Giovanni Licchello, 26, who played for Swiss club Scion until 2009, was rewarded for his bravery after being left scarred for life when he defended a gay friend who was beaten in a nightclub.
The jury of the competition, which was held at the Mamamia gay club in Torre del Lago, Tuscany, also heard the story of Hussyien Adnan, an Iraqi refugee who fled his home country after his family ordered his execution. Adnan, who received the ‘Special Prize for Bravery’, was also subjected to regular beatings and harassment because of his sexuality.
He spent two years in Germany before moving to Turin, where he was taken in by a gay couple.
“I had two dads,” he told the jury.
“They looked after me and gave me the opportunity to study and work.”
The award for Mr Gay Smile went to 39-year-old Michele Ratti, a maths and physics professor from La Spezia in northern Italy. He has been “openly gay since University and proud of it.”
The competition, now in its 17th year, comes as politicians resume a debate over an anti-homophobia law. Calls among politicians and gay rights groups for tougher punishments for those involved in hate crimes against homesexuals were stepped-up after the suicide of a 14-year-old boy from Rome, who was bullied for being gay, in August.
The bill was last debated, and rejected, in 2011.