Rainbow Christmas lights strung over Rome's best-known shopping districts were switched on Friday sparking outrage.
Mayor Ignazio Marino and City Assemblywoman Imma Battaglia say the lights were a dedication to three gay teens who committed suicide earlier this year. Their deaths resulted in a public outcry against homophobia.
"That is how we came up with the rainbow flag idea," said Battaglia, who leads a gay rights campaign group.
The rainbow lights span a mile along the Via del Corso, spanning from Piazza Venezia to Piazza del Popolo.
Italy’s far right Fratelli d’Italia party opposes the LGBT installation.
"The idea is provocative and ideological. There should be an Italian tri-colour instead," said Fabrizio Ghera, a Fratelli d’Italia assemblyman.
Last year the lights were simple white monochrome.
In order to diffuse tension on Friday the head of the company behind the installation, Laura Rossi International, dedicated the rainbow lights to South African anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, who died last week.
"This way the message of love, tolerance, unity and sharing will become stronger," Rossi told the AFP.