Note: This piece was originally published on HuffPost Italy.
The first impression people get when they meet Ettore is that they’re facing a typical Southern Italian professor in retirement. His silvery hair, thick glasses, and expression, which is severe at times, all work together to convince you you're facing a typical seventy-something man -- someone who might be inflexible about what's outside social norms. The last thing you would expect would be to sit down in a café with him and hear him talk passionately about defending the rights of gay people.
In a way, your first impression might be more right than you knew. Not too long ago, Ettore’s opinion on the subject of homosexuality was quite different. But now a few years have gone by since his two children, then a 17-year-old boy and a 14-year-old girl, walked into the family kitchen where Ettore and his wife Anna were sitting and told them: “Mom, dad, we're gay.”
“It was a shock. I believed they'd chosen to become homosexuals, and I couldn't accept their decision,” said Ettore during an interview with The Huffington Post's Italian outpost. “I was full of resentment for the expectations I'd built around them, and that simple sentence tore me apart. Marriage, the chance of having grandkids… I started to feel afraid of touching my son, afraid of AIDS. I took them to see a psychotherapist for seven years, trying to ‘cure’ them. They didn't want to go, but they did just to make me happy.”
Ettore and his wife Anna on the Facebook page for Rome's Pride Parade
The hardest part about accepting his children being gay was admitting it to others, Ettore says.
“You walk into a public place and whenever you see someone laughing, you become convinced they're laughing at you. You feel like everyone’s eyes are on you. Lots of people think that kids become gay because of they way they've been raised, and I felt like I was being judged for that. I was ashamed.”
There are a few people just like that in the café where we’re sitting together, talking. The room is small, and unless you whisper, people throughout the room can hear what the others are saying. Ettore, though, isn't whispering. He’s not ashamed anymore, not afraid others will hear. For the past few years he’s been the president of Agedo, the Italian association of parents of gay people. He fights to see that the rights of LGBT people get recognized, and helps other families who find themselves in the same situation he experienced, teaching them how to overcome difficulties and become familiar with homosexuality.
“I’d never really heard anyone talk seriously about homosexuality before I started learning more about it after my kids come out to me,” says Ettore. “I was a professor for twenty years, but no one had ever told me Oscar Wilde and Michelangelo were both gay. I’d never studied homosexuality in science. I lived with stereotypes. In the end, I saw that my children were good kids before they came out, and that they continued to be good kids afterwards too. They didn’t seem any different to me.”
After seven years with the psychotherapist, Ettore finally realized he was making a mistake, that it was “a mistake to try and influence someone else’s identity.” Today he enjoys a marvelous relationship with his children, Pasquale and Margherita. His son lives in Rome, while his daughter lives in France, where the laws provide her with a few more rights than she might enjoy at home. Ettore wants to see those laws become a reality in Italy too.
“As a parent, you want your kids to be put in a position where they can realize their life plans, their projects. You want them to be able to marry and have kids. These rights don’t exist in Italy. Every law that’s put up for a vote is never carried through and put into effect due to electoral conveniences. I don’t want to watch politicians play for votes at my children’s expense. As a parent, I can’t help but try and fight on their behalf.”