By Margherita Graglia

Since 1996, Arcigay Gioconda Reggio Emilia APS has been steadily operating in the Reggio Emilia area as a volunteer-based association promoting LGBTIQ+ rights. We were founded by a group of friends in a period in which National Arcigay, the first and still main Italian federation for the rights of sexual minorities, was still in its infancy and branching out in many Italian cities and regions.
The small original group decided that it was paramount to get organized and create community-based services in a time in which our lives were still being lived in silence and shame. They chose to name the group after Leonardo Da Vinci’s most famous subject, the Mona Lisa (also known as “La Gioconda”) as a
nod to Da Vinci’s queerness, as well as thinking of that famous enigmatic smile, that well represented a way of living between the lines. In 2021, as we were celebrating our 25th anniversary, some of the founders observed how beautiful it was to see such an adventure having reached a quarter of a century, something they’d never have dreamed of as this adventure actually started in front of one-to-many beers, in a pub, one inspired night.
Our association soon started with many actions, both in terms of public actions to change the perception of LGBTIQ+ people in our town, and in terms of healthcare support and with an helpline operated by volunteers twice a week to listen and give courage to those who felt lost and alone in those days.
Today Arcigay Reggio Emilia operates in a network of public institutions promoting healthcare and awareness, and offers peer – to – peer services including four weekly meeting groups (a general one, a youth group, a trans*’ group and an immigrants’ group). The board of directors is representative of different identities and orientations, in the effort of a broad empowerment action and in connection to the ever-changing and emerging LGBTIQ+ community of Reggio Emilia.
The trans*’ meeting group in particular was originated in 2019 as more and more trans* and non-binary people started to be active in the association, thus providing a safe space for self-awareness and political action. Despite the pandemic restrictions, the group still operated online, attracting people from all over
North Italy, showing the need for specific actions. This has pushed the association to a more intense commitment in providing legal counsel, healthcare support, public presence to trans*, non binary, non-conforming, questioning people, and in promoting specific services within the local institutions. More needs to be done, but we feel that representation and openness is the key to obtain substantial change both locally and nationally, something we dramatically need. Without forgetting to be inspired by the early dream of a group of friends who had one-beer too many, and decided that it was time to openly fight to change the world a little bit.