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Gay governor of Sicily blocks U.S. military antenna

U.S. Embassy in Rome says antenna needed for support of NATO operations

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MUOS, Mobile User Objective System, gay news, Washington Blade
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.”

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South America

La Pesada Subversiva battles anti-LGBTQ digital violence in Bolivia

Santa Cruz-based collective is trans, feminist, and sexually diverse

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Members of La Pesada Subversiva in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. (Photo courtesy of La Pesada Subversiva)

In Bolivia, the collective La Pesada Subversiva faced an onslaught of digital violence they could have never imagined after showcasing their LGBTQ artwork. Thanks to Hivos’ Digital Defenders Partnership, they received critical support and training to protect themselves, and now have tools to fight against online aggression.

La Pesada Subversiva (The Subversive Troublemakers), a trans, feminist, and sexually diverse collective in Bolivia, has emerged as a form of resistance to patriarchy and gender-based violence. Founded in 2018 in Santa Cruz, one of Bolivia’s most conservative regions, the collective uses various art forms — audiovisual, writing, street happenings, and social media content — to express their views in demonstrations, protests, and the virtual realm.

Cristian Egüez (he/him), one of the founders, explains, “In this region, far-right and ultra-religious narratives are prevalent, pushed by very conservative authorities. In such a tough context, collectives are needed with the courage to confront them and maintain a critical approach to the violence that occurs.” 

Pride Month and ensuing violence

The Altillo Benni Museum, the largest in the city, commemorated Pride Month for the first time on June 1, 2022. They opened an LGBTQ art exhibition called “Revolución Orgullo” or “Pride Revolution” led by La Pesada Subversiva. The collective’s groundbreaking LGBTQ art exhibition faced vehement opposition.

“We adorned the museum facade with trans and LGBTIQ+ flags,” Egüez recounts, “but it lasted less than a day because a group of neighbors came to protest violently and aggressively.” 

Despite this, the exhibition attracted over 400 visitors, demonstrating growing public support for their cause. 

Confronting online harassment

To the collective’s surprise, the museum’s director defended the exhibition, stating that no artwork would be removed, and the exhibition would remain until the end of the month. But then an unimaginable wave of digital violence hit them. Egüez recalls the aftermath: “The event left us emotionally devastated. Throughout that year, every day, we had to endure threats and harassment online.” 

Alejandra Menacho (she/her), another founder of La Pesada Subversiva, shares her experience, saying, “They threatened to rape me, to teach me how to be a woman. It overwhelmed us; it started to really hurt because we felt … everything we said or did was being surveilled.” The collective faced constant harassment on social media, with anti-rights groups monitoring their activities and scaring them with false threats.

Seeking protection from the Digital Defenders Partnership

As the onslaught escalated, the collective sought refuge and support. They applied for a grant from the DDP to get digital protection and security. With DDP’s assistance, they underwent comprehensive training in digital security measures, enabling them to protect their online presence effectively. The members learned to protect themselves and their accounts, not to publish certain things, and to be cautious about disclosing their whereabouts. DDP’s training gave them a comprehensive understanding of digital security tools and provided clear guidelines for dealing with future incidents and how to report them. 

In addition to these digital security skills, they learned physical self-defense techniques, blending martial arts with a feminist approach. 

“This has strengthened us immensely. Now we understand digital security holistically and are always safeguarding our networks,” Menacho emphasizes. 

Members of La Pesada Subversiva in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. (Photo courtesy of La Pesada Subversiva)

The ongoing struggle of online resilience

Despite the challenges, La Pesada Subversiva remains steadfast in their mission. 

“Digital security must be integrated across the board; it’s not something you attend a workshop for and forget. It must be practiced continually,” Egüez asserts. 

For Menacho, even though she has experienced a lot of frustration and anger, learning to combine these digital tools with psychology and art has helped her express themselves and achieve emotional balance. 

“Because we are rebellious, we want to do these things. Also, because we don’t want these injustices to continue in Santa Cruz. That’s why we keep coming back and reinventing ourselves,” Menacho said. 

La Pesada Subversiva’s journey exemplifies the resilience and determination of marginalized communities in the face of adversity. Through collective empowerment and solidarity, they navigate the complexities of digital violence, emerging stronger and more united in their pursuit of equality and justice. 

The Digital Defenders Partnership (DDP), managed by Hivos, is an emergency grant mechanism for digital activists under threat launched by the Freedom Online Coalition in 2012. It provides a holistic response to digital threats and creates resilient and sustainable networks of support to human rights defenders.

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District of Columbia

60,000 expected for annual D.C. Black Pride this weekend

Celebration includes educational workshops, social events, more

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A scene from last year’s Black Pride celebration. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The 33rd annual D.C. Black Pride festival and celebration is scheduled to take place May 23-27 during Memorial Day weekend with at least 60,000 people from the D.C. metro area and across the country and some from abroad expected to attend.

Like in recent years, most of the events are scheduled to take place at the Westin Washington, D.C. Downtown Hotel at 999 9th St., N.W.

Although the official DC Black Pride Opening Reception is scheduled to take place Friday, May 24, at the Westin Hotel with live entertainment, an online schedule of events shows that earlier events, including a Mr. & Miss DC Black Pride Pageant and the 8th annual DC Black Pride Unity Ball, were scheduled to take place Thursday, May 23 at the Westin.

Also similar to recent past years, a Rainbow Row: Organization & Vendor Expo will open at the hotel at 5 p.m. on May 25 and remain open most of the time throughout the weekend events. The Rainbow Row includes booths and tables set up by local and national LGBTQ organizations and LGBTQ-supportive allied organizations and businesses.

According to the official schedule, the Opening Reception will include performances by Paris Sashay, Keith Angels, Bang Garcon, Black Assets, Marcy Smiles, and Sherri Amoure and will be hosted by the “DMV’s own Anthony Oake” and the “legendary DJ Sedrick will be spinning all night.”

The schedule shows that 11 individual workshop sessions will take place at the hotel throughout the day on Saturday, May 25. Among the workshop titles are Drag Chronicles: From Artform to Activism; Self-Care and Self-Compassion; Sexpectations: Navigating Sexual & Romantic Compatibility While Dating; Advocating for Black LGBTQ Youth in Foster Care; Queering Theology: Black Pride in the Pews; What is the L?! All Things Lesbian; and Primary Sources: Elders Sharing Our Histories.

Two official outdoor events include Pride by the River Super Sunday scheduled for Sunday, May 26, from 12-8 p.m. at D.C.’s Anacostia Park at 1500 Anacostia Dr., S.E. presented by the local group Project Brings; and the annual Pride In The Park set for Monday, May 27, at D.C.’s Fort Dupont Park, 1500 Anacostia Dr., S.E., presented by the local community services group Us Helping Us.

Some of the other numerous events, aside from several evening parties at popular D.C. nightclubs, include a Wellness Pavilion, a Poetry Slam, a Writer’s Forum, and a Faith Service.

A statement released by the D.C.-based Center for Black Equity, which organizes the D.C. Black Pride events, notes that the first D.C. Black Pride was held May 25, 1991, and organized by local Black gay activists Welmore Cook, Theodore Kirkland and Ernest Hopkins, became the “catalyst for what is now regarded as the Black Pride Movement.”

It notes that, among other things, the first D.C. Black Pride event and Black Pride events in subsequent years raised funds for HIV/AIDS organizations that provided services to the African-American community in D.C. and the surrounding area.

The statement adds, “Since its birth, more than 50 other Black Pride celebrations now take place throughout the world, many using DC Black Pride as its model.”

And like in past years, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has issued an official mayoral proclamation declaring May 20-27, 2024, DC Black Pride Week.

The full schedule for DC Black Pride 2024 events can be accessed at dcblackpride.org/schedule.htm.

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District of Columbia

Capital Stonewall Dems endorse Biden, 2 incumbent Council members

LGBTQ political group doesn’t back Del. Norton or Brooke Pinto

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D.C. Council member Robert White speaks with a Capital Stonewall Democrats member at a post endorsement party. (Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro Jr.)

The Capital Stonewall Democrats, D.C.’s largest local LGBTQ political organization, announced on May 21 that it has endorsed President Joe Biden, incumbent D.C. Council members Robert White (D-At-Large) and Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4), and incumbent U.S. Shadow Rep. Oye Owolewa (D) in the city’s June 4 primary election.

But the LGBTQ Democratic group did not make endorsements in five other races to be decided in the primary, including the re-election bid of D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), a longtime LGBTQ rights supporter on Capitol Hill; and D.C. Council member Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2), an outspoken LGBTQ rights supporter who is running unopposed for re-election.

Capital Stonewall Democrats President Michael Haresign said the no endorsement decisions happened at least in part because of a longstanding requirement that candidates must receive at least a 60 percent threshold vote by the organization’s members to secure an endorsement. He said members also had the option of voting for “no endorsement” under the organization’s voting system.

“Very few candidates met the 60 percent threshold,” he told the Washington Blade. Haresign said the organization would soon release the numerical vote count and percentage of the vote each candidate received from Capital Stonewall members through an online ranked choice voting process.

In a press release issued on May 21, Capital Stonewall Democrats announced the percentage of the vote the four endorsed candidates received from its members who voted: Biden, 82.2%, Lewis George, 79.07%, Robert White, 78.6%, and Owolewa, 67.5%. Haresign said the organization was not ready to release the vote percentage for the candidates that were not endorsed, but he said those figures would be released soon.

He told the Blade that Capital Stonewall Democrats currently has 91 members who are eligible to vote for endorsements and that 47 of those members participated in the voting.

 “I’m honored by this endorsement,” Robert White told the Blade at a party for its endorsed candidates that Capital Stonewall Democrats held beginning at 7 p.m. on May 21 at The Brig restaurant and bar in the Barracks Row section of Capitol Hill.

“The Stonewall Democrats have stood with me in every election, and it’s meant a lot to me,” White said. Most LGBTQ activists have said White is among the Council’s strongest LGBTQ supporters.

The other endorsed Council candidate, Lewis George, and Shadow D.C. Representative Owolewa were invited to the party but had other conflicting events to attend, according to Haresign, who said Owolewa texted him to say he might show up shortly before the event was to end at 9 p.m.

The races in which no endorsement was made include the Ward 7 D.C. Council race in which 10 Democratic candidates are competing for the Council seat held by incumbent Council member and former D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D), who is not running for re-election. With 10 candidates running, the fact that none received a 60 percent vote threshold did not come as a surprise.

Haresign said Ward 7 candidate Eboni-Rose Thompson made a strong showing by capturing 51 percent of the vote. Thompson attended the endorsement party as a “runner up,” one of her supporters said.

A no endorsement decision  by the group was also made in the Ward 8 D.C. Council race in which incumbent Council member Trayon White (D) is being challenged by Democrats Rahman Branch and Salim Adofo. Trayon White has been an LGBTQ rights supporter during his tenure as a Council member. Adolfo expressed support for LGBTQ rights during his appearance at a virtual candidates forum held by Capital Stonewall Democrats earlier this month. Trayon White and Branch did not appear at the forum.

Capital Stonewall’s decision not to endorse Pinto came as a surprise to some local LGBTQ activists. Pinto has been an outspoken supporter of LGBTQ rights. She is running unopposed in the Democratic primary on June 4, and no one is running for the Ward 2 Council seat in the primary for D.C.’s two other registered political parties – the Republican and Statehood Green parties. That means Pinto will also run unopposed in the November general election, although a write-in candidate could emerge.

Also coming as a surprise was the group’s decision not to endorse Eleanor Holmes Norton in her re-election bid as D.C.’s non-voting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives. Norton has been an outspoken supporter of LGBTQ rights and a vocal opponent of anti-LGBTQ legislation introduced in the House by anti-LGBTQ Republicans in her 34 years in office.

Haresign said neither Norton nor Pinto attended the group’s candidate forum and the two also did not submit a statement or video as did other candidates who were unable to attend the forums. That could have played a role in the members’ decision not to endorse them, according to Haresign.

However, Haresign said it is possible that due to a glitch in the group’s online invitation process that Pinto may not have received the invitation for the candidate forum. The Blade has contacted Pinto’s office to confirm whether the invite was received, but the office did not immediately respond.

 The other race in which Capital Stonewall Democrats did not make an endorsement is the race for U.S. Shadow senator in which incumbent Michael D. Brown is not seeking re-election. Local political activists Eugene Kinlow and Ankit Jain, both Democrats, are competing for the seat. Kinlow and Jain attended one of the two virtual candidate forums held by Capital Stonewall Democrats and each expressed support for LGBTQ rights.

The second of the two Shadow D.C. U.S. Senate seats is held by incumbent Democrat Paul Straus who’s not up for re-election this year. Like the D.C. Shadow U.S. Representative seat, the Shadow Senate positions have no voting rights or authority in Congress and are unpaid positions created to advocate for D.C. statehood and support for D.C. in Congress.

As has been the case in D.C. elections for many years, the lesser-known candidates running against Robert White, Lewis George, and Owolewa have also expressed support for LGBTQ rights. Robert White’s sole Democratic opponent, Rodney Red Grant, expressed strong support for LGBTQ equality at one of  the virtual candidate forums held by Capital Stonewall Democrats. White, who also attended the forum, reiterated his longstanding, strong support for LGBTQ issues. 

One of Lewis George’s two opponents in the Ward 4 Democratic primary, Paul Johnson, expressed support for LGBTQ rights during one of the two forums. The second opponent, Lisa Gore, did not show up for the forum and her position on LGBTQ issues could not immediately be determined.

Linda L. Gray, Owolewa’s sole opponent in the Democratic primary for the Shadow Representative seat, also expressed strong support for LGBTQ issues at one of the two Capital Stonewall candidate forums.

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