At Night, Roman Marchers Let Loose

By Justin Torres | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

Rome ( - Both the religious pilgrims and the homosexual marchers who have gathered in Rome for separate events this week are spending their days in serious activities - prayer and sightseeing for the former, conferences and cultural events for the latter - but in the evenings, the two groups pursue far more divergent activities.

For a portion of the 65,000 Poles who came to Rome for a weeklong pilgrimage marking the Millennium Jubilee, Thursday evening was spent in prayer. More than 2,000 Poles gathered in the famous Piazza Navona in the center of Rome for Eucharistic Adoration, a Catholic religious ceremony.

Father Josef Arzudski, a Catholic priest from the Archdiocese of Pzym, said the Adoration expressed the central theme of the Polish pilgrimage, which has special significance, because it comes in the waning years of the pontificate of their countryman, Pope John Paul II, the former Karol Wojtyla of Krakow.

"We are here to give glory to God for 2000 years of the Church, and to thank Him for the gift of the Holy Father," said Arzudski.

Friday, the Polish pilgrims made the rounds of the four major basilicas of Rome - St. Peter's, St. Maria Maggiore, St. John Lateran and St. Paul's Outside-the-Walls - in preparation for a rally this evening in the Colosseum.

Members of the European homosexual community in Rome for the World Pride 2000 rally and march, by contrast, have made the rounds of a variety of celebrations this week.

Thursday, the festivities were kicked off at Alcatraz, a famous Roman gay bar near St. Peter's. Hundreds of partygoers braved a fierce heat to choose Rome's "Most Sexy Foreign Tourist" and dance to European discotheque music for a small cover fee. A 26-year-old tourist from England took home the prize of one million Italian lire (around $500).

Then the crowds moved to the Foro Italico, an outdoor stadium and complex south of central Rome in the EUR section, built by Mussolini in the Industrial style of the 1940s. At the SPQCLUB at the Foro, a mostly under-30 crowd of more than 5,000 people danced until close to 4:00 am.

Partygoers in the dark corners of the club also engaged in more flagrant activities, including rampant drug use, especially of a form of methamphetamine known as "poppers," which when snorted gives the user a burst of nervous energy and heightened sexuality.

Pairs of men frequently made their way to the corners for brief sexual encounters, and by the end of the evening more than a few partygoers has shed the majority of their clothing.

Despite the high seriousness of the conferences and panel discussions sponsored by the International Lesbian and Gay Association during the day, many of Thursday's partygoers indicated that they came to Rome for unofficial activities such as the gathering at the SPQCLUB.

"We're here to march for equal rights, to say that queer people are here and visible, but I'm also here to have a f***ing good time," said Simon, a 22-year-old university student from London, who said that he has spent most of his nights this past week at the Europa Club, an homosexual sauna near Alcatraz which is offering reduced memberships during World Pride.

The parties will continue throughout the weekend. Friday night, the Leather Club of Rome will sponsor a "World Pride Leather Party," and a local gay discotheque will be hosting a "Leather and Bears" gathering. ("Bear" is a slang term for an older, heavier homosexual who does not shave.)

Saturday's march will culminate in a massive concert at Tor di Valle, a stadium on the outskirts of Rome, where performers such as former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell and disco icon Gloria Gaynor (of "I Will Survive" fame) will perform.

Sunday, marchers will spend the day at the homosexual beach at Capocotta.

See Earlier Stories:
Advocates Demand Catholic Ministry to Homosexuals (6 July 2000)
On the Streets of Rome, An Uneasy Peace (6 July 2000)