Gay Rome: Colossal Paradox

Gay Rome is a paradox. While homoerotic tendencies are infused in its art and history (think gladiators, public bathing, chiseled abs on erect fig-leafed statues, the Sistine Chapel...), the city is not as comfortable in terms of embracing sexual identity as some of the other capitals of Europe. Probably because along with the ancient artful displays of male beauty, there's virulently anti-gay Catholicism just as deeply carved in the stone. Rome's most popular denizen after hundreds of years remains the Pope - and his leery eyes watching over the city still have a hold on a portion of the population despite the church's own huge homosexual population.

With that said, the guy's getting pretty old. And gay life is emerging. Most gay bars don't flash their entrances and some still require you to ring a doorbell. The baths and sex clubs linger close to the Trastevere and San Giovanni neighborhoods. There's even a popular gay bar right next to the Colosseum.

Viale San Giovanni is Rome's Compton, its Castro, its Christopher Street. A pedestrian-friendly street that has lured gay bars and other business catering to the community.

During the summer, that's when the gay party really starts. Since 2005 the LGBT community has been fairly represented in the Estate Romana, a city-sponsored celebration with outdoor concerts and events throughout Rome. The Gay Village brings gay-friendly concerts, film screenings, readings and even drag shows.

Recently, Rome was named the host of the 2011 EuroPride happening for 10 days during the summer --so expect more glaring and eye-rolling from that stubborn guy with the funky hat.