The recently-elected mayor of the historic Italian city of Venice has upset Elton John -- and a lot of other people, to boot. Luigi Brugnaro, a center-right businessman who won his post this June, reiterated his discomfort with homosexuality this week by vowing in an interview to block Gay Pride parades.

"There will never be a Gay Pride in my city," he told La Repubblica, a leading Italian daily. "Let them go and do it in Milan, or in front of their own homes."

Brugnaro's remarks follow a controversial decision earlier this month, where he directed municipal authorities to remove 49 books from Venetian classrooms on the grounds that they were not "suitable" for children because of supposed alternative or gay themes.

A rather vociferous backlash, which included dozens of Italian authors asking for their books to be pulled from the city's libraries, shrank the list of suspect works to just two books, including one whose title translates to "Jean has two mothers."

In an Instagram post, British pop star Elton John, who owns a house in this tourist-clogged city on the Adriatic, deemed Brugnaro "boorishly bigoted."

But Brugnaro was unmoved and insisted that he was not homophobic, arguing that he had gay friends. He also rounded on John, saying he "represented the arrogance of someone who is rich and can do whatever they want."

Italy, a predominantly Roman Catholic country, is one of the few Western European nations that does not recognize gay marriage or homosexual civil partnerships.

On the subject of Gay Pride parades, Venice's mayor didn't pull punches either. "It's a buffoonery, as kitsch as it gets," he said.

This is a slightly amusing complaint, given Venice's own past. The city, which was once the seat of a powerful Mediterranean empire, has a richly-documented history of supposed sexual deviance. In medieval Venice, as one historian notes, all sorts of places from schools of gymnastics to apothecary shops carried the stigma of gay gatherings.

A mid-15th century document from one of Venice's governing bodies warned that "in the shops of pastrymakers in this our city many youths and others of diverse age and condition come together day and night; there they hold games, drink and commit many dishonesties and sodomy."

Of course, such concerns formed the basis of the occasional, grim Renaissance-era "purge" of suspected homosexuals, but some historians argue that there were rather lax attitudes toward same-sex coupling in Northern Italy. One of the possible reasons for this was the classical belief that homosexuality was almost a rite of passage for many young men.

While Venice's political power had waned by the 18th century, its renown did not.

The lagoon city played host, as it still does, to one of the world's most famous festivals of kitsch and camp -- its annual Carnevale, replete with elaborate costumes, raunchy masquerades and a whole legacy of decadence, debauchery and libertine behavior.

The event, a longstanding tradition with pagan origins that falls around Easter, captured the imagination of outsiders. Lavish balls were held, music suffused the city's squares and canals, and even nuns were found to indulge in naughty activities.

In the 18th century, a stream of European travelers from stodgier climes journeyed to Venice to participate in its revels. Even prior to then, Venice's Lido, a coastal strip, already had a reputation as a popular meeting point for gay visitors.

A 19th century French account described Venice as a city where "a literature of buffoonery and lewdness" -- an echo of Brugnaro's recent comments -- "flourished."

In his 1912 novella, "Death in Venice," German author Thomas Mann conjured from his own experiences in the city a homoerotic tale that became one of the 20th century's most important, modernist meditations on art and beauty.

Suffice to say, if Brugnaro is bothered about homosexuality in Venice, he has a lot more to worry about than a parade.

"Venice is not his city," a leading gay rights activist told Reuters, referring to the mayor. "At the moment he is governing it, but he won't last long, given the fool he is making of himself."

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