“The topic was on my mind for a long time,” Jacopo Guarnieri said of his decision to protest the anti-LGBT laws in Hungary during the Giro d’Italia’s Grande Partenza by wearing a trans rights wristband during the team presentation.
“Because the law was approved in Hungary in 2021 [after the Giro had already agreed to go the country].
“I spoke about it in December already with Attila [Valter], and I asked him, how is the feeling in the country. It was my idea from already a long time ago. In the beginning, I was thinking to have something with the rainbow flag on it. But coincidentally, two weeks before leaving for the Giro, a friend of mine came up with this bracelet, which is more of a trans flag, they told me the story from the cyclocross world championship, which was probably seen a bit more worldwide.”
From the official Giro d’Italia Twitter account, the following image was sent around the world. Whether this was intentional? We’ll probably never know.
“It was perfect because I didn’t really know what kind of support to give, and it was as simple as that,” the Italian Groupama-FDJ rider told the media on the first rest day after arriving in Italy. “The bracelet was easy to put on. So I decided to do it during the presentation while on stage, it was kind of silent, but not a silent message.”
It was a calculated move, Guarnieri said, something done in public where surely no one would dare stop him.
“We’re not superheroes but it was in a moment where, it’s not like you’re untouchable, but they cannot say anything in public for such a small thing, or against a foreigner, I think,” the 34-year-old explained. “I took the chance and the advantage that I was in a safer position. But I also thought maybe I could have pissed off somebody, not just thinking about the politicians but a member of the public, maybe in the time trial someone tries to punch me. A punch I can sustain, so why not.
“After all, it’s Europe. So let’s hope … in my mind, I was hoping I could pass on the message without taking too much risk.”
Guarnieri said he didn’t hear anything good or bad from either his fellow riders or from the race organisers following his protest, nor experienced any change in behaviour from either party. However, the outpouring of support on social media gave him the confidence that he’d definitely made the right decision after a bout of expected nerves beforehand.
“Probably someone agreed with me, probably someone was happy but they just didn’t tell me, who knows,” Guarnieri said, keen to stress he wants to focus on spreading positive messages rather than trying to convince people who think otherwise or trying to “destroy something that is already a bunch of crap.”
“For example,” he continued. “It’s not worth trying to convince an anti-vaxxer to get a vaccine, it’s better to focus on the people you can convince and try to grow in number rather than lose your mind with someone who doesn’t agree.”
There are, of course, many questionable places around the world where bike races happen all the time. Having left Hungary for Italy, the Giro d’Italia is progressing through places where homosexual couples are generally not allowed to adopt children. “It’s not easy to be 100% right with yourself and your morals. Everyone tries to do their best. Instead of looking at 20% missing I try and focus on what I am doing,” was Guarnieri’s answer to that.
So, why does Guarnieri think we haven’t seen any other riders protesting, and in general, why does the peloton keep their politician opinions private for the most part?
“With cycling, we don’t see so many, I think there are many reasons, I don’t think there’s just one explanation,” Guarnieri began. “Some maybe don’t have any idea [about it] and maybe some are against.”
“Personally I’ve always been clear what my ideas are and I’m always clear to respectfully explain to someone some topics. Not everything can be brought into the discussion but for sure, I’m a person too after all. Let’s say, we’re not experts on international policy so I try to be more positive, I don’t have a solution for what Hungary can do for transexual people, I can just share my support and share a positive vibe. That’s me, simple as that.”
Finally, does he think the Giro d’Italia was right to go to Hungary?
“I don’t know actually, it’s hard to say,” Guarnieri said. “There are many things involved, and things also came from three years ago, when the laws weren’t already in place. I’m not an organiser so I don’t know what’s behind those decisions.
“If I look on the other side, I can say I was there and I could show support while I was there. It’s hard to say, I think it’s a mix in between. Isolate and try to fight from the inside. It’s not my decision, like what you said before, try to be 100% honest with yourself, there are many places we shouldn’t go. It’s not easy.
“It’s a balance between fighting for what is right, and try to survive in your own job. It won’t be any easier. It’s not my role to decide what’s behind this but I can have my personal view. On some things, I think it was right to honour the contract, on the other hand maybe not.”
“Tell the world the Giro d’Italia is starting in Budapest,” the announcer said at the start of stage 1 in Budapest’s Heroes’ Square. Jacopo Guarnieri was just doing as he was told.