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“The right to be oneself”

Riccardo Simonetti wants to inspire people to be more tolerant. To this end, he has been standing up for the queer community in the media for many years.

Interview: Kim Berg, 17.11.2021
 Riccardo Simonetti is committed to more tolerance in Europe.
Riccardo Simonetti is committed to more tolerance in Europe. © picture alliance/dpa

People and their ideas shape Germany. Through our #GermanyinPerson campaign we will be introducing you to various faces of Germany. We will show you how these people with their individual perspectives and different backgrounds are shaping society.

He is the LGBTQ special envoy of the European Parliament, an activist, entertainer, bestselling author and host: these days it is impossible to imagine the German media world without Riccardo Simonetti. Now based in Berlin, he takes advantage of his reach to help raise the profile of the LGBTQ community.

You grew up in a small town in Bavaria. What were your first steps in the media world?
I realised early on that I was interested in things that most boys of my age were not particularly in to. For example, it was considered scandalous for boys to want to play with dolls, as I always did. This was when I noticed that you will also be treated differently if you differ in any way from what everyone else does. This got the ball rolling in many respects, as it taught me to study my environment very carefully so as to know what I had to do to “survive”. And on the other, I learnt how to play games so as to get the things I want.

Sooner or later, I began to question whether I really wanted to always have to “play” in order to get the things that one should be able to take for granted, namely the right to be oneself. That was a fundamental issue that accompanied me throughout my youth. I then started writing short stories on social media about my experiences and what I would like to achieve. I quickly discovered that lots of people were interested in what I had to say. This gave me a sense of success and motivated me to keep going. My blog gradually became more and more successful, to the point where I actually started being invited to events to report on it.

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When did you decide to use your success to raise the profile of the queer community?
I noticed that we are living in two bubbles. One is super tolerant and empathetic, while the other wants to know nothing about any of this. I believe it is important for us to stop evolving into this two-bubble society that results in people continuing to experience discrimination.

What use is my success if my achievements do not make people’s lives easier? If I do not improve anything, it’s all worth nothing. One has to be a real queer pain in the neck, reminding them constantly that LGBTQ issues are still topical. It is extremely important to establish a dialogue between the two bubbles in society. This is what I have committed myself to achieving.

You grew up in the countryside and now live in a city. Is there a difference in tolerance between urban and rural areas?
If for example I post something on Instagram after having visited a child day-care centre, I find myself deluged with thousands of homo- and transphobic comments. Reading them, one would think that these are people who live out in the sticks somewhere and rarely come into contact with diversity. But that’s not the case – some are young people of my age who live in the centre of Berlin but still carry around this kind of mindset.

It is a problem if we rely on the idea that intolerance and hatred always happen a long way away from us. These are people who are in the same shops as us or travelling in the same train. There is no regional boundary at which homophobia ends or begins. It is therefore important for intolerant people not only to realise that their mindset is not okay, but that they are in fact breaking the law.

Intolerant people must realise that they are in fact breaking the law.
Riccardo Simonetti

How did you feel when the European Parliament offered you the post of LGBTQ special envoy?
The decision to become the EU’s LGBTQ special envoy was not an easy one for me. I really thought about whether it would do me any favours, or whether it wouldn’t just make everything much more complicated. It took a while before I was ready to accept this voluntary position. However, if it means I can help focus the spotlight more on LGBTQ issues in society and can show people how things are in other countries, I feel it is my duty to do so. After all, I am aware that not many people get the chances that I have today. And of course it’s a great honour.

Have attitudes towards the queer community changed in recent years in German society?
We missed out on the chance for attitudes to the queer community to become mainstream. In the early 1990s Kurt Cobain wore a dress, making a clear statement that he is a feminist. And he was celebrated for this as a rock star. However, this did not change the reality of life for queer people in the street because society failed to really listen to him.

30 years later, the rapper Kid Cudi wears a dress and is again celebrated for doing so. But once again, nobody asks whether this changes the reality of life for queer people. The situation repeats itself over and over, but people fail time and again to listen properly and to understand what the issue really is.

It is our job to ensure that history does not repeat itself and that at least something of the messages remain in the mainstream consciousness.

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