As I sat this morning at my kitchen window half-listening to the BBC news I was deeply saddened by the report on the American Presidential executive order on 28th January banning, all be it temporarily, people from seven predominantly Muslim-majority countries entering the USA.
The sun shone brightly, bursting through the open window. Outside down in the valley below swollen by the melting snow from the Apennines the river Chiascio burbled noisily and energetically over rocks, carving its way to the soon to be formed lake that we will look down upon, and the birds were busy looking for food in the still glistening frosty ground. I am in a fortunate place, for all the problems I encounter, there can be fewer places that I would rather live and work. My work is an utter joy, I own and run Bellaugello, the gay guest house in central Italy. I welcome guys from all over the world, many return, and many pass on their recommendation to friends who then come and stay the Bellaugello network grows, long term friendships are made. My clientele is eclectic and my business targeted specifically at gay men. To elucidate…
Quite often I am asked by a lesbian or heterosexual person if they too will be welcomed at Bellaugello. My swift answer is ‘Yes of course’. As my guests well know I justify this by the statement that us gay guys have fought long and hard to be accepted by mainstream society. We want and expect to be treated equally, to book into an hotel with our husband, partner, lover and be offered a double bed, no questions asked, to buy a cake in a bakery with whatever script or design we desire, to sit in the park and hold hands, to gaze dreamily into our man’s eyes over a steaming skinné latté frappé flatté macchiato or whatever is now in vogue. We want (and quite honestly deserve) equal pension rights and the right to be treated as the next of kin in life and death decisions, so it would be hypocritical of me to refuse a stay at Bellaugello to anyone who is not gay and wanting to experience a stay in a gay guest house.
Following on the line of questioning the next one is often, especially from my guy guy clients, ‘What is the percentage of lesbian or hetero guests here at Bellaugello?‘ the answer; ‘remarkably few’. To date, two or three couples of lesbians and one or two hetero couples a year stay at Bellaugello, last year there were fewer. Now I do ask myself why they would wish to stay here, the place is packed with gay men, frequently naked, but as far as I am concerned it is their right. One delightful lesbian told me that they chose Bellaugello because all lesbian guest houses they have researched run obligatory courses on macramé or pottery and have self-help groups, and she, being a well respected civil servant, and her wife a senior police officer, neither believe, and I agree, those activities are for them.
Marketing Bellaugello is sometimes difficult, especially online in link sites. Generally the sites give you three options for classifying your business; Gay Only – Gay Friendly – or Hetero. Oh how I hate the term ‘gay friendly’ it really sucks and signifies that “we will grudgingly accept those weird gays, but only because they are rich”, it is a horrid horrid term and concept, but one currently and inexplicably we have to live with, (I dislike hetero-friendly possibly just as much). If you have read the preceding paragraphs you will also realise that the category ‘gay only’ also gets my goat big time. We need to remove these classifications, they do not need to exist, make them obsolete.
Until recently I believed the world was moving down a more tolerant and inclusive road. Many countries have finally enshrined in their laws same sex marriage, and others such as here in Italy have same sex civil unions, yes guys even as foreigners you can have a civil union ceremony here in Italy, the city of Gubbio has a beautiful historic hall, and Bellaugello is the perfect setting, for the wedding banquet and party. Employment law has recognised the right for same sex partners to work related pensions and health care, there is now enshrined in law in many countries same-sex partner life and death decision-making, all really good stuff.
From my American guests I know just how much they value the hard determined work by ex-President Obama to have enshrined these rights in law, thus countrywide allowing guys to marry, and bringing to an end the hideous ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy. Guys who lived together for decades can now openly demonstrate their love and commitment to each other.
Last year we welcomed many couples of all ages (many, but not all, even remotely in their first flush of youth) who having just got married were on honeymoon, yes Bellaugello is hopelessly romantic a perfect place for a honeymoon. It was such a joy to me and my team to see the happiness and love in these guys eyes and in their gestures, I felt really positive and good for the future.
Last season for the first time Bellaugello welcomed couples from Russia, Ukraine and Gulf countries, such great guys, they just rubbed along with everyone else, and why ever should they not? My guests come in all shapes, sizes and colours, the one thing they have in common is their wish to live ‘normally’ and that they do at Bellaugello. Putting up barriers and making exclusions just does not work and is quite frankly inhumane.
At my kitchen window as I prepare to sign off and head into the garden to tackle some pruning of the ever invasive ginestra I am worried about the way things have moved in the past week. All this action of building walls and banning entry, ‘post truth’ and ‘alternative facts’ (hideous evil phrases) makes me conclude there are dark days ahead, I ask have we gay guys enjoyed only a brief interlude of freedom, and will we too join the ever swelling ranks of the persecuted.