Martina's brother is gay - but her fight for LGBT+ rights started before she even knew that. And as a straight woman, she considers it essential to be an ally to the LGBT+ community.
How are LGBT people portrayed in Italy?
Italians tend to have prejudice against gay people because they think they are less of a man than a straight man. The culture of macho men is a problem for gay people, women and also for straight men because actually this culture gives the idea that if you want to be a real man you have to enter the idea of the macho man. So you have to like football, you have to speak with women as if you owned them, and so on.
You and friends co-founded the first ever gay association of your university. Tell us about this.
We wanted to create a place safe for LGBT people. There are a lot of LGBT people in Rome, in the university, and we wanted to have moments of fun and political debate. The first aim of this association was to create a group to make these people feel safe, to make them understand how normal their sexuality or identity really are.
The second aim was to form the future generations of the university. Our school always says that the political class will arrive from us, that we are the future. We want them to speak up and defend diversity in general against LGBT discrimination, homophobia, transphobia or protecting women’s rights.
We were 20 people and decided to create an association to support gay and lesbian people who come to Rome, and to raise awareness in our own school. We spoke to the general director about it, and he agreed. I became the president of the association, and being a straight woman, we wanted to show that LGBT rights involved everyone, including straight people. From there, we did activities, conferences, cine-forums, events. We wanted our members to know they were free, had support and were not alone. After a while, a lot of our members started coming out to their parents - they said we had helped in giving them the tools they needed to do this. To us that was our biggest achievement.
What happened after the LGBT association was created in your university?
Two years after the association was created, my brother came out to me and told me he was gay. Back then I did not know he was. We had gone to the Rome Pride parade together, but he hadn’t told me yet. So from that period on, I started to be more determined in respect of before, because every time I was talking about LGBT questions, I was now talking about my brother.
What happened to the association after you left?
I left the association 3 years ago now, and sometimes the members will give me information and update me, because that association is like a child to me. They tell me about the activities that have changed, the debates they have… Last year for example, they invited Monica Cirinna, the senator thanks to who Italy voted for civil partnerships last year. She’s another straight woman who fights for LGBT rights, so to me it really meant something.
How did your family react when they found out you were the president of the LGBT association?
When I started being an activist, my parents didn’t understand why I was so passionate towards these issues. My Mom would ask me if it was because I was lesbian, which obviously I’m not. But when we created the association, they were really proud of me. My father showed a lot of support, even through social media and he would talk to his surroundings about these issues.
Then my brother’s coming out gained a lot of support from my parents too. We own a small market in Sicily, and everytime clients would say negative things about gay people, they would always react and ask that people not speak like this and would ask them to apologize. They’re activists of their own now, I guess.
We have a younger sister too, and from a very young age she had started listening to us talking about these subjects. She talks about it with her friends at school, and anytime someone disrespects LGBT people she gets angry. It has been very natural talking about these questions with her. This made me believe that the key to change society is to talk with children, because for them it’s easier to understand. Adults on the other hand think of so many reasons why they oppose these ideas (religion, God, unnatural etc.) but to a child, it’s very simple.