When studying abroad, depending on the country, those who identify as LGBTQIA+ must often take into account concerns their non-LGBTIA+-identifying peers may not think about. In this post, William candidly describes his experience studying abroad in Italy as a member of this community and shares advice for future LGBTQIA+ students studying abroad.
After being in Italy, mainly Florence but visiting other cities in the country as well, I feel as though I have enough experience to comment on what it’s like to study abroad in Italy as a gay person.
The intention of this post isn’t to scare or discourage any members of the community from studying abroad anywhere, let alone in Florence. Based on my experience, I honestly think Florence is one of the better cities for LGBTQIA+ people to study in. I did want to paint a better picture of what the experience would likely be for those looking into it, though, so that you weren’t going into it blind, like I did. Being abroad has still been absolutely incredible and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
First and foremost, even in a supposedly progressive city like Florence, I would highly discourage any member of the community from walking anywhere alone at night. If it’s a short distance, it might be permissible. Otherwise, it could put you in danger as there are almost always a large number of people on the streets, and unfortunately, sometimes you might receive street harassment. With most people, you can just pretend you don’t hear them and carry on without any issues.
On occasion, however, people might want to follow you and ensure they get your attention; in those cases (and any time you may want or need to walk alone at night), it’s much better to be in a group of people rather than alone. A lot of times people will try to get your attention just because they want a lighter or some money, but other times it is because they have an issue with how you are dressed and may even try to touch you or physically harass you. Again, no matter what, I recommend always traveling with a group of people if it is late at night.
Sidenote: most of my recommendations and cautions apply to heterosexual women as well, but I have noticed some differences in the way people treat heterosexual-presenting women and gay people. For instance, all of my girl friends have experienced some sort of groping, hair pulling, or unsolicited sexual advancements while in public in Florence. For those of us who are gay or present as gay, our reality is often harsher. I, for example, have experienced people spitting on me at a discoteca. My lesbian friend was once shoved out of nowhere by a man in another discoteca. We then went to her defense and deescalated the situation, but that incident likely wouldn’t have occurred has she not looked perceivably queer to this man.
In your day to day, depending on where you’re from and what you're accustomed to, your experience in public might not be that different from what you experience in Florence. Generally, I wear some slight crop tops and fitted pants; I wouldn’t consider my style to be overtly provocative or anything, but it’s pretty easily discernible that I don’t dress as a stereotypically heterosexual man. Thus, I am stared at by 95% of the people I encounter in Florence. Older Italian men during the day will literally hold each other as I walk past as if I am a threat to them. Couples will stop in their tracks to look at me. Compared to my experience in Boulder, CO, the amount of glares I receive here has increased. I carry on with my day and continue to walk with confidence, as there really isn’t any other option.
I’ve only had a couple instances where I’ve experienced confrontations from strangers in plain daylight. The main one that sticks out was when my best friend and I were on our way to shop near the Duomo and two teenage boys behind us started shouting swear words at us. We began walking faster until they started spitting, at which point we pulled out our phones. I pretended to call someone and my friend began recording them. At that point, they left and we didn’t have any other issues. Based on this experience, I recommend always keeping your phone charged and with you, and trying to always travel with at least one other person as often as possible.
William Lammons is an official CAPA blogger for fall 2022, sharing his story in frequent posts on CAPA World. An Environmental Engineering major from University of Colorado Boulder, he is studying abroad in Florence this semester. All views expressed are his own and may or may not reflect the experiences of other students.
William's journey continues all semester so stay tuned.