Italian pasta brand Barilla in gay advert row

A bowl of pasta (file image)

Activists in Italy have called for a boycott of leading pasta brand Barilla after its chairman said he would not use gay people in adverts.

Guido Barilla, chairman of the company of the same name, told a radio interviewer the concept of the "classic" family was fundamental.

If gay people disliked the concept, he said, they could "eat another brand".

His comments were an "offensive provocation", according to the head of gay rights group Equality Italia.

"We accept the invitation from the Barilla owner to not eat his pasta," Aurelio Mancuso said, urging a boycott of the company's pasta, sauces and snacks.

The hash tags Barilla and boicottabarilla (boycott Barilla) became top trending terms among Italians using Twitter.

Alessandro Zan, a gay Italian MP, tweeted: "You can't mess around with consumers, including gay ones."

'Slightly different'

In the interview given to Radio 24 on Tuesday, Mr Barilla had been asked if adverts for his company would ever feature a gay family.

"We have a slightly different culture," he replied.

"For us, the concept of sacred family remains one of the fundamental values of the company. Ours is a traditional family. If gays like our pasta and our communication, they will eat our pasta. If not, they can avoid it and eat another brand. You can't please everyone in order to displease no-one.

"I wouldn't do an ad with a homosexual family not because I disrespect gays - they have their right to do whatever they want without disturbing others - but because I don't think like them and I think that the family we try to address is anyway a classic family."

On Thursday, Mr Barilla issued a statement to apologise, explaining that he was trying to say "simply that the woman plays a central role in a family".

"Barilla features families in its commercials because it embraces anyone, and they have always been identified with our brand," he added.

Despite a strong gay culture, Italy is one of the few states in Western Europe which does not recognise same-sex unions in law.

In its latest annual survey, the gay rights watchdog Ilga-Europe found the country continued to have a "relatively high level of homophobia and transphobia which expresses itself through violence".

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