Italians Respond to Pope’s Slur by Taking Francis to Pride

At Rome’s Pride celebration, bare-chested men in pink angel wings danced to Abba songs, women wrapped in rainbow flags kissed, and shimmering drag queens waved from parade floats. And then there was Pope Francis.

The pontiff’s image was everywhere. On cardboard cutouts adorned with flower necklaces, on glittery banners, on stickers. Romans came to the Pride parade on Saturday dressed like Francis, wearing papal hats and T-shirts that read, “There is never too much frociaggine,” a reference to an offensive slur against gay men that the pope has been accused of using twice in recent weeks.

The slur “is the slogan of the 2024 Pride,” said Martina Lorina, 28, an actress who was holding up a banner bearing the word.

After Italian media reported that Pope Francis used the slur at a meeting with priests to complain that there was too much “gayness” in the church, the Vatican apologized.

But Rome’s Pride attendees took a different tack to respond to the insult: They made it their own. Pride participants symbolically invited the pope and his slur to the party, using a longtime tactic of the L.G.B.T.Q. community to turn insults into words of pride.

“Let’s make him feel how beautiful this frociaggine is,” a participant shouted in the crowd as men dressed as unicorns sang a Britney Spears song and children held hands with their two mothers, their faces covered in glittery rainbows.

Daniele Lacitignola, 34, who is Christian and gay, was carrying a cardboard cutout of Francis. He said that even though the pope’s recent word choice might convey that “gay people are not welcome in the church, he is always welcome to Pride.”

“Francy you are welcome in our parish,” a banner read.

“Let me pose with his holiness,” Alessio Sposato, 31, in a tank top and cowboy hat, said as he took a photograph with a cardboard cutout of Francis.

Emiliano Sisolfi, 22, a director, carried a banner with a photograph of Francis with his thumb up and the words, “I bless this frociata,” another usage of the slur. Mr. Sisolfi said that he printed the insult in rainbow letters to neutralize it.

“If I laugh about the word,” he said, “they have no more words to offend us.”

Giacomo Canarezza, 31, said that even if the slur was derogatory, “If I take ownership of the word, I can use it as a marker of my identity.”

He added, “It makes you immune from any insult.”

Another Pride attendee, with a pink sparkling beard, wore a papal hat as he danced to “Greased Lightnin’” on top of a parade float.

“We are the frociaggine and we are proud of it,” a banner read. Participants distributed stickers with doctored photographs of Francis in a furry pink scarf or in pink sunglasses.

But behind the jokes and the fanfare, some Romans have expressed concerns that the pope’s words could further marginalize the L.G.B.T.Q. community in a country that together with Hungary, the Czech Republic and a handful of others is among the only European ones that have not legalized same-sex marriage.

Last year, the right-wing government of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni ordered Italian mayors to obey a court ruling and stop certifying foreign birth certificates of children born abroad to Italian same-sex couples through surrogacy, which is illegal in Italy.

“Many in Italy listen to the pope and church, and this can hurt families who have gay children,” said Basilio Petruzza, 33.

A 20-year-old artist who goes by the name Dolly Deville said he ordered a papal robe online a few days ago to wear at Pride. He held a banner with a hand-drawn portrait of Francis and the words, “Via Frocis” — a reference to Via Crucis, or Way of the Cross, a Christian procession. He said the pope’s words had caused him pain.

“He shouldn’t have dared to say this word,” said his boyfriend, Edoardo Camillucci. “Especially as a straight holy man.”

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