Not since 2013, when a boycott of Barilla brand pasta raged around the world, has the Italian company been the focus of so many headlines.
What he had said was that he “would never do an advertisement with a homosexual family… if the gays don’t like it they can go an eat another brand.” And the backlash got his attention.
“Yesterday I apologized for offending many people around the world,” Barilla said in his apology video. “Today I am repeating that apology.”
“I have heard the countless reactions around the world to my words, which have depressed and saddened me. It is clear that I have a lot to learn about the lively debate concerning the evolution of the family,” he said. “In the coming weeks, I pledge to meet representatives of the group that best represent the evolution of the family, including those who have been offended by my words.”
It wasn’t just words. Within weeks, Barilla appointed a diversity officer. In 2014, Barilla featured a gay man coming out to his parents in Italy’s first LGBTQ-friendly TV commercial. And one year after earning the scorn of the gay community, Barilla was awarded a perfect score in the Human Rights Campaign’s Equality Index, drawing headlines as a “diversity trailblazer.”
Now, as Slate reported, with the Barilla boycott of 2013 still fresh in their minds, Italian LGBTQ activists are being more vocal in challenging normalized homophobia. Inspired by their American counterparts, these groups are working to dismantle Western Europe’s last bastion of “traditional marriage.”
The transformation is so complete that the Huffington Post included Barilla in a 2016 article titled, “Here Are 5 Companies Going Above and Beyond for the LGBT Community.” It noted the company has maintained its top score on HRC’s Equality Index.
But the water might boil over yet again, with news that Barilla is expanding into Saudi Arabia in a partnership with Maya Foods. Food Navigator reports the company hopes to see a 5 percent boost in business over the next five years. It already has partners in other Middle East nations including the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman.
But it is Saudi Arabia that is both its new target for growth and a nation that is notorious for antigay laws. Homosexuality is not only outlawed, but punishable by death, as Equaldex notes. Likewise, same-sex marriage is against the law, and gay people are not allowed to adopt children. Discrimination in housing and employment is not protected. The one and only permissible act by someone in the LGBTQ community is to undergo a change in gender, and surgery is not required for new legal papers to be issued.
It remains to be seen if Barilla’s improved reputation in Italy, the United States and around the world will suffer as a result of its new business in repressive, antigay Saudi Arabia.