Ivan Scalfarotto, junior minister at the Italian foreign ministry and someone who has long campaigned for gay rights, is a rare bird in Italian political life: namely he openly declares himself gay.
He pointed out to the Sunday Independent last week that, of 945 deputies who sit in the Lower House, he is one of only three who have "come out", adding that not a single female deputy calls herself lesbian. Statistically, three out of 945 seems unrealistically low.
If a 2012 survey by national research body ISTAT reported that one million Italians (out of about 60 million, ie 1.66pc) declared themselves gay or bisexual then the figure for the deputies should be at least 12, if not more, but certainly not three. That 2012 figure, too, is probably an underestimation of the real number of gays.
One university lecturer, someone who has taught more than 6,000 Italian university students over the last 30 years, recently pointed out to me that in all that time not a single student has "come out" to him. No gays at all, just like there are hardly any in, say, professional football?
The thing is of course that "coming out" in today's Italy is still not easy (if it ever were easy anywhere). A good friend of ours who long ago came out as a lesbian offers an explanation, saying simply: "It is not difficult to live as a gay in Italy just as long as you do it discreetly. Put your head above the parapet - that's another matter..."
Starting as of tomorrow, the status and rights of Italy's LGBT community once again come under public spotlight when a bill, intended to criminalise "homo-trans-phobia", comes before parliament. In theory, the bill is intended to add a significant codicil to existing legislation that already makes it an offence "to propagandise or incite to crime for racial, ethnic or religious motives".
Put simply, this bill intends to add homophobic violence (verbal or physical) to that list. In other words, incitement to crime for motives "of sexual orientation or gender identity" represents an "aggravating circumstance" which will mean a heavier punishment.
The proponents of this bill argue that it will finally fill a legislative void, by comparison with other EU countries, in that it will provide "specific legal protection" for the victims of homophobia. All of that might sound pretty straightforward, but it has still provoked a major public row in Italy. Furthermore, the LGBT lobby has spent much of the last decade failing to get similar legislation enacted.
First to object - surprise, surprise - was the Italian Bishops Conference (CEI), which on June 10 argued that there was no need for such legislation, saying that it would "curb freedoms", especially freedom of speech. Does this mean that a priest now risks prosecution if he dares to affirm that "a family requires a father and a mother, not two fathers or two mothers", the bishops polemically asked.
The Bishop of Udine, Andrea Bruno Mazzocato, suggested the legislation was an attempt to impose "the dictatorship of groupthink" by threatening sanctions for free speech on the issue of sexual identity. He added that there is the "not unfounded worry" that anyone who affirms "the established truths of Christian revelation" could be accused of breaking the law.
Incredibly the Italian bishops have decided that the introduction of an anti-homophobic measure will interfere with their freedom of speech. Does that not give the impression that at the end of the day hate crimes and indeed physically violent assaults on LGBT people are if not OK, well at least not that important? A spokesman for the CEI assured the Sunday Independent that this was absolutely not the intention.
Yet, in a sense, the proposed legislation highlights a fundamental 'gay v Church' tension: namely, if basic Catholic teaching retains the practice of homosexuality to be a sin then you are hardly giving the homosexual community a clean bill of moral health no matter how many times Pope Francis says "who am I to judge?" in relation to the gay faithful.
Indeed, how much does that teaching feed into an anti-gay, anti-lesbian, anti-trans mindset that can unwittingly be distorted into hate crimes?
Not for nothing, two of the most prominent of Italy's right-wing parties, the Lega led by Matteo Salvini and Fratelli d'Italia (FI) led by Giorgia Meloni, have immediately jumped on the bishops' bandwagon, arguing that the bill would impinge on freedom of speech.
In a Twitter exchange last week, Ms Meloni even jeered European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen for having promised that the EU would defend LGBT rights, calling her "my dear bigot".
Today's Italy might be a country where 60pc of people say they approve of same-sex marriage and where same-sex civil unions now have legal recognition.
Yet it is also a country where Italy's Gay Centre reports an annual 20,000 'GayHelpLine' denunciations of homophobic violence and where 212 physical attacks on gays were reported to police last year - how many went unreported?
It is also the Italy where last week a gay couple were intimidated off a beach at Fregene, near Rome, because they had dared to kiss one another in public.
This is the Italy where, in a small village outside Rome at the end of last month, a gay couple found themselves attacked on their own front doorstep by a 50-year-old man shouting "queers, dirty queers".
The same gentleman, shovel in hand, the next day tried to attack the couple in the street, again calling them "homos" and promising to burn them and their car.
This is an Italy where if you really want to offend someone you call him a "queer". Five years ago during a tense moment in an Italian Cup football game between Napoli and Inter Milan, the Napoli coach, Maurizio Sarri, facing defeat, turned on his opposite number, Roberto Mancini, to scream 'queer' and 'puff' at him - all on live TV. For some, queer and puff are insult terminology.
In a country where the majority of gays are not 'out', it might seem logical that public opinion attaches little or no urgency to the position of the LGBT community. Certainly not in the way that many Irish embraced the gay cause in the same sex marriage referendum in 2016.
Yet all the indicators are that anti-homophobia legislation in Italy is necessary. Perhaps someone should suggest this to the Italian bishops and to their ultimate boss, His Holiness Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome.