Massimo Consoli [1946-2007],
attivista & storico italiano gay
Massimo Consoli [1946-2007],
Italian gay activist & historian
On Sunday, 4 November 2007, a veritable great leader of the Italian
gay movement, Massino Consoli, died as a result of cancer.
He will be long remembered not only for his high-profile gay activism
but also for his finely-researched historical gay studies.
As his own name indicates, he was an amazingly passionate person, who
epitomized Maximum Consuls, within the many GLBT political, social,
educational and cultural spheres in which he so energetically
participated, for over 40 years.
Massimo was also considerably kind and generous; I had a brief email
correspondence with him about 5 years ago, in which he carefully
clarified for me some specific questions that I had posed concerning
Karl Ulrichs [1825-1895], the pioneering German theorist and fighter
for homosexual emancipation, who is buried in Aquila, Italy; whose
written works and tomb-site were caringly regarded by Massimo.
Massimo Consoli will be sorely missed, but he will also be fondly
remembered by numerous gay people, in Italy and throughout the world,
for many generations to come.
Published on Thursday, 8 November 2007
"Massimo Consoli, an Italian Gay Giant is Dead"
... By DOUG IRELAND
Massimo Consoli, known as the father of the Italian gay movement,
died on Sunday, November 4, 2007, at the age of 61 after a long
battle against cancer.
Called "Papa Max" by his closest gay friends - in Italian, "Papa"
means both "Daddy" and "Pope" - Consoli was a prolific writer,
theorist, and self-trained historian with 40 books to his credit,
mostly on homosexual subjects, as well as an indefatigable archivist
of materials on homosexuality. He was also a tireless and talented
lifelong organizer who pioneered the first modern Italian gay
The leading Italian daily, La Repubblica, in its front-page obituary
on Consoli, noted that his many friends included the Italian cultural
giant Pier Paolo Pasolini, who was a poet, novelist, literary critic,
playwright, and filmmaker who celebrated homosexuality in his work;
the novelist Alberto Moravia; the gay neo-Symbolist poet Dario
Bellazza, whose poems are suffused with homosexuality, and who was
considered by many Pasolini's cultural heir; and the openly gay
French anthropologist Alain Danielou, a noted expert on India.
He originally studied to be an accountant, but after a long crisis
over his homosexuality Consoli abandoned his university studies to
consecrate his life to those he considered his gay "brothers and
sisters." He thought it unjust, he later wrote, "that anyone should
have to suffer uselessly just because he loved someone of his own
In 1963 - six years before the Stonewall rebellion in New York City -
Consoli, a lifelong anarchist, formed a discussion group, La
Rivoluzione E' Verde (The Revolution is Green), around the themes of
sexual discrimination and social injustice. In 1966 he launched
another gay group, the Associazione Culturale Roma-1. The name "Roma-
1" did not refer to Italy's capital city, but was a secret acronym
for Rivolta Omosessuale dei Maschi Anarchici - Prima fase (Homosexual
Revolt of Male Anarchists - First phase).
"Now if you're gay, you just look up an organization in the phone
book," Consoli told journalist Elisabetta Povoledo last year, noting
that when he was growing up he was forced to send furtive letters to
gay magazines abroad, looking to make contacts.
"There was a sense of sin to it all then," he added, "and any meeting
was potentially dangerous. It was difficult - you have to understand
how it was, we lived in terror. Everything was banned; it was all
clandestine, people can't believe that today."
Consoli's precocious gay activism quickly led him into confrontations
with the Italian state and the Catholic Church, and as early as
October 1967 the Italian counter-espionage service, SID (Servizio
Informazioni Difesa), began a file on him. His neighbors were
interrogated about his visitors and his habits. This investigation
caused him to give up his teaching position in a Roman school and to
move to the Netherlands in 1969.
As related by Consoli's friend Dr. Hubert Kennedy, a research
associate at the Center for Research and Education in Sexuality at
San Francisco State University, "Consoli's reason for relocating was
threefold: (1) he wished to publish an ideological document that
would stimulate the birth of a homosexual movement; (2) he knew this
was not possible in Italy (since he was already under police
surveillance, he could expect a violent reaction to any such
publication); and (3) the Netherlands seemed at that time to be the
most open to homosexual political action."
Thus, Kennedy wrote, in the glbtq.com online encyclopedia, "The
resulting document, published in 1971, became known as Manifesto Gay;
its original title was "Manifesto per la Rivoluzione Morale:
l'Omosessualità Rivoluzionaria" ("Manifesto for the Moral Revolution:
Revolutionary Homosexuality"). It was a programmatic document meant
to furnish the basis for an Italian gay liberation movement, such as
had already been established in France, the Netherlands, Germany, and
the United States. The work succeeded in stimulating the formation of
gay organizations in Italy."
The most important of those organizations was the Fronte Unitario
Omosessuale Rivoluzionario Italiano (Italian Revolutionary Homosexual
United Front), better known by its acronym, FUORI! - meaning "Come
out!" in Italian, and which explicitly stated that it was inspired by
Consoli's Manifesto. One of the key organizers of FUORI!, which in
1971 emerged almost simultaneously in Rome, Turin, and Milan, was
Mario Mieli, a radical student leader of the 1968 generation and
another pioneering Italian gay theorist who had already participated
in London's Gay Liberation Front.
Mieli went on to write an influential Marxist account of
homosexuality and homosexual oppression, "Elementi di critica
omissible" (1977), translated into English in 1980 as "Homosexuality
and Liberation: Elements of a Gay Critique." After Mieli's early
death in 1983 at the age of 33, the largest gay organization in Rome
changed its name to Circolo di Cultura Omosessuale Mario Mieli ( the
Mario Mieli Homosexual Cultural Circle), which is today still an
important gay institution and cultural center.
Mieli was also Consoli's good friend.
Consoli participated in - and often organized - many of the most
significant gay events in Italy. For example, he took part in the Gay
May Day in Rome in 1972. He organized the first annual Italian
commemoration of New York City's Stonewall riots on June 28, 1976, at
a time when most of the participants had no idea what "Stonewall"
meant. Throughout the 1970s he organized hundreds of conferences,
exhibitions, book presentations, theatrical spectacles, and political
demonstrations. In 1976 he defied a police ban to organize a public
demonstration on the first anniversary of the assassination of his
friend Pier Paolo Pasolini.
Consoli was in New York in 1981, where he became a good friend of
pioneer gay and AIDS activist Vito Russo, when the first cases of
what would become known as AIDS were announced. Immediately
recognizing the danger of the epidemic, Consoli wrote an article for
publication in Italy calling the disease "the plague of the 20th
century." He subsequently gave up a lucrative position in New York to
return to Italy and launch education campaigns for safer sex.
Consoli was the first person to request a meeting with the Roman
police regarding crimes against gays. (The police commissioner later
said that it was due to his work that these crimes were drastically
reduced.) He also met with the mayor of Rome to request - and obtain -
the appointment of a liaison officer to the gay and lesbian
In 1989, Consoli founded the magazine Gay News Rome.
In 1992, he organized a demonstration at the Vatican to protest the
anti-gay letter written by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope
Benedict XVI, to the U. S. bishops entitled "Some Considerations
Concerning the Catholic Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-
Discrimination of Homosexual Persons," which described homosexuality
as a "tendency ordered towards an intrinsic moral evil" and
recommended banning gays as teachers and coaches, as well as other
As a gay historian, Consoli was particularly devoted to the memory of
the pioneering German theorist and fighter for homosexual
emancipation Karl Ulrichs (1825-1895). In 1867, Ulrichs became the
first self-proclaimed homosexual to speak out publicly in defense of
homosexuality when he pleaded at the Congress of German Jurists in
Munich for a resolution urging the repeal of anti-homosexual laws.
Ulrichs published a dozen books proclaiming that homosexuality -
which, invoking Plato's "Symposium," he baptized "Uranian love" (from
the Greek urianos, or "heavenly love") - was normal and natural, and
arguing that Uranians should have full social and legal equality with
heterosexuals, including the right to marry.
Ulrichs' books - two of which Consoli translated into Italian - had
worldwide influence. For example, Oscar Wilde and his friends
embraced both Ulrichs' philosophy and his Uranian language when they
founded a secret Uranian organization, the Order of Chaeronea, to
fight for legalization of homosexuality. And in his eye-opening 2005
revisionist biography , "The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde," which
details Wilde's hitherto ignored gay activism, the British historian
Neil McKenna demonstrates that "the very title of 'The Importance of
Being Earnest' is a Uranian pun. ... Among less literary
Uranians, 'earnest' - a corruption of the French uraniste - enjoyed a
short vogue as a coded signifier of Uranian inclinations - as in 'is
he earnest?' to mean 'is he gay?' "
Ulrichs spent the last 15 years of his life in Italy. After
rediscovering the tomb of Ulrichs in Aquila (about 50 miles northeast
of Rome) in 1988, Consoli began annual pilgrimages there on August
28, Ulrichs' birthday, which grew from a handful of participants to
large gatherings that attracted gay activists from all over Europe.
Last year, thanks to Consoli's efforts, a statue to Ulrichs was
erected at his grave, an event that received international media
Consoli's other important books include "Homocaust," a massive
account of the Nazi persecution of homosexuals, which made available
for the first time in Italian the violently anti-gay speeches of Nazi
leaders. On the wall outside Consoli's study was a framed letter from
Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal thanking him for writing the book.
Consoli also wrote "Ecce Homo," an account of homosexuality in the
Bible; and an autobiography, "Affetti Speciali" (1999), which records
the birth and progress of the Italian gay movement.
"I've lived the history of the gay movement - it's inside me,"
Consoli told the International Herald-Tribune when it profiled him
last year. And, he added, "I feel like a historian, but I was forced
to be an activist."
The newspaper called the autodidact Consoli an "exact researcher."
Consoli's favorite among his books, "Andata & Ritorno" (2003), is an
autobiographical novel in which the protagonist's serious illness
prompts a review of earlier periods of his life.
Not long before his death, Consoli completed work on a soon-to-be-
published biography of the German gay writer Kurt Hiller (1875-1972),
a pioneer homosexual liberationist and close colleague of Magnus
Hirschfeld who, in 1929, succeeded Hirschfeld as chairman of the gay
organization he'd founded, the Scientific Humanitarian Committee,
which fought for repeal of the infamous Paragraph 175, Germany's law
In 1998, Consoli's huge archive of gay materials and personal papers
was acquired by the State Archive of Italy's Ministry of Culture -
but only after Consoli had threatened to take the archive out of the
country if the state would not agree to conserve it.
At Consoli's death, openly gay Member of Parliament Franco Grillini -
co-founder in 1985 of Arcigay, which with some 200,000 members is now
Italy's largest national gay organization - said, "Massimo told with
energy and passion, in many texts and essays, the reality of gay and
lesbian life both in Italy and internationally, and its history. He
has been a tireless promoter of the spread of gay culture in Italy.
The death of Consoli, with his example of vision and courage, is a
serious loss for the Italian LGBT movement and the culture of our
country. We promise that we will carry on the many works of Massimo
which remained unfinished."
After reposing for public tribute at the Rome offices of Arcigay,
Consoli's body will be buried in the non-Catholic cemetery of Rome,
at his request next to the body of his dearest friend, the poet
Bellazza, who died of AIDS in 1996.
Massimo Consoli maintained an extensive Web site, including many of
his hundreds of articles in both the mainstream and gay press, at
cybercore.com/consoli/ . It will be kept up by his friends.
... Doug Ireland can be reached through his website