“England is the Canada of Europe.”
“Then what’s Italy? The Middle East?”
I had a little chat with Mr. Ryan J. Davis, who runs social media for Blue State Digital, best known for its role in Obama’s 2008 campaign. Although many of the things that Ryan and I discussed were off the record and/or irrelevant (including his passion for Broadway musicals and me singing some Spring Awakening after a couple of gin and tonics), he was a brilliant speaker at Milan’s Social Media Week, where he presented the “Four 2012″ campaign. He guided us through the social media strategies that turned out pro-gay-marriage voters on Nov. 6 (and when I say “marriage,” I’m not referring to some Americano coffee version of marriage, like what we Italians are sadly familiar with), which led to victories at the ballot box in Maine, Maryland, Washington and Minnesota.
I was sitting in the third row, tweeting with my thumbs out, Planet of the Apes-style, and I had to ask myself why we Italians, despite being the digitally creative, cutting-edge communicators that we like to tell ourselves we are, have never done a campaign like this. Why haven’t we used social media to start a gay revolution? If Americans have learned how to use a fishing rod, we Italians are more like grizzly bears eating raw salmon out of a wild Alaskan stream.
“Forgive mi for mai English, Mr. Davis,” said a guy sitting next to me after Ryan’s speech. “You know, the Italian gay community is very fragmented. Was that the same in the U.S.? How did your gays react to this campaign?”
Here’s our first sloppy “mandolino” mistake: thinking that marriage equality is just a gay issue. It’s not. It’s a human issue. The Italian gay community has a complicated relationship with the word “civil,” and it’s clinging to its interpretation like James Franco clinging to his canyon rock in 127 Hours, and we all know how that story ended. We are losing arms and bones and time, while all we need as a community is something that our French friends would call “the Marie-Antoinette method”: You show Italian gays the marriage equality “brioche,” and they’re going to get it.
What’s the role of gay organizations? Of the American situation, Ryan says, “The other [gay marriage] campaigns were very broad, general. We wanted to be more edgy and millennial-focused.” Maybe our Italian organizations spent too much money planning amazing weekends on the Amalfi Coast to invest in a real marriage equality strategy. Maybe they were too busy copying and pasting press releases about the last homophobic remark my friend Tony made down at the local diner. I don’t know.
We lack a true LGBT leader in Italy. Our civil rights ship is missing its Han Solo. All we’ve got is B-level personalities whose full-time job is going on the Italian version of The View or Judge Judy or doing some Dancing With the Stars. They’re old and bald and preach like pastors. They guide flocks of sheep Brokeback Mountain-style. They have no relevant ideas, they are not brave, and they don’t think forward. In other words, they’re a lot like our politicians. Nobody would ever give them a Ferrari if they can’t even drive a Ford pickup.
Why don’t we borrow that amazing “we, the people” verse from the American Constitution? Come on, don’t twitch your noses, you pizza supremacists; I just said “borrow,” not “let’s close all our good restaurants and replace them with KFCs.” We Italians are amazing people. Italy is an amazing country. And it’s ready. Marriage equality should be one of our top priorities.
We’ve run out of “my dog ate my homework” excuses and alibis. The pope is retiring, but Lady Gaga has still more Twitter followers that old Benedict, which means there’s still hope. Economic crises, banks falling apart, unemployment — all countries have these issues. I remember the United States of America doing something called “the 2012 presidential elections” and still talking about civil rights. I don’t recall anyone saying (and I quote), “Gay marriage? No, thanks. It’s not in our program. It’s not a priority for this country.”
We’ve run out of good excuses for not caring. Do we really want to prove to the world that we are less civil, less human than any other country? I am ready to think strategically, to give Italy my face and my body and my charming James Franco looks and my leadership. I’m in. I’ll be Italy’s Obama. I’ll be Italy’s Hillary. I’ll be Italy’s Anderson Cooper. Gay Italians, let’s sit around a table and say, “This is our strategy. We want marriage quality. End of story.”
There’s nothing we can’t get. I’m in. Are you?