Roma - The Eternal City, reminds us that the only constant in life is change, and this city - so rich in culture and history, has constantly changed over the past three millenniums. This was never more evident than the recent ninth annual RomePride Celebration on June 9 for people who connect with the LGBT Movement - a human rights movement that values diversity and dignity in equal measure.
I am a street photographer, and I had to document this event.
The celebration of Gay Pride in Rome is part of a full scale European expression of acceptance for a minority that has existed throughout time, and similar events have happened across the continent this summer since May.
Last year, it’s estimated that RomePride attracted 500,000 celebrants. That’s impressive for a minority that has often been disparaged, jailed, mocked, tortured, vilified and put to death for being simply human. Should people born with blue eyes apologize? It’s the way the cards were dealt; no more apologies. We are all human, and we bleed the same.
In 2017, I attended a Gay Pride parade in Rome for the first time. If you don’t know me, I’m quite shy and so it was a big deal to step into a river of people, joyfully dancing and singing. At the time, my camera of choice was a Nikon D5500, with a 70mm-300mm telephoto zoom - not exactly light, yet not too heavy.
For the longest time, I stood rooted at the edge of a sidewalk, fascinated by people passing by … having fun wearing strange costumes, rainbow-painted bodies on display, drinking and smoking. At the time, I didn’t really consider myself a street photographer. In fact, I wasn’t even sure if I was really a photographer at all. I shot only Bohemian people, dancing and yelling slogans about freedom and equality.
But now I am a bad-ass street photographer and I decided to seriously cover the event a few weeks ago. I used my Leica, and adjusted the camera for Black & White mode. I also made myself get as close as possibe by switching to a 24mm-28mm zoom lenses, adjusting my focus in manual as usual, and setting hyper-focal from 1.5cm-to -infinity so I could dive into this version of Fellini’s Satyricon and depict the essence of Gaypride.
When I stepped in to the parade, I felt like Rambo in the Vietnam jungle looking for poses and faces. I looked for a Pride message, for a story to nail down something of the history or art, connecting back to Roman Empire-era banquette or Greek symposium. Yet I was scrunched once again by the same 70s weird music of the past year, and I was surrounded by crude slogans against both “straight” people and the newly formed Italian government.
For quite some time, homosexuality in the Europe and America was deemed both a mental illness and a criminal activity - a difficult outlook to justify: “You are queer and crazy, therefore under arrest and you’re going to prison - a world full of other sick queers.”
This all changed nearly 50-years ago on June 25, 1969 with what is known as the Stonewall riots in New York City.
In the United States, the Civil Rights Movement of the early 1960s - championed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., paved the way for a series of human rights movements well into the 1970s - to include Gay Rights and the Women’s Movement. The impact of this social discontent went beyond the United States and affected other parts of the world, though most notably Europe.
A quarter of a century after Stonewall - and long after the word “gay” had become politicized to address the rights and lifestyle choices of what is now called the LGBT Movement, Rome finally had its first Gay Pride parade.
In 1994, the gathering only numbered 10.000 people. Yet this was the beginning, and started a serious social movement, culminating in legally sanctioned LGB marriages in 2016 … a very big change in staunchly Catholic Italy - home of Vatican City.
At the recent Gay Pride celebration in Rome, it was a little unnerving to be a street photographer among dozens of drunken people, looking for a night of fun and debauchery, wearing fake boobs and other dubious items that I don’t want to remember.
I encountered a young woman who said:
“Hey, you look like a pretty good photographer. I am lesbian, take me a photo while I kiss my girlfriend.”
It was time for me to go, and reclaim some normalcy.
So after enduring a “Despacito” song that played constantly at least eight times in an hour from the speakers of the “Mad Cow” truck beside me, I decided to retreat after a three-hour shooting session and about a hundred good photos.