What is normal? What is moral? Who is allowed those freedoms as written in our Constitution or in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? The general consensus among New Yorkers seems to be, from my insulated NYU perspective, that everyone is who they are, so they deserve to be regarded as—and therefore respected as—a human being that is normal and guaranteed access to all relevant rights. I’ve seen everything here, from those straight-laced Wall St. execs to a man longboarding down University Place wearing nothing but a shawl and a pink speedo. This is New York. This is the place where you are, in theory, permitted to be nothing short of yourself.
It wasn’t always this way. Just 50 years ago, in 1969, homosexuals were still relegated to the underground, and, despite bribes from the Mafia members that owned places like the Stonewall Inn, were still subject to harassment by the authorities. The riot that erupted from a planned police raid of the Stonewall Inn illustrated a collective foot being put down. Intolerance of the LGBTQ community started to become intolerable.
However, this idea of “gay liberation,” as articulated by Matthew Zundel and Brian DeGrazia, two PhD candidates in Italian Studies at NYU, was not unique to New York. Part one of Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò’s Rainbow Jubilee kicked off with “LGBTQ in Italian Theater: 50 Years from the Stonewall Uprising and of LGBTQ Liberation.” The event compiled doctoral research by Zundel and DeGrazia as well as scenes from teatro frocio, a (clearly) provocative style of Italian theatre that emerged from the gay liberation movements in Italy during the 1970s. The performed scenes were from Giovanni Testori’s L’Arialda, Franca Valeri’s Una Madre, Aldo Nicolaj’s Omo-Logando, Mino Bellei’s Bionda Fragola, Annibale Ruccello’s Le cinque rose di Jennifer and Paolo Poli’s Rita da Cascia.
Casa Italiana Director Stefano Albertini and Kairos Italy Theater Director Laura Caparrotti gave the opening remarks and introduced Zundel, who in turn set the stage for the political climate in which teatro frocio developed. He discussed the Fronte Unitario Omosessuale Rivoluzionario Italiano (Fuori), a group that was vocal in its activism for gay rights in the 1970s, stating that “the political act of coming out of the closet…was the first act of liberation.” No longer operating in clandestine bars, the LGBTQ community was out in the daylight. Two schools of thought later surfaced within Fuori’s “agenda”: one side believed the way forward was “to gain representation in parliament to work on issues from within the system,” and the other was in favor of a more revolutionary style of political action.
It was in this space that teatro frocio was born. Zundel explained that, through these performances, “the politics of liberation was based on liberating straight people from the repression of their own gay desires.” Pretty bold. But that was the point: using theatre as a vehicle to liberate “gayness,” or allowing gay themes to be considered out-loud, in public. Zundel and DeGrazia discussed just how vital the gay liberation movement was to the gay rights movement, in the institutionalization of these rights in the legal framework of Italy and the U.S.
Fifty years ago, it would have been completely outrageous for Eros to publicly express love for Lino outside of the play L’Arialda; it would have been scandalous for a film to depict homosexuality seriously instead of comically, like in Bionda Fragola. DeGrazia quoted activist Tourmaline from her interview in the March issue of Out Magazine in his closing remarks: “We have always been here. We actually started this thing and you need to educate yourself about that.” This style of theatre is meant to provoke, yes, but it is also meant to help educate its audience members. Hopefully in 50 more years of this education, Italy and the U.S. will accept members of their LGBTQ communities for who they are, and not reject them for who they love.