Remembering Italy's Island of Lost Gays

6.13.2013

By Neal Broverman

During the time of Mussolini, Italy exiled 45 gay men to an archipelago in the Adriatic Sea.

A group of LGBT activists recently laid down a plaque in Italy's Tremiti Islands to commemorate 45 gay men exiled there before World War II.

The story of the men is little-known to the world: 75 years ago, Benito Mussolini's fascist regime helped create a climate of homophobia that led to a group of Sicilian men, all from the city of Catania, being pulled from their homes and sent to live in San Domino, one of Italy's rocky Tremiti Islands. The men were handcuffed off their boat and led to sparse living quarters without running water or electricity. The men were not allowed to leave their dormitories after 8 p.m.

While some letters describe anguish from some of the men, Tremiti children alive at the time have fond memories of the political prisoners and an unearthed interview with one of the San Domino men said their lives were not all bad.

"In those days if you were a femminella [a slang Italian word for a gay man] you couldn't even leave your home, or make yourself noticed - the police would arrest you," Giuseppe B., a gay man exiled to San Domino, told a magazine in an interview from years ago. "On the island, on the other hand, we would celebrate our Saint's days or the arrival of someone new... We did theatre, and we could dress as women there and no-one would say anything."

Not surprisingly, there were many romances among the exiles and fights over lovers. Some even burst into tears when they were forced to leave San Domino at the outset of World War II. Read more here about the San Domino men, and click here for information on visiting the Tremitis.

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