How can two successful, openly gay men like Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana take a public stand against LGBTQ families? As you have no doubt heard, in an interview with the Italian magazine Panorama, the fashion duo recently denounced the “artificiality” of LGBTQ families, a stance that drew outrage from all around the world. Thanks to prominent contributions from celebrities like Elton John and Ricky Martin, the #BoycottDolceGabbana protest campaign blew up on Twitter. In the interview, they expressed opposition to adoption and espoused negative views of “nontraditional families.” Dolce claimed there is a sharp division between children who are the product of “an act of love” and were “born to a mother and a father” and gay couples’ children, who are “children of chemistry, synthetic children. [Products of] uteri [for] rent, semen chosen from a catalog.” (For some reason, they don’t seem aware that the use of IVF isn’t limited to gay couples.)
All this could be chalked up to freedom of speech, as Dolce and Gabbana themselves suggest in their follow-up interview with Il Corriere, where they call Elton John’s declarations “unenlightened” and “ignorant.” But the outrage that followed their initial statements is inextricably linked with the situation of gay families in Italy. Being among the very few openly gay celebrities in Italy, Dolce and Gabbana are aware of the profound effects their words have in their home country, where, as I wrote recently, there is an ongoing political debate about civil partnership for same-sex couples. Dolce’s words are not just personal statements, they represent commonly held views about the lower social value of nontraditional families, views that are currently being used to oppose pro-LGBTQ legislation in Italy. (They also help explain why it was so difficult to access IVF in Italy for many years.)
As prominent members of the Italian right who have always been keen to avoid lending support to the promotion of LGBTQ civil rights, Dolce and Gabbana’s words reflect a political willingness to defend one particular version of the traditional Italian family. Not surprisingly, right-wing parties have welcomed their declarations and have used them as proof that even Italian gays do not see gay families as “normal.” As an example of how politically contested this terrain is for gay Italians, Giuliano Federico, the director of Dolce & Gabbana’s magazine, courageously decided to resign following the publication of the interview. He wrote, “I’m proud of being Italian, proud of our past and traditions, but I believe that Italy can look toward a more modern and equal future for our citizens and children. All children.”
As was the case when the president of Barilla made disparaging remarks about homosexuals, public opposition is focused on a commercial boycott, although unlike Barilla, D&G is not a product that the average Italian uses. It’s important to note that the protest is led by few affluent people, public personalities who make up the bulk of of D&G’s customers.
Ironically, class also comes into play, because to the average Italian who cannot afford to have babies abroad, Dolce and Gabbana are the ultimate hypocrites. In 2005, they appeared on the cover of the Italian edition of Vanity Fair declaring that they were “flirting” with the idea of creating a family. To be fair, in that interview Dolce also declares his skepticism about nontraditional families and is vocal about his choice, though he dismisses the fact that having babies is simply not possible for the average Italian gay couple.
There is one thing that money can’t buy for Dolce and Gabbana, though: an exemption from the belief that it is impossible to have a “normal family” in Italy if you happen to have been born gay. In 2005, Dolce told Vanity Fair: “Yes, of course I would like to have a child. However … I have the small problem of being gay. Having a child is not possible, and I have come to terms with that.” This sense that being gay limits what is possible came up again in this week’s Panorama interview, where he says, “I am gay, I can’t have a child. I guess you cannot have everything in life. Sometimes it is beautiful to be deprived of something. Life has a natural course, some things cannot be changed. One is the family.”
Personally, I understand why these fiftysomething men, who grew up in Italy decades ago and have described the difficulties they experienced coming out (in Sicily in Dolce’s case), feel an inescapable sense of not fitting in with the traditional and over-romanticised view of the “normal” Italian family. That’s a depressingly common experience. Still, their active promotion of a traditional vision of the family (the very reason for the interview with Panorama was to promote their new project called #DGfamily) shows a desperate attempt to “sleep with the enemy” in order to fit in. What they don’t understand is that public declarations by prominent gay personalities like them decrease the chances of a less monolithic view of family emerging. Especially, but not exclusively, for LGBTQ people like them.