Bologna’s long tradition of accepting marginalized people has led to a thriving LGBT community

As the epicenter of LGBT activism in Italy, Bologna is a great travel destination — not just for LGBT people, but for all people with open hearts and minds.

The city has a long history of accepting those marginalized and rejected by others. During fascist dictator Benito Mussolini’s rule,  from 1922 to 1943, Bologna was a stronghold of opposition, attracting left-leaning activists from around Italy. Through the 1970s, the city was also a center for union organizing and women’s rights advocacy — and has only grown more progressive with time. Unsurprisingly, students, and the city’ progressive majority, disagree with current right-wing government, and its anti-LGBT stance.

“Bologna is [like] America’s San Francisco,” said Nicole De Leo, the president of Bologna’s transgender center.

A Lavish LGBT Center

Cassero, Bologna’s main LGBT center,  looks more like a resort than a community center. Featuring an expansive outdoor entertaining space (think concerts, plays and dance events) and simulated beach along one of Bologna’s last remaining canals, Cassero’s inviting nature is apparent from the outside. Inside, colorful banners advocating for acceptance decorate the  walls.

“No space for homophobia, transphobia, sexism, racism, fascism,”  reads a banner at the entrance.

Founded in 1982, Cassero is now one of the most prominent LGBT centers in Italy. Under its current president, Vincenzo Branà, Cassero is involved in a wide range of projects,  from entertainment to political activism. For example, it hosts one of only two LGBT refugee centers in Europe, and therefore reaches out to refugees often ignored or mistreated by traditional refugee programs. LBGT refugees often face discrimination not just from locals, over their refugee status, but also from some of their compatriots, due to their gender identity, center members said.

With Cassero one of the only supportive spaces in Italy for LGBT refugees, Bologna is an ideal city for migrants and refugees to settle down.

Other Cassero programs include an initiative to help lesbian and bisexual women fight harassment and discrimination in housing and employment, and initiatives supporting feminist issues.

Cassero is also a hotspot for nightlife. The center in 2002 moved into a larger space, in a former salt warehouse. Leaders make good use of its large outdoor patio and indoor club area, hosting nightly discos for those over 18. And the center maintains one of Europe’s largest libraries of LGBT literature, including a section for books for children and teenagers.

Bologna has other organizations that serve the LGBT community. One group deals specifically with rainbow families: those with homosexual or transsexual parents. Elisa Dal Molin, a representative for rainbow families, helps develop workshops and programs. They often work with schools, she said, since faculty and staff tend to be unfamiliar with how to deal with children who have two moms or dads.

Forced to Leave Italy to Become Surrogate Parents

The biggest problem rainbow families have in Italy now is a conflict over surrogacy for LGBT parents, and for same-sex couples interested in becoming parents, Dal Molin said. Surrogacy and adoption are illegal for same-sex couples in Italy, which means that many couples go to the United States or Canada to have children, and then bring them back to Italy. That is what Sergio Lo Giudice, a former town councilor of Bologna, did. After he married his husband, they traveled to California, where they had two children by surrogacy. After returning, Lo Giudice experienced a backlash from homophobic people outside of Bologna. But inside the city, he explained, people never treated him with disrespect.

“The problem is not the people, it’s the politicians,” Dal Molin said. The people of Bologna are accepting, and understand the love an LGBT couple can give their child, she said, but the government does not.

A Dedicated Transgender Center

Bologna’s transgender center, which opened in 1994, claims to be the first in the world to provide health services for trans people. Because members of the transgender community usually have a constant need for hormone treatment and medical consultations, having access to health care right at center has been very helpful.

Italy’s transgender community experienced two breakthroughs recently, indicating greater recognition and acceptance. Before June 19, 2018, transgendered people in Europe were classified as having a “disorder” — but gay rights advocates fought that designation, and transgendered people are no longer legally stigmatized in that way.  The second victory came with the 2017 opening of the trans refugee center, to help trans people immigrating to Italy from Africa, the Middle East and other politically troubled areas.

After a two-year wait, the trans center finally received government funding for the refugee initiative, in spring 2018.

“The important thing to remember,” De Leo said, “is that we are all fabulous!”

Resources
Cassero LGBT Center
Via Don Minzoni 18 – 40121 Bologna – Italy
Tel: + 39 051 09 57 200
http://www.cassero.it/
Founded in 1982
One of the first/largest centers of its kind in Europe

Trans-Identity Movement (MIT) Center
Via Polese, 22 Bologna – Italy
http://www.mit-italia.it
Europe’s first transgender center, established in 1994
Marcella Di Folco, an actress and the world’s first openly transgender elected official, was elected to Bologna’s city council in 1995.