LGBT Who? Looking for queer culture in Rome

By Gianluca D’Elia

It didn’t hit me until I was in a packed Copenhagen gay bar last weekend that something was missing for me in Rome. It felt as if half the population of Denmark was packed into a small bar called Jolene’s in the up-and-coming meatpacking district. Denmark has always been a leader in LGBT rights for Europe, and you can often see gay couples showing affection and holding hands in public. When I spent the weekend there, I found myself wishing Rome had the same atmosphere.

Aside from the handful of gay bars sprinkled throughout the city (my friends and I frequently visit Coming Out next to the Colosseum), it’s hard to find LGBT representation in Rome. As a native New Yorker, this is something that I had to adjust to. Back in Ancient Rome when there weren’t even words for “homosexual” and “heterosexual,” men hooked up with men all the time, and it was no big deal. But in modern-day Italy, marriage equality is still a work in progress and same-sex couples cannot adopt children.

With the recent passing of Coming Out Day in October, it’s important to recognize that coming out is, unfortunately, a continuous process that your LGBT friends have to go through. For LGBT students that study abroad, this process is especially difficult in a foreign country, where you have to be aware of what your host nation’s climate is like for the queer community.

It’s easy to feel out of place as an LGBT student abroad, but it’s also important to know what it’s like to be queer in another country. In the U.S., I have supportive family and friends, and I go to an LGBT-friendly private university in New Jersey, and our campus is so small I’m almost certain all the gay people know each other. Living in Rome has been humbling for me in that regard. Much like navigating the grocery store and public transportation, living in Rome as an LGBT student is a learning experience. It has made me more conscious of how I think about and express my sexuality, and more appreciative of the resources I have, both here and at home. Yes, I wish the conditions were better for LGBT life here, but I also have to appreciate what I have. I didn’t choose to be gay, but I can choose how to react to whatever situation I’m in at the moment. And ultimately, I have chosen to be thankful for the friends I’ve made, the places I’ve seen and the knowledge I’ve gained. What more could I ask for?

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