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“China was a breath of fresh air, I could be openly gay there”

“China was a breath of fresh air, I could be openly gay there”

Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes

Student Prize 2019

MAASTRICHT. Two years ago, Italian law student Davide Muraro was still “hidden in the closet”. A good year later, he set up UM Pride, the LGBT+ network (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender+) at Maastricht University. Last Monday, rector Rianne Letschert handed UM Pride the UM Student Prize, in the form of a distinction and a thousand euro.

Until he was thirteen, Muraro lived in the North Italian seaside town of San Remo. Muraro: “I am from a typical Italian working-class family. My father works in a building company and my mother is a cleaning lady in a hotel. I am the only person in my family who goes to university. That is difficult, because I can't share what I do with my family. They support me and they are proud of me, but they don't understand it. I may want to do a PhD and I have tried like a hundred times to explain to my mother what a PhD is, but she doesn't get it.”

The rest of his family also quit school after the compulsory eight years of education. “Only a handful of cousins went to vocational training after that. Last Christmas, when we were all watching a documentary on the television, my seven year old nephew Lorenzo asked me something about it. I didn't know the answer and he was genuinely surprised: ‘how is that possible? You know everything.’ That is the idea that my family has. I am grateful for their perspective. As an academic, you live in a bubble. People around me are educated, speak various languages, travel abroad, et cetera. Of course most people don't live like that.”

After middle school, Muraro went to an international boarding school in Rome. Chinese was one of his main subjects. In fact, he spent the fourth year of his high school time in China. “I speak better Chinese than English,” says Muraro. “Certainly before I came to Maastricht, ha ha.”

China was a breath of fresh air. “Italy was thousands of kilometres away. I could be openly gay in China. I had a Chinese boyfriend, which was also why I quickly learned more of the language.” Having returned to Italy, he first told a number of good friends and his professors at school. “Their reactions were positive and they supported me. That was very important for my self-confidence.”

“I only told my parents last April. I had a discussion with them about self-defence; there was a discussion about it at the time in Italian politics. My father wanted to be able to take on a stranger if they suddenly came into our home. ‘If I ever come home with a girlfriend, I hope you won't harm her’, I said jokingly. Later on, when I was alone with my mother, I said to her: “If I ever bring someone home, it will be a boy and not a girl.” My mother's reaction was super positive; as long as I was happy. I never spoke about the matter with my father, but he has most likely talked about it with my mother and our relationship hasn't changed, so it must be okay. Our family is traditional, but not very religious, I think that makes a difference. Even in Italy, public opinion is slowly shifting.”

His heart lies in philosophy and social sciences, but he chose “the safe route” with regard to work: European Law in Maastricht. “I had intended to be completely myself in Maastricht. I wanted to use the energy that I put into hiding my sexual inclination for something positive. I thought twice about everything: ‘Am I using my hands too much, am I speaking too gay, can I hold someone's hand or give someone a kiss?’ That costs so much energy. It is not worth it, and it often doesn't work. It was with that energy that I set up UM Pride. It is a safe place for everyone at the university. Everyone is welcome,” he emphasises. “You don't need to be a panda to stand up for animal rights, ha ha. So you don't need to be gay or transgender in order to join us. The only condition is that you are open to others and are respectful.”

The organisation has four divisions, Muraro explains. “Each group has a different focus. One organises events aimed at increasing awareness, for example, lectures by human rights organisations on LBGT rights in other countries. But there is also a group that works on promoting research in the field of LGBT topics, such as gay marriage or the mental wellbeing of transgenders. This is also important for awareness.”

He completed his bachelor's of European Law in two years. “I had lots of jobs during my first year in Maastricht to pay for my study and save some money. I used that money to take a number of philosophy courses at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. Something I have always found extremely interesting, but didn't dare to choose. I did it purely for myself, but later I found out that I could use the credits from Rotterdam for my study in Maastricht. With some extra work for my Law study, I was able to complete my bachelor's within two years. When you do what you really like, something good will come of it. That is what I learned from that. That is why next academic year I will do the master's of European Studies in Leuven. All board places have been filled for UM pride except the chairperson position. I am leaving it behind in good hands. And Leuven is not that far away, so I will stay involved.”

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