Sunday, December 29, 2013

Former Toronto Mayoral Candidate George Smitherman’s Husband Missing Again, Spanish Roman Catholic Bishop Blames Same Sex Marriage For “Destruction Of Family,” Pope Francis Reportedly “Shocked” By Maltese Proposed Civil Unions Law Allowing Gays And Lesbian Right To Adopt, Coca-Cola Courts Controversy Removing Gay Marriage Scene From Commercial Aired In Ireland, Auburn Washington Boy Scout Troop Leaving Organization Because Gay Youth Would Be “Too Weird,” Shawnee County Kansas Jail Amends Policy To Improve Conditions For Transgender Inmates

In Toronto, veteran politician George Smitherman’s husband Christopher Peloso is missing again for the second time this year. The Star reports that Toronto police requested assistance searching for Peloso, 40, Sunday evening. They say he was last seen at about 11:00 am in the Bloor St. West and Lansdowne Avenue area. wearing a dark blue bomber jacket with buttons on the front, grey or blue denim pants and black dress boots with laces. Smitherman, Ontario’s past deputy premier, tweeted Sunday, “Freedom from depression has been elusive for Christopher and once again he is missing and we fear for his safety.” A Toronto Police dog found Peloso “dirty and confused” near west-end train tracks when he disappeared in September this year. Smitherman ran for mayor in 2010, three years after marrying Peloso at a resort in the northern mining community of Elliot Lake. They have two adopted children. Peloso’s relatives in his hometown, Sudbury, had no comment Sunday evening. When he went missing in September, his mother, Mary Ann, said, “The first thing I thought was he needed a break, he needed to get away for a bit ... But as things went on longer and longer, we got concerned something had happened.” She also described Peloso as a “perfectionist,” “very patient” and “very loving. He has been a wonderful father with the kids.” His father Reno said Peloso and Smitherman’s marriage was a happy one, “with its high and low points, just like a typical marriage.”

In Spain, a Roman Catholic bishop has claimed same sex marriage is responsible for "the destruction of the family" and "the significant increase in children with severe disturbances of personality." Casimiro López Llorente, bishop of the Segorbe-Castellón diocese in Spain, attacked marriage equality in his final pastoral letter of the year. In the letter, titled The Good News of Marriage and the Family, Lopez said that, "with the exclusion of any reference to the difference between men and women, free rein is given to unions between persons of the same sex." According to Spanish newspaper ABC, he went on to argue such unions "have laid the groundwork for the destruction of marriage and the family."
López also claims same sex marriage ‘weakens the lasting love between spouses’ and can lead to ‘the development of a climate that often ends in violence."

Pope Francis reportedly was "shocked" by a bill that would allow gay couples to adopt children in Malta. Maltese Bishop Charles Scicluna told the Times Of Malta that he spoke with Pope Francis about the bill and the pope encouraged him to speak out against it, the bishop saying that, “We discussed many aspects… and when I raised the issue that’s worrying me as a bishop [the right for gay couples to adopt] he encouraged me to speak out." The Holy See's reaction may come as a surprise to those who have viewed him as progressive on gay rights. LGBT magazine "The Advocate" even named him their person of the year, citing his comments about homosexuals. "Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord?" he told reporters in Italian in July.

In Ireland, controversy after it was highlighted that Coca-Cola omitted a same sex marriage scene, which is part of a Europe-wide campaign, from an television advertisement to be broadcast in Ireland. The LGBT publication Eile.ie said that the ad campaign titled Reasons To Believe, leaves the scene out of the Irish version of the new advert. Highlighting the differences between the Dutch, Norwegian and British versions the new Reasons To Believe advertisement for the other countries shows the scene where two men are getting married. Coca-Cola commercials do include different images in each advert depending on the country they are being shown in. Coca-cola and @cocacola was trending on Twitter in Ireland today after people took to the social media site to voice their unease and question why in the editing process for the advert the scene was removed. Others state that the same sex marriage scene is replaced with an mixed-race marriage and that there is no issue. In response to a question from TheJournal.ie, a spokesperson for the company said the advertisement has been tailored for each market where it will be shown and has been informed by consumer research in each individual market. “The core objective is that the vignettes in the ad resonate with people in each country and that they are truly representative of cultural issues that they are familiar with and value,” they said. “You will note for example that the St Patrick’s Day scene is only included in the Irish version as it is only here that it is truly relevant from a cultural perspective. As you rightly say, the wedding images used in the ad for the UK and in other parts of Europe show two men getting married. The reason that this was changed for Ireland is that while civil partnership for gay people is legal, gay marriage currently is not. This will be the subject of a referendum" (2015), adding, “We wanted each ad to be relevant and valid for its own market." (The versions show in Norway and Ireland are available at the source.)

In Washington State, when the Boy Scouts of America march off in the direction of gay rights on January 1, an Auburn scoutmaster and his troop won’t be with them. Scoutmaster Jim Brass says his troop, No. 835, is leaving the Boy Scouts because of the national organization’s decision to accept openly gay members starting on New Year’s Day. “I met with our board and parents and the older scouts, and everybody felt uncomfortable with it,” Brass told the News Tribune on Saturday. “To stay in the Scouts would have said we endorse it.” The BSA’s new policy was approved in May, with support from 60-percent of the 1,400 voting members of the organization’s National Council. The vote followed bitter nationwide debate and was accompanied by an announcement that the BSA would continue to exclude openly gay adults from leadership positions. Under the new membership policy, youths can no longer be barred from the Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts or coed Venturers program solely because of sexual orientation. Brass said that when the BSA made the decision to allow gay youths, he called a meeting of the 835 Troop Committee, made up of parents and community members. “It was pretty instant,” he said. “Everybody understood we needed to do something. At the same time, all of our hearts are broken because we have so much invested in the Scouting program.” The troop will operate under the Auburn-based nonprofit organization Help Northwest, which Brass already manages. Brass, 57, said he started in Scouting when he was 8 years old with Troop 64 in Milton. “I haven’t moved very far,” he said. He spent most of his career working in social service, he said. Currently, he said, he manages properties in Auburn and is a volunteer pastor at Pacific Community Church. “I learned some of life’s most valuable things in Scouts — things that schools don’t teach,” he said. “One of the things in the Scout law is to be reverent, and we feel that Scouting is now denying that.” Brass said he’s been the scoutmaster of Troop 835 for six years. Currently there are 12 members of the troop, he said — six girls and six boys from the Pacific, Milton and Auburn areas. When his troop goes camping, he said, boys’ and girls’ tents are set up a short distance apart. For them, he said, doing something similar with openly gay scouts would be “too weird," adding, “Our kids said the idea creeped them out. We feel we have to obey God rather than people. We always have to be faithful to what God calls us to do.” Brass said he has received no response from the national Boy Scouts organization with regard to his troop’s action. “Our object is not to harm Scouting in any way,” Brass said. “We would love to have them change their policy and for us to go back to them.” Brass said he’s frustrated with the way Troop 835’s defection has been portrayed in news reports. They tend to simplify his group’s reasoning, he said, and make it appear they are not loving people. “It might appear we’re homophobic,” he said, “but that’s absolutely not the case. It’s just that we’re not going to endorse a lifestyle that goes against biblical principles. That doesn’t mean that we don’t love anybody. We just don’t endorse that lifestyle. If somebody walked up to my door right now, and he was a drag queen. I would do everything I could for that person. I would give him food or whatever it was he needed. That doesn’t mean I’m going to take him on a camping trip with us.” There are about 1 million adult leaders and 2.6 million youth members in Scouting in the U.S. Of the roughly 110,000 Scout units, 70 percent are sponsored by religious organizations, including several conservative denominations that had long supported the BSA’s exclusion of gay youths and gay adults.

In Florida, Marion County officials are frowning on an offer to extend health coverage to gay couples. Last month, Florida Blue, health insurer for roughly 2,000 Marion County employees, announced it was redefining spouse in order to allow coverage of those in same sex marriages. The state's largest health-coverage provider said it was doing so to follow an IRS ruling that permits same-sex couples to claim joint tax benefits, even if they live in a state that does not recognize gay marriage, like Florida. Florida Blue also gave its customers the option to retain the definition of spouse as someone in a “legally valid existing marriage as defined under Florida law.” Sheri Wiley, Marion County's risk manager, polled the various agencies under the plan, according to public records, and found no takers for changing the status quo. Wiley recommended against expanding the coverage, the documents show. She noted that Marion County had typically followed state law in the provision of workplace benefits, and Florida does not recognize same sex marriages. She also expressed concern that widening eligibility would occur at a time when the county is trying to control or even reduce its health care costs. Documents show representatives for Sheriff Chris Blair, Clerk of the Circuit Court David Ellsperman and Supervisor of Elections Wesley Wilcox immediately rejected the idea at a routine meeting convened to discuss insurance matters. Tax Collector George Albright also followed suit, while, according to records, Property Appraiser Villie Smith's office said Smith would do “whatever the law says to do.” The issue was referred to County Attorney Guy Minter for a legal opinion. Wiley wrote in an e-mail to Minter that she wanted his thoughts because the county would probably face a legal challenge on denying the benefit. Wiley, in an e-mail to the Star-Banner, said Minter's recommendation will be reviewed by all the elected officials, including the County Commission. The next step would be determined after that, she said. It seems two groups would be affected by the county's decision to opt out. Wiley noted that extending eligibility could motivate a gay employee to wed in another state — 18 states and the District of Columbia have sanctioned wedlock among same sex couples — that recognizes gay marriage and return to Florida in order to obtain coverage for a spouse. The second group would be people employed by Marion County who have married in and moved from a state that recognizes same sex marriage. Sharon Kersten, spokeswoman for Equality Florida, a group that advocates for gay rights, called Florida Blue one of her group's biggest supporters. She noted that the insurer's decision aligns with that of other companies, local governments and federal agencies in Florida that realize the benefits of greater acceptance of gay couples. But, as shown by Marion County in this instance, much of Florida has yet to respond to the cultural change experienced elsewhere, Kersten observed. “Of course, it's a company by company, and a county by county decision, and they have the right to say they don't want to do that,” she said.

In Kansas, in the past, genitalia dictated how one would be strip-searched, housed and addressed at the Shawnee County Jail. Then, the jail started receiving transgender inmates — three in the past year alone — and the administration realized it would have to develop a more robust program to house these individuals. A process, Shawnee County corrections director Brian Cole said, that would maintain their dignity and ensure safety, both for the inmate and the rest of the population. “We want to make sure someone isn’t playing the system, but we can’t just throw them in segregation,” Cole said of transgender inmates. “That would be unfair and humiliating.” In the past year, the jail has developed and implemented a policy to handle transgender inmates. It went from holding the inmates in segregation or medical to a full-blown evaluation process to determine if the transgender inmates are being genuine, and, if so, what needs they have. Strip-searches are performed by two people. If a man identifies as a woman, a female guard examines the inmate’s top, and a male guard performs the search below the belt. Cole proudly recalled one transgender female inmate who was housed with the female population. By the time she left, he said, she was pleading not to be sent to another facility, because of how respected she felt in Shawnee County. “When dealing with people, we try to treat them as we want to be treated,” Cole said. “Just because someone is in the criminal justice system doesn’t mean they lose that.” The jail started mental health and medical examinations to determine any medicinal or other treatment needs, including hormone replacement therapy. It also developed an evaluation team, comprised of the deputy director, a licensed mental health professional, a member of the medical staff, registered nurse or above, and a community liaison. Now, transgender inmates typically remain in the medical unit for 72 hours before a decision is made, Cole said.Even more recently, the jail has enlisted the help of Stephanie Mott, a transgender woman and activist, as its community transgender liaison. As the liaison, Mott will work to identify the dynamics of transgender inmates and help the jail develop solutions. Mott also hopes to help the jail connect these inmates with community resources — therapists, job coaches and support groups. “We are more likely to turn to alcohol and drugs to hide from our realities,” Mott explained. “We also don’t have the same protections as other groups.” Between 20-percent and 30-percent of gay and transgender people abuse substances, compared to about 9-percent in the general population, according to the Center for American Progress. The organization also notes that transgender people are more likely to face discrimination in housing, employment and health care. As a result, transgender people often find themselves in jail, putting them at an increased risk of victimization and mental trauma if they are placed in the wrong group. But if placed with the right group and if treated with respect when at a low moment, Mott said, the jail could help transgender inmates realize their value as a human being. “For some transgender inmates, this could be the spark that offers them a new life,” she said. “They could begin to see that society is changing, and that they don’t have to hide.” Even just referring to them by the pronoun they identify with would go a long way, she said. “When you’re not secure that you can live the way you need to, to have somebody do that cuts to the core of your ability to live your life as who you are,” Mott said. “Who we are is not defined by our body. Who we are on the inside should not be dictated by who we are on the outside.” The changes are an attempt to respond to a need and treat transgender people with dignity, Cole said, but the policy also was developed in response to an unfunded mandate from Washington. The Prison Rape Elimination Act was signed in 2003 to improve safety and security at jails by eliminating blindspots and lowering the occurrence of sexual abuse, Cole said. The final version didn’t come out until 2012, but the Shawnee County jail has been working toward the standards for several years, constantly crafting and tweaking policies to adjust to initial guidelines. Jails across the country were given two years — until next August — to complete their first internal audit of compliance. “It’s a very high priority for us,” Cole said. “Housing, medical care, you name it. It involves a great deal of standards.” PREA requires jails to develop a zero tolerance policy for sexual abuse, which, he said, the Shawnee County Jail already had. It also requires more accountability against those who commit sexual abuse — filing charges or taking disciplinary action — and keeping more statistics. The jail has been tracking PREA statistics since 2010. In that time, it has investigated 13 allegations of staff sexual misconduct and 11 allegations of staff sexual harassment. The jail has had incidents of inappropriate relationships between staff and inmates that led to terminations, Cole said. Not this year, he added, but absolutely within the past five. Sex with an inmate can never be “consensual,” Cole said. It isn’t possible because of the authority jail staff members have over inmates. “For inmates, sex is a commodity,” Cole said. “They have nothing to lose, whereas the officer has everything to lose.” Another major part of the act is education, both for staff and inmates. Signs are going up in the modules, describing the policy and providing a number for inmates to call if something happens, and jail staff members are in the middle of developing a video to educate inmates about their rights.“We want to make sure our inmates and staff are well educated in the consequences and con games of sexual misconduct,” he said. “We’ve set clear-cut boundaries.” Cole said he could use a few more employees to help implement all the requirements, “but whether we have the staff or not, we have to do it.”

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