When you think of LGBTQ-friendly tourism in Europe, several destinations probably come to mind right away: Amsterdam, given that the Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage; Reykjavik, known for its Pride festivals and lively, inclusive nightlife -- not to mention the world's first openly gay prime minister, Johanna Sigurdardottir, in 2009; and a host of other destinations, like Madrid, Barcelona and Berlin, just to name a few.
But Rome? Let's just say it's a work in progress. Yes, attitudes in Italy are evolving -- the country made same-sex civil unions legal in 2016, for example, but child adoption still has a long way to go.
As proof that the times are indeed changing, however, a company called Quiiky LGBTQ Italia Travel is not only leading LGBTQ tours of Italy, but one of their newest excursions is called Vatican Museum in a Gay and Lesbian Light.
The company introduced the tour at the New York Times Travel Show this month as part of its Untold History guided tours of Italy, designed to showcase the legacy of gay art, history and culture that, according to Alessio Virgili, CEO of Sonders & Beach, the parent company of Quiiky, has always been "hiding in plain sight" in Italy.
The tour will examine various artworks depicting male homosexuality as well as the tomb of Queen Christina of Sweden -- rumored in her day to be a lesbian -- who is buried in St. Peter's Basilica, and guests will learn about the ancient Greek female poet, Sappho of Lesbos, a symbol of romantic love between women.
Other Quiiky tours in Italy include Leonardo da Vinci's Genius Under a Gay Light and the Legend of Alfa Romeo and the Gay Iconic 'Giulietta.'
In addition to promoting increased inclusivity in Italy, Virgili stressed that the tours make sense financially.
"Statistics show that LGBTQ travelers are more affluent than their straight counterparts, and they spend more when they travel," he said. "We're completely focused on celebrating Italy's rich gay history while providing our clients with a safe and friendly environment and helping them to connect with the incredibly diverse and supportive gay community of the country."
Catering to this market, one of the fastest growing segments in international travel, is also giving rise to a new generation of LGBTQ travel specialists, he said.
In addition, Quiiky is organizing pre- and post-fam tours that include Florence and Rome for travel advisors attending the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association's (IGLTA) 37th annual Global Convention on LGBTQ Tourism, to be held in Milan from May 6 to 9.
The IGLTA is partnering with the city of Milan, the Italian Tourism Board and the U.S. General Consulate of Milan to organize the event.
"Florence and Rome are the top Italian destinations for the American market," said Virgili, "yet few tour operators understand how to meet the important needs of the gay clients. We have established an extensive network of dedicated partners throughout country that help our clients always feel welcome from the moment they arrive to the moment they leave."
Virgili is also the founder and president of the Italian Association of Gay and Lesbian Tourism, and in addition to the Untold History programs, Quiiky also specializes in LGBTQ wedding and honeymoon vacations.
Sonders & Beach is the first Italian tourism company to support and adopt the United Nations' LGBTI Standards of Conduct for business.