An update on an earlier post: The minister responsible for the Canadian International Development Agency which has been giving funding to an evangelical organization that describes homosexuality as a "perversion" and a "sin," said Sunday no further payments will be made until officials review the organization. "I have asked officials to review this organization before further payments are made," tweeted Julian Fantino, International Cooperation Minister. The group was receiving funding from the government of Canada for its work in Uganda, where gays and lesbians face severe threats. The federal government has denounced virulent homophobia in that East African country and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has condemned plans for an anti-gay bill that could potentially include the death penalty for homosexuals. Nevertheless, the federal government has been providing $544,813 in funding for Crossroads Christian Communications — an Ontario-based evangelical group that produces television programming — to help dig wells, build latrines and promote hygiene awareness in Uganda through 2014. Until Tuesday, the organization's website carried a list of "sexual sins" deemed to be "perversion": "Turning from the true and/or proper purpose of sexual intercourse; misusing or abusing it, such as in pedophilia, homosexuality and lesbianism, sadism, masochism, transvestism, and bestiality." Lower down the page, the group asks sinners to "repent." "God cares too much for you (and all of His children) to leave such tampering and spiritual abuse unpunished," according to the group's website. Just hours after the Canadian Press contacted the group to ask a spokesperson about the site, the page in question disappeared from public view. Fantino acknowledged in his tweet that the original content on the site was down. The organization has been funded by the Canadian International Development Agency. Just a few days ago the Quebec government announced its desire to create its own parallel agency because it no longer supported CIDA's policy choices. This particular funding choice may also conflict with the federal government's own statements. Last October, Baird denounced abuses against gays and lesbians and specifically singled out Uganda in a speech at an international conference in Quebec City. "We will speak out on the issues that matter to Canadians — whether it is the role and treatment of women around the world, or the persecution of gays," Baird told the Inter-Parliamentary Union conference. In that speech, Baird shared the story of a Ugandan gay-rights advocate who was bludgeoned to death in his own home. That speech provoked an angry reaction from the head of the Ugandan delegation, Rebecca Kadaga, who accused Baird of "arrogance" and "ignorance" and demanded an apology. Crossroads defends its position on homosexuality as grounded in scripture. "Crossroads' views on sexuality are informed by our Christian faith and values," spokeswoman Carolyn Innis told the Canadian Press in an e-mail. She said the projects funded by CIDA do not include evangelical work and are focused on specific objectives. On the group's website, under the section "Who We Are," the group describes its mission the following way — "Our motivation: To communicate a visible expression of God's love, and contribute to the transformation of lives around the world." But that doesn't mean the group is getting involved in Uganda's homosexuality debate, Innis said. "It has not been a practice of Crossroads to influence matters of policy in countries in which we are completing relief or development projects," she said.
In Florida, in the early morning hours of February 3, Jesse Jeffers was pulling up to his trailer in Pace when his boyfriend told him look up. “I look up and all I see the house ... (and I said) ‘Oh my God,’ ” Jeffers, 18, said. Spray paint covered much of the front of his Charles Court home. But instead of random lines and symbols, swastikas and anti-gay slurs were painted in red for all to see. On the white canvass that is the trailer’s exterior, it sticks out. The vandalism, which happened between when Jeffers left and returned to his home, was deemed a hate crime by the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office, because it targets Jeffers’ lifestyle and sexual orientation. There are only a few hate-crime cases reported each year in Santa Rosa, Haines said, calling them a rare occurrence. The vandals spray-painted a pair of women’s breasts on the trailer’s exterior. Near the door, several derogatory words were spelled out, along with the phrase “God don’t love you,” with a heart taking the place of the word “love.” Inside, his drapes, fish tank and front room were also tagged, along with another large swastika painted on his ceiling. “It’s not like ‘OK, let’s just spray paint somebody’s house. Let’s put all kinds of crazy stuff on it,” Jeffers said. “What they said on the front door and everything was outrageous.” As of Sunday, nobody had been arrested. Haines said detectives are still looking into the case. But Jeffers, who lives next door to his mother and permanently moved into the trailer in the past few months, said he knows who did it. The spray painting was retaliation for an argument he had with friends the week prior, he said. I hate it. I mean, if you want to fight somebody, you need to take it to their face and not do it to their house or personal property,” Jeffers said. A week after the vandalism, the message the suspects painted has sunk in a bit for Jeffers. The bigger concern is the damage itself, which remains in plain sight and has turned his small trailer into a “tourist attraction,” Jeffers saying “Everybody drives by every day and stops and looks.” The bigger concern is how to fix the damage. It will cost a lot of money to restore the trailer, he said, and he is hoping restitution will take care of it at some point. “Sexuality doesn’t matter,” Jeffers said. “God loves you either way.”
In Massachusetts, amid the frenzy over the snowstorm, State Representative Carl Sciortino (D-Medford) announced plans to run for Ed Markey's seat in US Congress, according to an announcement he posted on his Facebook page. "I am running to continue the strong progressive leadership that the families of the Fifth District have always counted on," Sciortino said in a statement. "I look forward to bringing my record of accomplishment to Washington to fight for our progressive values." First elected to the State House in 2004 at age 25, Sciortino -- who is openly gay -- was vocal in the effort to legalize gay marriage in Massachusetts, and has crafted transgender equality legislation. He represents parts of Somerville and Medford. He graduated from Tufts University in 2000 and holds a master's degree in public administration from the Kennedy School at Harvard University. Sciortino is the first prominent name to announce candidacy for Markey's seat, which is not yet vacant. It will become free if Markey wins the special election in June for John Kerry's former seat in the US Senate.
In Kansas, the state Preservation of Religious Freedom Act, which last year was portrayed by some as anti-gay, has re-emerged this year, but in a form that gay rights advocates say they can live with. “We don’t have an issue with the bill,” said Tom Witt, executive director of the Kansas Equality Coalition. During the 2012 legislative session, Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration and state Rep. Lance Kinzer (R-Olathe) pushed for the Religious Preservation Act, saying it was needed to prevent the government from interfering with an individual’s beliefs. “Free exercise of religion is at the core of who we are as a people,” Kinzer had said. Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer cited the health care overhaul signed by President Barack Obama that requires most employers to cover birth control as an example of the federal government trampling on religious liberties. The original version of the Religious Preservation Act would have prohibited government from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion unless it furthered a compelling interest and was done in the least restrictive way possible. But a person couldn’t cite religious beliefs to discriminate against individuals covered by the Kansas Act Against Discrimination. This includes discrimination based on race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin or ancestry. Gay rights advocates said that because sexual orientation wasn’t covered by the Kansas Act Against Discrimination, the Religious Preservation Act could allow someone to use his or her religious beliefs to discriminate against gays. Lesbians and gays opposed the bill at the time, with Witt calling it “nothing more than legislative gay-bashing.” And Lawrence officials said the Religious Freedom Act would have trumped a city of Lawrence anti-discrimination ordinance that protects sexual orientation. During debate on the bill, House Minority Leader Paul Davis (D-Lawrence) asked Kinzer whether under his bill an apartment owner could cite religious beliefs to fight a complaint if refusing to rent to a same-sex couple. “That is generally correct,” Kinzer said. The House approved the bill, but it was ignored by Senate leaders. Witt said the new version — House Bill 2203 — is not limited by acts of discrimination under the Kansas Act Against Discrimination. “It was a surprise when I saw the bill,” he said. Kinzer said he believes the new version of the bill accomplishes the same goal as the old version. “The bill was always intended just to be a shield for people who want to basically make sure that governmental action is not impinging on people’s religious liberties,” Kinzer said. “My hope is that the way the bill is drafted now will take an issue off the table that I personally always felt was a red herring, but then obviously some people were concerned about,” he said. Witt said he will continue to watch the bill closely, noting that it can always be amended. “It’s a long process,” he said.
The 55th annual Grammy Awards were held Sunday. They seem radically irrelevant, honoring music released two years ago, but should you be interested, a complete list of the nominees and winners is here.
Tom Daley floats on air, diving during day three of the British Gas Diving Championships.