In an act of peaceful protest, the women took a selfie while kissing in front of the country’s far-right deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini
In one moment, all it took to challenge hate and discrimination was a simple kiss. Right now, Italy is a country where xenophobia, homophobia, and far-right sentiments have been resurrected by some of its most powerful political parties. In a peaceful, loving act, two women took a selfie as they kissed in front of one of Italy’s most conservative politicians, deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini. Salvini is the leader of the anti-immigrant, xenophobic, anti-LGBTQ+ League party. The picture went viral in just a few hours. Gaia, one of the two girls, tells Dazed: “All we wanted was to make a statement against Salvini’s discrimination of the LGBTQ+ community in Italy. And although we are not a couple, we are just friends, many people understood and shared our message of love.”
It all took place in a small village in Sicily called Caltanissetta, where Gaia and her friend Matilde took part in a rally against Salvini. “We were there to protest because he came to promote a candidate for the local council elections.” This took place on April 25, Italy’s Liberation Day, a date to commemorate the end of the fascist regime and the Nazi occupation – a national holiday which Matteo Salvini does not celebrate. This is a stance that led many of his detractors, like writer Andrea Camilleri, to accuse him of having a ‘fascist mentality’.
The ‘fascist mentality’ is on the rise in Italy – in the last week, neo-fascist demos have been taking place across the country, with heightened activity in Milan and Rome. “We feel like fascist ideology and discrimination are back in Italy,” says Gaia. “Especially when we see that our deputy prime minister endorses events like the Congress of Families in Verona.” The anti-abortion, conservative event is a controversial meeting organised by the far-right, religious, and anti-LGBTQ+ groups. Matteo Salvini was one of their guests, and he spoke in favour of the so-called ‘traditional families’ and against LGBTQ people adopting.
“Salvini legitimised their discriminative ideology just speaking as a member of the government. We wanted to reply with a message of love. So, when Salvini said at the rally that people could take selfies with him, we decided to take our chance and kiss in front of him,” she adds. Gaia and Matilde queued along with his fans, and when the time came, Gaia took her phone out, made sure the deputy prime minister was in the frame, and then kissed Matilde right next to him. Salvini didn’t realise what was happening at first, though an aide immediately tried to stop them.
“One of Salvini’s security guards grabbed my face and separated us. You can actually see his hand on my face in the second picture. It was a horrible,” says Gaia. A large hand can be seen squeezing Gaia’s face and pulling her away from Matilde. “He was censoring us, he was censoring our kiss.”
At that point, the politician realised what was going on and his face turned from smiling to confused. “He looked shocked at first, but then he just gave a pat on the head to Matilde and said ‘I wish you all the best and male sons!’” remembers Gaia. “We ironically replied ‘thank you!’.”
“This is the most peaceful form of protest” – Gaia
Salvini strongly believes that LGBTQ couples shouldn’t have children, and has been vocal about his support for ‘traditional families’. Speaking at the day’s rally in Verona, he said: “If a girl wants to make love with another girl, it doesn’t bother me. But family means mum and dad, they can’t delete that.” He has since shared the picture of Gaia and Matilde with the caption: “Best wishes, peace and goods to you sisters.” Salvin has 3 million followers on Instagram, and is well known for his sharp use of social media. “He did it to provoke us,” says Gaia. “His followers attacked us on social media, because that’s how his strategy works. But we don’t care, because we know our message is stronger.”
The duo have been calling on their supporters to participate in another peaceful protest. “We invite everyone to do the #lovechallenge. People should start taking selfies and kissing in front of conservative politicians like we did. To fight hate with love. This is the most peaceful form of protest there is and, as we have seen, it is the most effective.”