The 60-year-old Italian MEP has long been one of the staunchest defenders of her grandfather's legacy. So why is she now advocating for LGBTQ+ rights?
"Better a fascist than a f*ggot!"
It was this rather unsavoury choice of words, uttered on popular Italian talk show Porta a Porta in 2006, that came to define the image of Alessandra Mussolini — one of Italy's most recognisable politicians and, as you have probably guessed, the granddaughter of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini himself.
The 60-year-old Mussolini heiress made a name for herself as something of a living paradox: a former pop starlet and film actress (Hollywood veteran Sophia Loren is her maternal aunt) turned out-and-proud far-right parliamentarian and cheerleader of her grandfather’s legacy, defying Italy's existing anti-fascist laws. And, somehow, she can also add being Jim Carrey's Twitter nemesis to her resumé.
In a career full of contradictions, Alessandra Mussolini has yet to disappoint, as the former arch-conservative has experienced a conversion of sorts: she has recently become an impassioned supporter of LGBTQ+ rights, speaking out on TV and social media recently to defend Pride and same-sex families against attacks from Italy's current conservative government.
"What does seeing a bit of music, a bit of Pride, a bit of freedom take away from you?" she yelled at one right-wing journalist on a talk show earlier this month. "Lock yourself up at home, take a Bible and read it." Some in the community are even re-baptising Ms. Mussolini as a "gay icon".
So how did one of Italy's most outspoken fascist apologists turn into a rainbow warrior?
Who is Alessandra Mussolini?
A Roman by birth and upbringing, Alessandra Mussolini was born to an unlikely union of both the darkest political forces and brightest cinematic stars in Italian history.
Her father, Romano, was the fourth son of Benito Mussolini, who led a brutal Fascist regime from 1922 to 1943 and joined forces with Adolf Hitler in World War II.
Her mother Anna Maria, on the other hand, is the sister of Sophia Loren, one of Italy’s most beloved actresses and an icon of 1950s and 60s Hollywood.
Alessandra's own meandering life journey is a reflection of her decidedly eccentric background.
At first, she took a stab at a silver screen career under her aunt Sophia's wing, briefly moving to Los Angeles and playing a few minor roles in a smattering of film productions, including one Oscar-nominated picture; the 1977 period drama, A Special Day.
By the 80s, the fresh-faced Mussolini was already posing for Playboy and even released her own pop album, Amore - which has become something of a cult classic in Japan.
Come the following decade, however, she left the world of entertainment behind her, deciding to put her surname to political use.
Representing Naples, her mother's city, Ms. Mussolini ran for parliament as member of Italy's neo-fascist Social Movement (MSI) in 1992, the very year a teenage Giorgia Meloni joined the same party.
"With my grandfather, at least there was a stand, a sense of responsibility, common sense and a love for Italy which is no more," she stated.
Alessandra was ultimately elected to the lower house of parliament and served as MP for 12 years until, in 2003, she decided to abandon National Alliance - the newer, more moderate incarnation of the MSI - after disagreeing with the party President's rejection of fascism as "the ultimate evil".
Ms. Mussolini subsequently teamed up with long-time PM and tycoon Silvio Berlusconi in 2008, joining his party as MP and eventually becoming a Senator and a Member of the European Parliament - a position she holds to this day.
And she's not the only Mussolini currently in Italian politics - her half-sister, Rachele, and cousin, Caio, are also right-wing politicians, members of Meloni's Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d'Italia) party.
The Mussolini signature: A long list of controversies
Throughout her political career, Alessandra Mussolini has been a vocal champion of Italian nationalism, and has acted as a bodyguard of sorts for her grandfather's reputation.
As outlined above, her most infamous outburst to date happened while debating Vladimir Luxuria, Italy’s first trans politician, on late-night TV in 2006, which saw Mussolini deliver her notorious homophobic statement.
That said, Alessandra boasts a long list of other scandals and controversies under her belt.
Her longstanding, belligerent refusal to distance herself from her family name - which veers on the edges of illegality, as Italy bans the public advocacy of Fascism - has been the source of significant public opprobrium.
Over the years, Alessandra has signed pictures of her grandfather, demanded a journalist "respect" her family, and called American actor Jim Carrey a "b*stard" after he tweeted a drawing of Benito Mussolini's corpse hanging upside down.
As for Italy's anti-fascist Liberation Day on 25 April? Unsurprisingly, Alessandra hasn't been its biggest fan.
"I don't celebrate it", she told TV presenter Lilli Gruber back in 2016. "I have this surname... and I defend [my family]."
As Ms. Mussolini's infamous Porta a Porta comment also demonstrated, her historical relationship with Italy's LGBTQ+ community has not always been the warmest.
Once "highly opposed" to extending the right of adoption to same-sex couples, Alessandra had expressed her horror at the thought of a child seeing "two men rolling around in bed".
Then again, the right-wing politician's once slavish devotion to defending her grandfather's honour even extended to alleging he did not actually hate gay people - despite having exiled thousands to the Tremiti islands off the Apulian coast.
"My family had many friendships with homosexuals," she stated back in 2008. "I don't deny the [exiles], but painting the Mussolini family as homophobic is wrong."
'To change means to be free': The rainbow conversion
After decades spent in the culture war's trenches, defending ultra-conservative values to the hilt, it seems Alessandra Mussolini has found her true colours: no longer threatening to sport (In Italian)"Long live granddad" T-shirts, but waving the LGBTQ+ community's rainbow flag.
Over the past couple of years, the former hardliner has dressed up for Pride, stood up for trans and non-binary individuals, and even called for more gender fluidity.
"Enough with sex and sexuality, everyone is as fluid as they want," she stated last October. "You want to see me become fluid too?"
Recently, such attitudes have triggered a rift of sorts with Italy's far-right PM Giorgia Meloni.
Ms. Mussolini now stands at the frontline of activists directly opposing the approach taken by Meloni's nationalist government, which has taken steps to make life more difficult for certain LGBTQ+ people living in Italy.
For example, when state prosecutors tried to strip birth certificates from the children of same-sex families last month, Alessandra urged the European Parliament to intervene.
"Children must be defended from everyone and everything," she argued, calling for birth certificates to be recognised regardless of how the children in question were conceived.
She further lamented the Italian government's move, calling it "unworthy of a civilised country".
Earlier this year, Alessandra even took Brussels to task, complaining about how MEP passports only had "male" and "female" options.
Ms. Mussolini's pink-friendly U-turn has certain turned heads, but not only for being at odds with her political background: her change of heart contrasts broader trends among conservatives worldwide, who have started taking up more vehemently queer-hostile attitudes - especially in the US, where various states are trying to ban drag performers.
So what led Ms. Mussolini to repudiate her past and go against the right-wing grain?
It seems the firebrand politician's "Road to Damascus" moment happened sometime in 2020, when Alessandra participated in Italy's version of Dancing With the Stars, and was prompted by judges to apologise for her "better a fascist than a f*ggot” comment.
Since then, Pandora's box was opened, and Ms. Mussolini has yet to return to her older ways.
Indeed, in 2021, Alessandra posed for a glittery, Pride-themed photoshoot and defended the Zan bill, which aimed to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals, women and those with disabilities from discrimination. It was botched by the Senate in October of that year, which she described as being an affront to "freedom".
Given Alessandra Mussolini's heavy political baggage and immeasurable string of problematic statements, some may still struggle to digest her newfound queer allyship. But others in the community have welcomed her with open arms, noting that individuals have a right to change their stances - something that often happens after positive interactions with relatives or friends.
Indeed, perhaps the biggest factor behind Ms. Mussolini's 180-degree shift has been her children themselves.
"In life we all change: on the basis of our experiences, of things that happen," Alessandra told Vanity Fair. "Talking to my kids, I understood that for [them], sexual orientation isn't even a topic: it's like putting on a dress that you can change, and nobody cares what it's like".