community

TV host Riccardo Simonetti is educating people in the fight against homophobia

The entertainer is one of the Pride Icons being honoured at the Attitude Pride Awards 2022, in association with Magnum.

2022-07-28

Words: Mona Fenina; Photography: Markus Bidaux

With his brave, unique fashion style and razor-sharp entertainment skills, Riccardo Simonetti is a TV host, bestselling author, award-winner, brand ambassador, and cover model in his native Germany — and he’s only 29.

Not only is he a dazzling media personality, named one of the most influential people under 30 by Forbes, but he also heads up his own charitable organisation with a mission to educate and inform people in the fight against homophobia. Such sterling efforts make Riccardo Simonetti a well-deserving candidate for an Attitude Pride Icon Award, supported by Magnum.

As a diversity ambassador with more tulle, sequins, and glitter in his closet than Carrie Bradshaw, Simonetti takes every opportunity to talk publicly about finding one’s identity, coming out, and the marginalisation of social groups.

Whether via The Riccardo Simonetti Initiative, or his work for different charity projects such as UNICEF or Youth Against Aids, whenever he’s on a stage he uses his voice for the queer community.

One of the motivations behind this is that Simonetti knows first-hand how important it is to hear the things “I should have heard as a teenager,” he says.

“That it’s OK to be yourself without having to conform to some social norm, that you don’t need to make a secret of your sexual orientation. And that life is so incredibly fun when you make your own rules. You’ll never be able to fulfil 100 percent of what others expect of you anyway, no matter how hard you try. That’s why you shouldn’t take things too seriously, but let your gut instinct guide you...”

Simonetti appears to be a living embodiment of “being yourself”. The long hair is styled immaculately and the clothes fit perfectly. With his self-confident manner — always with a witty one-liner on his lips, you’d imagine that self-love has never been a problem for him. But you’d be wrong.

“Being yourself isn’t something you work on and then can’t lose again,” he reflects. “It’s something you must work for every day. Your self-esteem can be super high one minute, and one hurtful comment can take it all away. The important thing to me is to remember that those feelings come and go and shouldn’t affect how I choose to live my life.”

Of course, Simonetti didn’t just come into the world outed. The journey to this point was long and not always easy. “I am a gay boy from a Catholic Italian family that grew up in the Bavarian Alps,” he tells me.

“I went to a Christian private school and was an altar boy, so being gay and challenging society’s expectations of masculinity was not exactly what my environment was used to seeing. I got bullied pretty badly. One time, someone set my jacket on fire on the school bus.

“It literally felt like medieval times, where they did that with witches. Another time, someone broke my nose because he didn’t like my hair. I know what it means to pay the price for being who you are.”

Still, Simonetti says that today “my life is pretty amazing”. Because he knows that, sadly, it is not a given to live the way he does as an out, queer, gay man, and that in many other countries there is still much more work to be done to raise awareness.

“I get to live in a gay capital city and have the man of my dreams walking down the street with me holding hands. That’s an incredible privilege that I have because other generations fought for it. I wish everyone would be able to enjoy that freedom. I feel the least we can do is to be vocal about the injustices that are happening towards our community around the world. There are so many countries where you can’t be who you are — legally — and we can’t just ignore that because our individual situations might be better.”

Spreading a message of love, peace, and positivity is not always an easy thing to do, as you have to deal with a lot of headwinds. But no matter how much hate or how many death threats he receives, Simonetti continues to hold up the flag for the community with pride, fighting for equality until change takes place.

“Sometimes I feel like society is developing in two kinds of bubbles,” he theorises.

“The one where progress is happening on a daily basis and everyone wants to be respectful and aware — and then there is a bubble that doesn’t want to know anything about all of that and wishes to live life the medieval way. My wish is that those bubbles touch each other more and actually start a dialogue that changes the reality of people being punished for not fitting in. Real progress — not just progress in a certain bubble — is the ultimate goal.”

The educational work he is doing with his initiative is something he can be very proud of, and many people with influence should take a leaf out of his book.

And even though Simonetti is aware of how important such activism is, he would prefer to put that role aside and focus on glitter, glamour, and being an entertainer: “I wish I wouldn’t have to be an activist. I wish the work of my initiative wasn’t necessary, but it is. As a gay man, I am very lucky to be able to reach a lot of people that are not queer. I hope by talking publicly about issues that affect our community and also helping other marginalised groups of people to have a platform, I can provide a positive thought that might change a person’s view to a kinder one.

“And in general, I would say everyone has to pitch in, because everyone can make a difference!”

The Attitude September/October issue is available to download and order in print now and will be on newsstands from Thursday 4 August.