Arcigay was founded in 1985 and is Italy’s foremost national gay rights organisation. In 2002 its membership exceeded 100,000. It acts as un umbrella organization for 90 (33 political and 57 recreational) local centres, throughout 41 provinces in Italy, from Bolzano in the north to Siracusa in the south. You can see the full list of political/cultural centres on the web at www.arcigay.it/local. For a full directory of recreational centres (including bars, discos, saunas and other Unoclub centres) go to www.arcigay.it/unoclub. Arcigay has its national headquarters in Bologna, in Via Don Minzoni, 18.
Arcigay is a non-profit organisation which operates on a voluntary basis. Its aim is to combat homophobia, heterosexism, prejudice and anti-gay discrimination. It is committed to achieving equal status and equal opportunities among all individuals regardless of sexual orientation, and aims to reinforce a full, free and happy life for gay people.
Arcigay pursues these aims by setting up social initiatives and welfare services, and promoting the visibility of gay people in society. Arcigay fights to eliminate discrimination, to defend gay people’s right to physical and psychological health, and to win legal recognition for same-sex partnerships. It operates alongside other civil rights movements, dialogues with institutions, political parties and trade unions, and defend individual and collective civil liberties in society as a whole.
From the outset Arcigay has worked together with the Italian Ministry of Health and the ‘Superior Institute for Health’, organising prevention and awareness campaigns against Aids and other sexually transmitted diseases, including training courses, autonomous advisory services, telephone helplines, street campaigns and research projects. It is a member of the Health Ministry’s Council of Associations against Aids.
Arcigay is also active in the field of culture and information. It offers training courses for social workers and health counsellors, as well as school staff, also working together with student unions, and associations for teachers and parents of gay people. Since 1999, our training courses for secondary school teachers on sexual orientation have been recognised by the Italian Ministry of Education.
Arcigay is a member of the Forum for Youth Associations promoted by the Ministry for Social Policy.
Arcigay is involved in various european projects in the fight against discrimination, based on Article 13 of the European Union Treaty. It is a member of Ilga, the International Gay and Lesbian Association.
Becoming a member of Arcigay is easy: you can join at any of our member centres (political or recreational) throughout Italy. All you will need is a valid identity document (driving licence, identity card, passport). All personal data are protected by the Italian privacy law. The Arcigay card costs 14 Euro and is valid for one year. The membership system provides vital finances for Arcigay’s political, cultural and recreational activities, promoting equal rights and quality of life for gay people.
The first ARCI Gay association started in Palermo on December 9, 1980, two months after the tragic deaths of two young gay people in Giarre, who had committed suicide after their relationship was discovered and ridiculed by their whole village. Other ARCI Gay associations were subsequently formed in various Italian cities, but until March 1985, ARCI Gay remained affiliated to the ARCI National Commission for Civil Rights. The founder of the first association was Don Marco Bisceglia, a non-conformist catholic priest well known as a community activist, along with Don Mazzi. The first important meeting of ARCI Gay was held in Palermo in 1982 in the presence of the national executive of ARCI, and to this day, this meeting is regarded as the first national congress of the Association.
In 1984 discussions began regarding the need to build and maintain a significant profile at a national level. The result of these discussions was the unification of almost all the groups in the Arcigay national Association: at the National Assembly of March 1985, the decision was taken to create a truly national structure, with a written constitution, a directorate, a National President (Beppe Ramina) and a National Secretary (Franco Grillini). Headquarters were established in Bologna, at the Cassero, Porta Saragozza. On June 28, 1982, this became the first gay cultural centre in Italy let by a public authority to a gay association. These developments were ratified by the Arcigay National Congress held in Bologna in 1985, at Villa Guastavillani.
In May 1985, Arcigay, in collaboration with the Abele Group in Turin, published the first Italian book on Aids, written by Giovanni Dall’Orto. No other books were published on the subject in Italy until 1988. The publication of this text marked the beginning of Arcigay’s involvement in the fight against Aids, a campaign which continues today in the following areas: distributing millions of free condoms and information packs, setting up autonomous advisory centres for gay people’s health, and being member of the the Health Ministry’s Council for Aids campaign.
The first Arcigay camp was held at Rocca Imperiale on August 1, 1985, and it received major coverage in the national press. In this period, with the foundation of Arcigay as a national umbrella organization, the Association’s relationship with the mass media, and in particular with television, changed radically. By means of press releases, articles, and interviews, Arcigay has made a significant contribution to changing the negative image of homosexuality in society and culture, fighting against stereotypes, prejudice and homophobia. On June 20, 1986, a national conference entitled ‘Omosessuali e Stato’ (‘Homosexual people and the State’) was held in the ‘Sala del Cenacolo’ hall in the Rome parliament buildings.
The third national Arcigay congress was held in December 1987 and was attended by about twenty members of parliament. Franco Grillini was elected President of the Association. In 1988, Alma Cappiello, a socialist deputy, presented the first proposal for legislation on same-sex partnerships. In subsequent years the Arcigay legal team followed through with several other legal proposals to parliament, including those regarding the “Unioni Civili” (legally registered partnerships) and discrimination based on sexual orientation.
When three hundred lesbian Arcigay members met up in Verona in December 1989 they formed the first major national meeting of gay women. Their aim was to break into the political arena, which until then had been considered exclusively male territory by the mainly separatist lesbian movement. This initiative led to the foundation of Women’s Arcigay at the fourth national conference of the Association, held in Bologna in February 1990. On this occasion a woman, Graziella Bertozzo, was elected as National Secretary.
A delegation from Arcigay was formally received by the President of the Italian Republic, Francesco Cossiga, on December 1, 1990. The next congress was held in Bologna in February 1992 under the title ‘Darsi valore’ (‘Claiming one’s own worth’). At the subsequent conference in Rimini in April 1994, the Association changed its name to ‘Arcigay Arcilesbica’, thereby becoming the only association in Italy which elects its executive on the basis of a 50% quota for each sex. At the same congress, a proposal was launched for a national Gay and Lesbian Pride, to be held in Rome in collaboration with other associations: this event was of key importance in terms of both attendance numbers and raising awareness, and can be considered the first mass gay rights demonstration ever held in Italy.
In the autumn of the same year, Graziella Bertozzo was succeeded as National Secretary by Giulia Crippa, who focussed the attention of both the press and the public on the issue of medical insemination. The second Gay and Lesbian Pride took place in Bologna on July 2, 1995. Another national demonstration was held in Verona in September. Entitled ‘Alziamo la testa’ (‘Heads Held High’), it was a protest against new resolutions by Verona City Council which were extremely discriminatory against gay people.
The first petition for the “Unioni Civili” (legally registered partnerships) was completed in February 1996: 90,000 signatures were collected in the space of only a few months, including 15,000 in Bologna alone. The third Gay and Lesbian Pride took place in Naples on June 29, under the title ‘Iesce Sole’ (“The Sun’s Coming Out”). At the seventh National Congress in Rimini in October 1996, the Association was officially transformed into two distinct divisions: Arcigay and Arcilesbica. Arcilesbica became the first non-separatist national lesbian association in Italy. Davide Barba became National Secretary, alongside Franco Grillini, who was re-elected as President. Not all the Arcigay centres agreed the decision of creating two Associations, and as a result, the centres in Turin, Firenze, Sassari, Verona, Catania and Padova opted out of the Arcigay umbrella. The Padova centre re-entered the Association in 2000.
Arcigay and Bologna University launched the Ministry of Health’s Research Project on Homosexual Behaviour in January 1997. In May of the same year, two other Aids-related events took place: an Aids prevention campaign aimed at gay people was launched by the Ministry of Health, and the first national training conference was held in Rimini under the title ‘Hiv/Aids in the Gay and Lesbian Community’, followed by a second session a few months later. In the meantime, Arcigay took part in its first European project: ‘Gap’, focussing on Aids initiatives for the gay community, promoted by the European Gay Aids Prevention Network, of which Arcigay is a member alongside partner associations in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the UK.
In June, Arcigay organised a Pride event in Venice. In the following months, the Association had meetings with various ministers in Romano Prodi’s government (Finocchiaro, Veltroni, Napolitano), pressing for political action in favour of the Glbt community. On January 13 1998, the gay writer Alfredo Ormando committed suicide in Rome by setting fire to himself. Arcigay marked this event by launching the International Day Against Religious Anti-Gay Discrimination, which has since been celebrated every year on the anniversary of Ormando’s death.
In March 1998, a legislation project on legally registered partnerships pioneered by Arcigay was presented to the Chamber of Deputies. Among those who signed the proposal were the former President of the Chamber Nilde Jotti (PDS party) and the philospher Lucio Colletti (Forza Italia party). Also at this time, a sixth prevention campaign was launched by the Ministry of Health. The third national congress on Aids in the gay community was held in Rimini. In early June, during the ninth national Arcigay congress in Rome, a delegation from the association was received by the President of the Chamber, Luciano Violante. Sergio Lo Giudice was elected as Arcigay President, whilst Franco Grillini became Honorary President. Davide Barba was confirmed as National Secretary of the Association.
In the years which followed, new centres were set up in Modena, Verona, Ferrara, Cesena and Cosenza. In addition, the existing centres in Siena, Viterbo and Bolzano joined the Association, bringing the total number of political and cultural member groups to more than thirty. Meanwhile, the number of recreational centres (discos, bars, saunas, etc.) within the Association grew to over 50, with a total membership of over 100,000 Arcigay cardholders.
In September, Arcigay took part in the awareness campaign which led to the passing of a new resolution at the European parliament on September 17 on anti-gay discrimination. In October, an Arcigay delegation presented Education Minister Luigi Berlinguer with a training programme for teachers, which received official recognition from the Ministry.
In November, Arcigay met with Laura Balbo, Minster for Equal Opportunities, to set up the Commission for the Rights of Gay and Transgender People. A few months later, Franco Grillini became the Commission’s first President. On December 19, Arcigay, along with tens of thousands of protesters, took part in the national demonstration against religious bias in school education. A similar march was repeated in Bologna in February 1999.
Arcigay organised a national rally in Como on May 22, 1999 in favour of legally registered partnerships. On June 26, the various Italian Glbt associations were united in Rome after two years of separation, in a single Pride march. In October the governament, at the suggestion of Laura Balbo, Minster for Equal Opportunities, proposed a new anti-discrimination law, including a section on anti-gay discrimination. This initiative did not come to fruition. In the same month, the French parliament approved the Pacs (Civil Solidarity Pact) regarding legally registered partnerships, including same-sex couples. In Pisa, Arcigay hosted the Ilga european conference.
December 15 saw special events in many Italian schools to mark the National Day for Homosexual Awareness in Schools, organised by the National Students’ Union and Arcigay under the title ‘Educare al rispetto’ (‘Teaching Respect’).
In 2000, Arcigay became involved in various projects under the auspices of the European Union, including Be Equal Be Different, Ceris, Gap, and Cid. The Association took part alongside many other gay and lesbian rights organisations, as well as other anti-discrimination bodies from all over the European Union. In May 2000, Arcigay held its first national programme conference in Milan. The openly gay philosopher Gianni Vattimo was elected to the European parliament; his campaign had been vigorously supported by the Association. In the same year, Arcigay was called to join the Forum of Youth Organisations organised by the Ministry for Social Policy. In February, a meeting was held with Giovanna Melandri, Cultural Heritage Minister. In the same period, through press conferences, press releases, debates, and newspaper articles, Arcigay made a major contribution to the success of the 2000 World Pride in Rome, organized by the Circolo Mario Mieli. On July 8, Arcigay provided a huge turnout for the event. In September an official complaint was lodged against the mayor of Chieti, Nicola Cucullo, for making open threats against the gay community. October saw Arcigay and Arcilesbica on the streets once again, this time for the National Anti-Homophobia Day. Signatures were collected for a petition against racist and homophobic remarks made by Umberto Bossi, leader of the separatist Nothen League party. In November, the Be Equal Be Different project was presented at an international meeting in Perugia.
In May 2001, both Arcigay Honorary President Franco Grillini and Arcilesbica President Titti De Simone were elected as members of the Chamber of Deputies. In June and July, Arcigay took an active role in several initiatives related to Glbt Pride, including an international conference in Milan on June 22 under the title ‘Rights in Europe’. On the occasion of the G8 summit in Genoa, Arcigay was part of the union of seven hundred associations promoted by the Genoa Social Forum for the globalisation of civil rights.
In October the National Council of the Association scheduled the 10th Arcigay National Congress for February 1-3 in Riccione, with the title ‘Costruiamo la libertà, riprendiamoci l’amore’ (‘Building freedom, reclaiming love’). On November 14 Arcigay staged a demonstration outside the Egyptian embassy in Rome to protest against the imprisonment of numerous citizens for being homosexual.