Queer Alliance Members Speak on Community Building and Safe Queer Spaces in Rome 


By Nino Malakmadze / News Reporter

Interviews conducted during Fall 2022 

Courtesy of Queer Alliance. 

ROME — JCU’s Queer Alliance plans for more activities off-campus to help members learn about queer-friendly spaces in Rome and support them in finding a local and safe queer community off campus.  

“Knowing safe spaces where people are free to express themselves without any fear is very important,” says Queer Alliance President, Temashengu Shabalala. “It is very important to me and other board members that people are able to build community outside of JCU.”  

The Alliance regularly offers advice to members about gay associations, health clinics and STD testing centers. One of the off-campus visits they’ve organized is a visit to the Lazzaro Spallanzani Institute in Rome, a research hospital that provides resources to fight against AIDS and assist the LGBTQ+ community with free vaccination for Monkeypox and free STD testing.  

In addition to film screenings, presentations, and conversations about the history of queer identity and other educational activities, the Alliance informs member on queer and cultural events in the city. 

Rome’s gay scene is more discreet than the places where some JCU students come from, and, outside of the Queer Alliance, new students are not well informed about queer scenes and the LGBTQ+ community in Rome, according to board members. 

“Unless you’re queer, it can seem like a sub-culture,” says Shabalala. “It feels like the seventies in New York. You’re going to these secret bars and places. They’re not really popular.” 

The Alliance says it wants to “get more literal” in introducing students to safe queer spaces in Rome. 

“We want to actually take our members to these spaces to further enrich their experience,” said Vice President Yashashwi Shahi Thakuri.  

The Queer Alliance offers an orientation and introduction to new JCU student members where they are informed and taught about the many aspects of living in Rome that they are unaware of. 

“Being queer in Rome or in Italy is not like being queer in places of the world where it’s more open, as much as it’s legal here,” said Antonia Fields, Queer Alliance member. “There’s still so much of a social and religious stigma.” 

The International Lesbian and Gay Association published its annual review this year, where Italy ranked 33rd among 49 European countries regarding legal rights for LGBTQ+ versus “gross violations of human rights and discrimination,” including “hate crime and hate speech.” Among members of the European Union, it ranked 22nd out of the 27 with Poland ranked last and Malta first. 

“Rome is a very opened city in my opinion, but it is also important to inform people of the dangers that exist on its streets,” said Shahi Thakuri. “Especially when we acknowledge the existence of people with slightly extremist views, and especially if you’re visibly queer,” he said, “but it’s something that exists everywhere else too, sadly.”  

Police records on hate crime in Italy show 83 officially cases against LGBTQ+ individuals  in 2021, but unreported numbers and information on more recent cases are still unavailable. 

“If you know where to go, the queer scene in Rome is very safe,” said Isabella Arguello, Queer Alliance Treasurer. “A lot of measures are taken by queer friendly clubs to make sure that everything is safe.” 

One of the recommended places is in Via San Giovanni in Laterano, a designated gay friendly street lined up with bars like Coming Out and The Random. Among other safe spaces are Largo Venue for drag shows and Muccassassina, a historic nightlife spot for the Roman LGBTQ+ community. 

Clubs ask for names and surnames, IDs, telephone numbers, says Arguello. “If anything happens to you, they know where to take you or who to contact.”  

An anti-hate-crime bill was proposed to the Italian Senate on March 2021 after a reported attack to a gay couple on a metro station in Rome—a bill that would make violence against LGBTQ+ individuals, women and people with disabilities, a hate crime—but it was halted seven months later over “freedom of expression concerns.”  

“Maybe it’s not life threatening, but you still could be tackled or spoken to in a mean way,” said Elias Rodriguez, Event Coordinator of the Alliance in Fall 2022. “If you seem like someone that’s very openly queer, or visibly trans man or woman, I worry a lot […] because it’s not going to be great.”  

Shahi Thakuri said that with the active visits off campus, the Queer Alliance hopes to help its members create a supporting community and inform them about the “bad sides and the good sides” of the city. 

“We learned about a lot of spaces in Rome which we can benefit from, not just bars and clubs but also hospitals and gay centers,” said new member Zara Qasim. “It’s one thing to learn this from Google, and another to get advice from people who lived here for many years and already have a community here,” she said. 

After the far-right Brothers of Italy party was elected last September in Italy, the LGBTQ+ community has spoken out about fears of how this shift disintegrates civil rights. Former leader of the Arcigay LGBT Association and member of the Gay Party, Fabrizio Marrazzo, told Reuters that there has been an increase of hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community with this shift— increasing also the difficulties to continue with anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination programs in schools.  

Even though same-sex civil union is legal in Italy since 2016 (the last country in Western Europe to legalize it), same-sex couples still do not have the same rights as married heterosexual couples, particularly when it comes to raising children. 

On March 14, an EU proposal to recognize the rights of children of gay couples and the right to an European birth certificate was voted against by the Italian Senate Committee with 11 votes in favor of rejecting the EU proposal and 7 against. The government has requested Milan City Hall to stop registering both parents from children of same-sex couples, according to AP and The Local. 

“I can only hope that Italy is not going to take itself fifty years back,” said Shabalala after the election of the far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. “But history does repeat itself, and we need to not make the mistake of thinking that, because we’re in the 21st century, 21st century ideals will prevail. It’s a matter of what Italy feels like is right for itself right now. And that does exclude a lot of people, unfortunately.” 

Spring 2023 Queer Alliance Board Members 

  • Temashengu Shabalala (President). Double-major in English Literature & Communication with Creative Writing minor. Junior student. 
  • Yashashwi Shahi Thakuri (Vice President). International Affairs major. Senior student. 
  • Isabella Arguello-Matoi (Treasurer). Classics major with Creative Writing minor, Junior student. 
  • Lorenzo Polverari (PR and Social Media Manager). Communications major with Gender Studies minor, Senior student. 
  • Ash Harper (Events Coordinator): Psychology major, Sophomore student. 

Contact the Queer Alliance at queeralliance@johncabot.edu or follow them on Instagram @queeralliancejcu. 

JCU 2019 Spotlight on Queer Alliance 

PBS Newshour: LGBTQ community works to bring acceptance and joy amid increasing threats 

ILGA-Europe – the European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association