In his latest book, Italian radio host Fabio Canino points fingers at Italy for being one of the slowest Western countries at granting rights to queer minorities. Yet, his readers may have missed the point. Rather than focusing on its hilarious puns, they might want to think through its true aim—shedding light on serious political and social issues.
Canino took the concept of the so-called “pink economy”—the estimated economic power of the global LGBTQ community—and imagined a worldwide gay community so rich that it can afford an entire country.
In Rainbow Republic, a satirical novel published last year, the global gay community purchases Greece, brought down by its public debt crisis, and turns it into the world’s only gay republic. Ulisse Amedei, an Italian journalist, travels to the newly re-established Greece to report on the drastic changes brought to the country by its new owners.
What Amedei finds in Greece astonishes him. In order to get a visa to enter the country, visitors must prove that they are “gay friendly.” A new currency has replaced the euro: the dragma (a parody of the drachma, with a different drag queen on each banknote). Alongside the regular police force are the Police of Good Taste, who make sure people respect a stylish dress code. Among the ministers—all women—there is a minister of the heterosexuals (ministro degli etero; a pun on ministro degli esteri, foreign minister) and a minister of the icons, who decides which celebrities are worthy of the title “gay icon.” The country trades and holds diplomatic relations only with a select list of countries, which does not include Italy—one of the “homophobic” countries with which the budding gay republic will have nothing to do.
“It’s a gay dystopian novel,” said Canino, 53, at a presentation of the book at New York University’s Casa Italiana in early February. The author said that he does not want a country where LGBTQ people are “closed into a ghetto”, adding that he “would like that everything that I imagined in the book could happen anywhere.”
Canino is one of the few openly gay radio and television hosts in a country where LGBTQ issues are often still taboo. The Italian press covered the release of Rainbow Republic, but articles and reviews featured the book’s light, humorous content.
What Italian readers seem to be avoiding is that Canino’s dystopian world exposes Italy as a backwards, closed-minded society ruled by an exclusive government that does not protect the rights of its minorities.
In one scene of the book, Khloe, the beautiful guide who takes Amedei and his photographer to explore Greece, refers to Italy as the “Italo-Vatican Republic.”
Amedei gets irritated: “Until proven otherwise, Italy remains Italy. The Vatican is a state to itself,” he corrects her.
The Greek guide fights back, leaving the visitors speechless: “Formally, the Vatican is a state to itself, true, but if we consider the influence it has on your politics, we can safely say that it almost seems that the true president of the Italian Republic is the pope … His statements on civil rights, education, foreign policy and economics are always quite influential.”
The way the book portrays Italy is not so far from reality.
Italy was one of the last member states of the European Union to legalize gay marriage. But that legislation, passed by Matteo Renzi’s Democratic government in 2016, is flawed: it differentiated between “marriage” and same-sex “civil unions,” and failed to legalize same-sex adoption due to opposition from the Five Star Movement. Furthermore, there is no law in sight that would criminalize hate speech or offenses motivated by homophobia.
The Vatican’s influence on the Italian political establishment has made Italy much slower than its Western neighbors to grant LGBTQ citizens the rights they deserve. Although things might be changing (slightly) with Pope Francis I, in the short history of the Italian Republic, the Church has rarely hesitated to comment on Italian political issues, whether divorce, abortion, or same-sex adoption.
But Rainbow Republic is not just about politics. It’s also about society and culture. Canino himself described how it feels to be a well-known gay personality in Italy: “Every time an Italian newspaper mentions me, the journalist always labels me as ‘openly gay.’ I hope one day they will label others as ‘openly straight.’”
Photo courtesy of Fabio Canino.