"Italy is a free country, but there's still so much homophobia, and those who hate must think about the consequences of their words and actions and deal with the consciences."
"Your message has been received Simone, I can assure you this much. You did it. With your action you've made people understand that whoever finds themselves a target in this society must ask for help."
It seems like an exchange of messages that Simone and his sister Ilaria could've had on their phones or while having coffee in Rome, their hometown. Instead, Simone's message was the last thing he wrote before jumping off an 11-story building, because he believed that he would never be accepted for what he was: a 21-year-old gay man in Italy.
Ilaria said during Simone's funeral:
Once upon a time, there was an ugly duckling with a fragile body. He was different from everybody else. He was bullied. The duckling wandered with no a place to go, weak and feeling inferior. Yes, he was an ugly duckling, but his heart was good, and he was destined to become a beautiful swan. His was a sad journey, but one with a positive outcome. Do you remember this story, Simone? This was your favorite. No one likes to feel different, but you had people who supported you and who gave you strength when you were in distress. You always said to me, "I'll go my own way, and I'll be always proud of what I am."
Pride wasn't enough to help Simone handle the Italian anti-gay mood, nor was it enough for Stefano or Andrea, who committed suicide early this year in Rome. His choice was tragic and ultimate.
Simone's death is a sign that Italy is becoming an increasingly intolerant country, a country where we are still waiting for an anti-homophobia law to be approved. We're not talking about utopian marriage equality; we are simply pushing for an anti-discrimination law that should have been adopted long ago, when we declared ourselves a free republic. Just sayin'. Parliament is still discussing a ridiculous anti-homophobia law promoted by gay activist and member of Parliament Ivan Scalfarotto; the law is so rife with jurisdictional holes and so neutral that it's been called "the Switzerland Gruyère amendment." In short, it is a law that will end up protecting party members and Catholic organizations on "freedom of speech" grounds, leaving the doors open to further anti-gay propaganda. It stands to reason that the only ones protected by this law will be those who would curse homosexuality in the media as contrary to nature and sinful. But these are the folks who must "think about the consequences of their words and actions."
Last week, a vigil for Simone was held by activists in Rome. Pictures of candles made their way around the digital world, no doubt reaching those whom Simone referred to in his final message. But despite the fact that many view the mourning of "one of us" as a sacred act, I don't want Simone to set an example; I don't want Simone to become a martyr for this cause. I'd prefer to see no candles, no tears, no marching in the middle of the night, no grief; I'd prefer to see warriors. I'd like to see strength and unity, and I'd like to see reaction and determination.
We need to stop counting victims and start counting heroes. We need heroes in our gay cause. I wrote at the Italian version of Dan Savage's popular It Gets Better Project:
[H]eroes work under the light of the sun. Heroes are not scared. Think about Christopher Columbus; he didn't discover America locked in the hold of his ship, did he? Leonardo da Vinci didn't make his machine fly without leaving the studio, did he? A war was never won fighting just behind the barrels, was it? So come out and bring your courage. That will change your world, and you'll be a hero. And I know it's true that from every hero's great power comes great responsibility, and sometimes great pain and great trouble too. But nothing compares to the joy of all the good things you can achieve using your hero's power for good. It doesn't take a genius to realize this world is in desperate need for heroes. You're not alone; you're surrounded by heroes just like you. To kick your bully in the ass, you just need the power of those around you -- your mother, your friend, your teacher. You need to ask for help. Those people will save you. Their power is to make things better.
This must be a wake-up call for all heroes, not just Italian ones. Thousands of kids around the world feel alone and lonely. They are bullied; they are called names; they are the object of hate and discrimination. Thousands believe that their lives will never get better, and that the misery and exclusion they are in won't ever stop. Be their hero. Don't jump. Stick around. This world is in desperate need of heroes just like you.