport, dance, theatre, film and other events at Parco del Ninfeo. Find out more here:

While governments and municipalities are slowly thinking about presenting their rainbow side, companies have done so for years: Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, IKEA, Barilla,...

Gay-friendly Italy:


[1] Twissen, October 20, 2016

[2] Fiera Milano News, March 20, 2017

[3] Pink News, May 5, 2017

Case study: Italy

Branche: Travel