As part of our global mission to find the Supergays, we take an hour long taxi ride to the suburbs of Buenos Aires and walk up to the spacious gated home of haute couture designer, Roberto Piazza. Like the city of Buenos Aires itself, he is sexy, stylish, and alluring. At age 53, Roberto still has the presence of a glamorous rock star.
For the past 25 years, Roberto Piazza has led the industry in his formalwear for Argentina's high society women. "Women who buy a Piazza dress want to feel unique, marvelous, and colorful," says Roberto, "I never make black clothing."
As an outspoken activist who welcomes controversy and open dialogue, Roberto is also one of Argentina's Supergays. Most people know Roberto and his husband, Walter, from their televised civil union in 2008 before marriage equality laws passed. Held in a popular gay club, they invited 3,000 guests and 200 people from the media.
Roberto says, "We were on every TV channel in Latin America, Spain and Italy. In reality, there was no necessity [for the civil union] because I had already arranged everything with Walter in the 12 years we've been together. But we wanted to do something in order to mobilize society. My psychologist says that I am an irritator of society. I think that's right, especially in this society where nobody wants to say [certain] things."
At the time, the wedding wasn't well received by everyone. He says, "We are public figures, but the public does not own us. But as public people, we have to give certain messages that sometimes bugs people. Our marriage gave a strong message."
Roberto says that he received as much hate mail as messages of support. He says, "The people hated us, and they insulted us anonymously. People are cowards. There was a popular photo [used in the media] in which we were giving an little innocent kiss, and people said that it disgusted them. But if I am having a civil union, at the very least I am going to kiss him [Walter]. I am not going to shake his hand."
Having had a very difficult childhood, Roberto learned to survive and speak up for himself. He says, "I was born into an old Italian family. My brother sexually abused me from the age of 6 to 17-years-old. My mom and dad knew. I had many suicide attempts." At age 16, Roberto began working with fashion. He says, "I left the house at age 18 because my father wanted to kill me. My mother said, 'Get out of here. He is going to kill you.' So I left. I was fairly brave."
In 2008 Roberto wrote a best-selling memoir in Argentina called Corte y Confesion in which he tells the story of his childhood sexual abuse. He also started a foundation that fights against child abuse. He was able to change a law in Argentina that extends the time children can bring their abusers to court.
Roberto says, "Many people ask how I have healed. It is a day-to-day struggle. I always explain that the only salvation is art. Even though my dad did not approve, I dedicated myself to the art of women's fashion."
View clips from our interview with Roberto and see why Argentina is a model of equality in Latin America.
He tells me, "If you are struggling for any reason, you have to have an artistic activity. This was my salvation to not kill myself or not do bad things. I have done it all in my life. I have never been a saint nor will I be one. But I have never hurt anyone. I've done whatever I've wanted as long as it doesn't bother others. Thanks be to God, I was saved by my own art."
Roberto is highly critical of Argentina society and says, "We struggle everyday with a society that can be hypocritical, false and discriminatory. Within Argentina there are people who are marvelous -- very few, but [they are] marvelous."
Roberto came across homophobia in public when he was interviewed by Mirtha Legrand, a nationally known talk show host during prime time television. In a discussion around gay adoption, she asked Roberto whether he might feel tempted to sexually abuse a child if he were to adopt. Outraged, Roberto later received a public apology on television.
When asked about the interview he says, "I look for justice, not revenge." He points out how much homosexuality and pedophilia is incorrectly associated. He says, "I am a son of a straight couple. It is not my choice to be gay. I was born this way. Women who are abused do not turn into whores. Men who are abused do not turn into gay men or pedophiles."
Now that the laws have changed in Argentina allowing adoption, Roberto considers raising a daughter in the future with Walter. He tells me, "All that people didn't do for me, I would do for my child. Because I learned exactly how not to be raised."
Roberto will make his fashion debut in the U.S. this weekend with a fashion show in Los Angeles.
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