BY NATASHA BARSOTTI – Nichi Vendola announced his intention to run for prime minister in Italy's 2013 elections on Aug 1, according to various media reports.
If he prevails, Vendola would become Italy's first openly gay prime minister. Belgium's prime minister Elio Di Rupo is also openly gay.
Vendola, the governor of the southern Italian region of Puglia, could face three-time prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who resigned last fall over the eurozone crisis and various sleaze allegations but has signalled his desire to run for a fourth time.
Vendola, who is a practising Catholic, says his religious beliefs, sexuality and politics are all part of his identity.
The BBC notes that Berlusconi's televised snipe that "it's better to love beautiful women than to be gay" was believed to be aimed at Vendola, who fired back via YouTube that the time for jokes was over and that the scandal-plagued Berlusconi's humour was not amusing to an exhausted, impoverished country.
Vendola became the leader of the left-leaning Ecology Freedom Party in 2009, after leaving the Communist Refoundation Party. He says he no longer defines himself as a Communist, calling Communism a "wonderful question" but a "terrible answer."