January 14, 2013 at 8:50 am EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Gay governor of Sicily blocks U.S. military antenna
MUOS, Mobile User Objective System, gay news, Washington Blade

The Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) in Wahiawa, Hawaii — similar to the one under construction in Sicily. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class John W. Ciccarelli Jr.)

Less than two months after taking office, Sicily’s openly gay governor has temporarily stopped construction of a U.S. satellite antenna in Sicily, saying he wants assurances that the large dish antenna won’t have an adverse impact on public health and the environment.

The decision by Rosario Crocetta, 61, to invoke his authority as regional governor to halt construction of the antenna outside the town of Niscemi in south-central Sicily puts him at odds with the national Italian government, which agreed to allow the U.S. to build the facility.

The antenna facility is part of a worldwide U.S. military satellite communications system known as Mobile User Objective System (MUOS). Military officials say it is designed to employ state-of-the-art technology to allow troops on the ground to better communicate with support operations in the U.S. and throughout the world.

When completed, the system will consist of five satellites in earth orbit and four ground antenna stations, including stations in Norfolk, Va.; Washiawa, Hawaii; Geraldtown, Australia; and the one in Niscemi, Sicily.

“As a member of NATO and an important partner in international security and peace, Italy, as well as all other NATO allies, will benefit from having MUOS for support of NATO operations,” the U.S. Embassy in Rome said in a statement.

“We are not against the Americans and are not against the MOUS,” Crocetta said in a statement to the media. “But we want all the guarantees for the protection of public health.”

Rosario Crocetta, Sicily, gay news, Washington Blade

Rosario Crocetta (Photo by DEEEP Project via Wikimedia)

Crocetta announced his decision to stop construction on the antenna station shortly after protesters opposing the facility clashed with Italian police at the site of the facility. The Italian news agency ANSA reported that protestors blocked trucks and cranes from reaching the construction site.

Among other things, opponents object to the decision by Italian and U.S. military officials to place the facility close to if not within a nature preserve, where they say it could damage the fragile ecosystem.

Opponents also have expressed concern that electromagnetic waves associated with outgoing or incoming signals from the antenna could lead to a greater risk of cancer or leukemia.

Steven A. Davis, a spokesperson for the U.S. Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command in San Diego, Calif., told the Blade that the Navy has worked closely with Italian experts in the fields of signal “spectrum and radiofrequency” on two separate surveys to determine the possible effects of the ground antenna station in Sicily on the public.

“The findings from both surveys were consistent,” he said. “The MUOS ground site meets all U.S. and Italian health and safety regulations.” He said tests also showed that the MUOS antenna won’t interfere with local cell phone signals or nearby commercial or government radio, TV or other communication transmissions, including signals from a nearby commercial airport.

Italian media outlets have reported that Crocetta, a former mayor of the Sicilian city of Gela, has spoken with officials in the U.S. Embassy in Rome about the antenna controversy. It couldn’t immediately be determined whether Crocetta and U.S. Ambassador to Italy David Thorne discussed gay-related issues in addition to the dispute over the MUOS antenna.

In December 2010, Thorne, who speaks fluent Italian, took the unusual step of delivering a message in support of LGBT rights and an Italian LGBT helpline in a video broadcast over Italy’s version of MTV and YouTube.

“If you are a victim of discrimination or acts of bullying, talk to someone who is ready to listen,” he said in the video. “Call the helpline number listed on the screen. Your life is important. You are not alone. Things get better.”

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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