A wild election year in Italy just became even more unhinged.
After the anti-establishment and pro-nationalist political groups pulled a major upset in the country’s parliamentary race, a leading journalist and art critic outed one of the highest-ranking officials in Italy’s new government.
In an interview broadcast on national television, writer Vittorio Sgarbi claimed Luigi Di Maiohead of the populist Five Star Movementis gay. Known for his outlandish remarks, Sgarbi frequently savaged the 31-year-old leader throughout the already-heated electoral campaigns.
Last Wednesday he pretended to apologize for the remarks in a sit down with the news channel RAI 2while casually dropping unfounded allegations about Di Maio’s sexual orientation.
“In reality, I am sorry to have attacked this young man, who by the way is also tender and has such noble sentiments,” Sgarbi said, mockingly. “I recently discovered that he has a boyfriend, [De Maio spokesperson] Vincenzo Spadafora. I’m happy to finally have a gay premier, so serene and affectionate and smiling.”
Claiming that it was “laudatory” to have a gay leader in Parliament, the politician-turned-journalist added that he didn’t think Di Maio had “anything to be ashamed of.”
“We have laws that protect gay couples,” Sgarbi said.
The 65-year-old, who once served as the mayor of Salemi and a minister in Italy’s Parliament, has previously compared Di Maio to everything from a barnyard animal to fecal matter. In past tirades launched against the political leader, Sgarbi referred to his nemesis as a “cockroach,” “slimy worm,” “ignorant goat,” and “fried fart.”
In his most famous assault on Di Maio, the writer suggested his rival would be a fitting substitute for laxative.
“Use Di Maio, the laxative that won’t let you down, the laxative that will help you,” Sgarbi said in a short video filmed while he was sitting on the toilet. “Want a great shit? Use Di Maio.”
But outing a major political leader may prove one low-blow too many for the inflammatory public figure. Revealing someone’s sexual orientation without their permission is widely viewed as unethical, harmful, and dangerous by members of the LGBTQ community. Being outed is known to correlate with higher rates of suicidal ideation and self-harm.
Essay Anne Vanderbilt, a reclusive scientist known for the invention of a “magical putter,” took her own life in fear of being revealed as trans in a 2014 Grantland article. Tyler Clementi, a gay freshman at Rutgers, ended his life in 2010 after his roommates leaked video of him being intimate with another student.
The ethics of Sgarbi’s comments are likely to be lost on him. He is often known to stoop to homophobic rhetoric when criticizing opponentsor even a bridge he doesn’t like.
It remains to be seen, however, if the remarks will have any impact on the tense political situation in which Italy finds itself. Although the Five-Star Movementalso known as Movimento Cinque Stellewon the largest share of votes in the 2018 elections, it failed to win a majority at 31 percent.
In order to govern effectively, Di Maio’s party will be tasked with forming a coalition with the Northern League (or Lega Nord), a far-right nationalist group which ran on anti-immigrant sentiment. The League boasted 18 percent of votes cast in the parliamentary racewhich placed it in line with the center-left Partito Democratico (19 percent) and ahead of Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia (14 percent).
The Five-Star Movement, which was founded nine years ago, campaigned on the rampant unemployment in the South of Italyblaming the Democratic Party for a sluggish economic recovery.
But both parties share a xenophobic, anti-EU focus. The Northern League has lobbied to send hundreds of thousands of migrants back to their home countries, while Five-Star Movement Founder Beppe Grillo wants all immigrants expelled from Italy. The two groups have called for a referendum on whether Italy should remain in the European Unionbut later backed off that pledge.
Di Maio does not appear ready to make the compromises necessary to join with nationalist groups. Declaring Five-Star Movement “the absolute winner,” he has rejected the notion of a coalition.
The leader has not responded to Sgarbi’s homophobic comments at the time of writing.
Photo via PIERO CRUCIATTI/AFP/Getty Images