A fourth-gen Italian pasta mogul has sparked controversy by saying his family business would never feature a gay family in its marketing campaigns, causing gay rights activists to call for a boycott of the brand.
Guido Barilla, chairman of the eponymous family business, told Italian radio station Radio 24: “I would never do [an advert] with a homosexual family, not for lack of respect but because we don’t agree with them. Ours is a classic family where the woman plays a fundamental role.”
Barilla made the comments during a discussion about the role of women in Italian advertising, where they are often portrayed in traditional, housewife parts.
The €4 billion-a-year company’s long-running ad campaign features a family in the Italian countryside with the tag line “Where there’s Barilla, there’s a home.”
Barilla added that if gay people “like our pasta and our advertising they’ll eat our pasta, if they don’t like it then they will not eat it and they will eat another brand.”
He went on to say he was opposed to adoption by gay parents, but in favour of allowing gay marriage which is currently not legal in Italy.
The comments caused a storm on social media, with many people taking to twitter to call for a boycott of Barilla products.
Barilla issued a statement on Thursday to apologise, saying “I have the utmost respect for anyone, without distinction of any kind [and] I have the utmost respect for gay people and for everyone’s right to express themselves.”
Another large family business, US-based Marriott Hotels, also found itself the object of a boycott campaign during the controversy surrounding Proposition 8 in 2008 – an attempt by the political right to block the legalisation of gay marriage.
The eponymous founding family are strict Mormons – a church that contributed significant financial and human resources to support the constitutional amendment – prompting many LGBT customers to shun the chain.
The company has since been working on repairing its relationship with the LGBT community – with second-gen chairman Bill Marriott blogging that the business was built on principals of “respect and inclusion.” It has now signed up to sponsor the 2014 Gay Games.