New Drums, 1960
The above photo from right-wing Italian newspaper Il Borghese illustrated an article that helped kick off a gay panic which shook Italy at the dawn of the ’60s. The right wing press decided to turn a minor story about a rash of cruising busts in the town of Brescia into a nationwide witch-hunt, ending in trials, false arrests, the questioning of several popular celebrities and at least one suicide.
Nicknamed “balletti verdi” (a play on the then-recent “ballet roses” ordeal, and a wink at Wilde’s carnation), the scandal prompted hysteria so massive that mothers were encouraged to show their young sons photos of buxom women, discourage them from doing housework, and burn any books dealing with vice to help keep their boys on the heterosexual path. Brescia was nicknamed “faggot city,” 200 people were prosecuted, the Catholic church got very excited, and when dear old Giò Stajano, the only openly gay celebrity in Italy at the time, was called in for questioning (literally only because they were out) they appeared dressed as a woman in mourning, knitting a black garment to show contempt.
The scandal, while ruinous, marked a major change in the way Italians perceived homosexuality. The double omerta enforced by Catholicism and deep class fractures had kept many Italians from ever mentioning that the possibility of same-sex attraction existed; the conversations prompted by the scandal helped open many eyes to the possibility of another, gayer way of life.