Francesco Spano led UNAR, a government organization that gave hundreds of thousands of euros to groups combatting homophobic discrimination. What makes it significant is that Italy is considered to be behind on LGBTQ issues; it was the last western European country to pass laws legalizing same-sex unions, same-sex couples still cannot adopt, and are still not legally considered to be 'married.'
An investigative television show called The Hyenas revealed that €180,000 of taxpayer money went to saunas and private gay clubs across Rome where customers would pay for sex. According to the investigative show, three clubs in the city that received €55,560 tax-free offered sensual massages with an option for intercourse, or oral sex, if the patron paid extra. The incidents were caught on videotape.
Other clubs offered 'dark rooms' in which group sex took place. A membership card was required to enter, which a person could only get with valid ID. A bouncer said this was done because it "keeps out the police and women," according to the Daily Beast.
When asked if there were cultural events at the clubs, a government requirement to receive funding, one regular patron responded, "Every now and then they put up a stand at the entrance from an association against AIDS…It’s there maybe three times a year."
Reporters for the television program confronted Spano with their discoveries, including a club membership in his name. He vowed to “verify” the groups associated with the clubs, and said that if such behavior was going on he would "cut their funding."
After stepping down, Spano said he made his exit, "out of respect for the work the office does," and that it was "not an admission of guilt." The clubs remained on the roster two weeks later.
Consumer group Codacons demanded an investigation after the program aired, writing in a statement that, "It is difficult to imagine that 'positive action' (against discrimination) could include in any fashion activities which include prostitution."
Some called for UNAR to be disbanded, but others pointed out that not all of its beneficiaries are illicit. The Italian Red Cross, UNICEF and UNHCR are also recipients of agency funding.
Daniele Priori, national secretary of LGBTQ political group Gaylon, said, "We hope the government intervenes, not to close UNAR, but to verify who receives the money and if necessary demand it be repaid…The reputation of Italy’s gay movement is at stake."
Spano defended UNAR’s work to reporters, asserting that, "The association provides for the creation of support centers for victims of homophobic violence."