From Taboo to Mainstream: How Milan's LGBTQ Community Found Itself Through Music

The Glitter Family at Giardini Pubblici Indro Montanelli, Milan
The Glitter Family at Giardini Pubblici Indro Montanelli, Milan | | © Alessandro Furchino Capria / Culture Trip
Sara Kaufman

Dance clubs and the fashion industry are some of the main – and perhaps limited – forms of expression for members of the LGBTQ community in Milan. Fabrizio Ferrini looks to preserve the countercultural atmosphere and music of the past, while building a more expansive and inclusive future at his weekly LGBTQ soirée, known as Glitter.

In a massive underground room in Milan, painted mostly black, fog curls up towards the ceiling and the pounding bass seems to travel through the floor and up through the feet of a crowd of dancers. Someone walks by with a well-groomed moustache, red high heels and ample amounts of sparkle – appropriately so, since this club is hosting Glitter, an event for the LGBTQ community in Milan.

Fabrizio Ferrini, co-founder and art director of Glitter, Milan

Fabrizio Ferrini, editor-in-chief of the international publication Hunter Fashion Magazine, launched Glitter in 1999 together with Giuseppe Magistro and some friends, responding to a lack of alternative and counterculture nightclubs for the queer community. “We were a group of friends who liked indie rock music and back then, there weren’t any gay clubs playing it,” he says.“It was considered ‘music for heterosexuals’. But music doesn’t have a gender or a sexual orientation and we had no idea where to go dancing.” The event, which changed venues over the years, instantly drew like-minded people and those with similar music tastes.

Left: Giada J’Adore, Glitz Girlz @weird_giada. Right: Terry La Blow, Glitz Girlz @terryblow_

The ’90s atmosphere that first shaped this counterculture scene was partially influenced by an earlier time of marginalisation for the gay community. What can arguably be described as Milan’s first LGBTQ movement began with a group of squatters who in 1976 took up residence in a 15th-century palazzo near the Duomo. The group was comprised of social minorities and boundary-pushing creatives searching for a space where they could express themselves freely. It was a place of cultural exchange, embodying the revolutionary spirit of the decade and fostering a group of people who were politically active and involved in international campaigns for social rights. From the ’70s to the 2010s the community became more accepted and was brought into the mainstream. Then, in 2014, RuPaul’s Drag Race was bought by Netflix – with subtitles in Italian. Ferrini cites this as an important cultural shift – because it became accessible to all.
Ferrini and Magistro, the co-founders of Glitter, come from the fashion industry, so they want to create something that mirrors the times. As the years went by and the social scene changed, Glitter naturally changed with it, although it still maintains its rock ‘n’ roll DNA and punk attitude. The party’s indie-rock soul is now enriched by all sorts of new musical entries, ranging from Lady Gaga to St Vincent, Grimes to Charli XCX – artists who combine their music with distinctive aesthetics and a sociopolitical stance. “We try to avoid being overly political but there’s always an implicit message,” says Ferrini. “Sometimes it’s easier to convey a message within a club than within a conference room.”

Members of the Glitter Family at Red Café @redcafemilano

Glitter’s performers – the famed Glitz Girlz – are a group of women, men, transgender and non-binary people. Their show format aims to create catharsis, catapulting the crowd into another dimension as part of something unique. The visual content (including videos, projections and live acts) are striking, with boundary-pushing performances. “There are still things today which annoy the masses, things that create disturbance, and these are exactly the kind of content I want for Glitter,” Ferrini explains. “If they have the power to disturb, it means that they should be investigated.”

Myss Keta, an Italian singer and a performer of unknown identity who always hides her face behind veils and masks, did her first show at Glitter in 2013. She has always publicly advocated for the gay community, whose support allowed her to reach an international audience. As Ferrini explains, “She mixes ‘trashy’ content with powerful political messages and it works, because it’s authentic.” Recently, during a show, Myss Keta did a parody of right-wing politician Giorgia Meloni’s speech against adoption by same-sex parents. The video of the show went viral overnight.

Left: Fabrizio Ferrini. Right: the Notorious Mariantonietta, Glitz Girlz @marynotorious

Myss Keta comes from the neighbourhood of Porta Venezia, Milan’s gay neighbourhood par excellence. During Pride Week 2019, the metro stop of Porta Venezia was decorated with rainbow murals. The mayor decided to leave them there permanently as a tribute to the neighbourhood’s identity. Here you can find several gay bars including Mono, perhaps the first gay bar in Milan to open on a big street instead of in a secluded alley, where people could simply enter from the front door instead of having to knock or ring doorbells.

After the Mono came the Leccomilano and, more recently, Pop, a feminist and feminine bar. The crossroad between Via Lecco and via Panfilo Castaldi – the main streets of the neighbourhood, where you can find most of the bars and restaurants – is today a celebrated meeting point for the LGBTQ community. “It’s warm and welcoming,” says Ferrini. “It’s also nice for newcomers and tourists who want to experience the local scene.” The up and coming area known as NoLo is quickly becoming the city’s next LGBTQ neighbourhood. There are several gay bars and restaurants around the pioneer NoLoSo.

Milan prides itself on being a gay-friendly city, especially compared to the rest of Italy. It hosts the largest Pride in the country and welcomes openly gay men in its fashion industry. But the Ls, Bs, Ts and Qs working in other industries still face discrimination and Ferrini believes the city still has a way to go. “If you work in fashion you can easily say you’re gay. But if, for example, you work in a bank, there is still the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ rule,” he says.

Though cultural institutions like the well-known bookshop Antigone and gay cinema festival MIX have highlighted the Milanese LGBTQ community over the years. Local queer culture in Milan is mostly expressed through bars and parties, yet the slow shift over the years from taboo to mainstream has led to a more hopeful younger generation. “Being born in less homophobic and transphobic times, kids who are now 18 or 20 are more cool about showing their homosexuality,” says Ferrini. “This, together with the more international appeal of the city, is certainly helping.”

Brigitte Stallone, Glitz Girlz @brigittelasvampita

Here are some other LGBTQ events and clubs in Milan besides Glitter:

1. Escandalo

Bar, Italian

Escandalo is a fun and informal party held at bar Q21

2. Plastic

Nightclub, Cocktails

Plastic has been a Milan institution since its inception in 1980. In its heyday the clientele included Madonna, Elton John, Andy Warhol, Freddie Mercury and Bruce Springsteen. The club has always drawn a queer crowd.

3. La Boum

Bar, Italian

La Boum is an LGBTQ event that takes place every Friday night.

4. Blanco

Bar, Italian

Blanco is a fashionable bar where you’ll be able to spend your time celebrity spotting – straights and gays alike.

The Glitter family in the Indro Montanelli public gardens, Milan
landscape with balloons floating in the air

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