Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Sicily's Gay Governor Battles Mob, Machismo Stereotypes

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Sicily's Gay Governor Battles Mob, Machismo Stereotypes

Article excerpt

PALERMO, Italy -- Of the last two men to sit in Sicily's palatial governor's office, one is up on criminal charges and the other is doing hard time. Enter their successor, Rosario Crocetta -- the unlikeliest politician ever to govern Cosa Nostra country.

Back when he was mayor of a coastal town plagued by mob violence, Mr. Crocetta took on the dons, combating the ingrained practice of pizzo, or forced protection payments, while helping put hundreds of gangsters behind bars. His anti-Mafia revolution led crime boss Daniele Emmanuello to call for his assassination, with police subsequently arresting a series of mobsters for plots against his life.

Since winning the governor's job nine months ago, Mr. Crocetta has taken his crusade island-wide, kicking a hornet's nest as he strengthens anti-Mafia laws and takes aim at the cronyism, waste and corruption that turned Sicily's treasury into the gift that kept giving. But to get this far, the 62-year-old former Communist with a penchant for sea-blue spectacles first had to tackle another powerful adversary: masculine stereotypes in Italy's macho south.

"I'm homosexual, which I call a gift from God, and no, I didn't hide it one bit!" he said, dangling a lit Marlboro and rearing his head back in a raucous laugh. Talking about his successful campaign for governor, he said, "the fact that I'm here is almost inconceivable. Even I'm surprised."

Across Europe, openly gay politicians are cracking the pink ceiling as never before, winning in recent years the prime minister's job in Belgium and Iceland and holding the high post of foreign minister in Germany, the region's powerhouse. Even in Italy - - the only major nation in Western Europe without any form of legal recognition for same-sex couples -- a gay candidate, Nichi Vendola, won the governorship of Apulia, in the Italian south, seven years ago. Despite still deep resistance in Italy to gay-rights laws, Mr. Vendola easily won re-election and is now a national kingmaker on the Italian left.

And yet Mr. Crocetta's win in Sicily -- a conservative bastion of the Catholic Church, machismo and the Mafia -- has left even Italian gay rights advocates flabbergasted, upending conventional perceptions of Italy's south as less socially progressive than the more prosperous north. …

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