The United States rebuked a Macedonian advocacy group on Thursday for placing the seal of the U.S. embassy in Skopje on billboards promoting the acceptance of homosexuality in Macedonia, Agence France-Presse reports. The State Department said the embassy had not given permission for the seal
to be used on the billboards and insisted that Washington had neither paid for the signs nor necessarily endorsed their message. "The Center for Civil and Human Rights...inappropriately used the seal of
the U.S. embassy on a number of billboards as well as posters and brochures, the contents of which were not reviewed or approved by the United States," said Kurtis Cooper, a department spokesman. "The billboards have been taken down."
Cooper said the State Department had awarded a $20,000 grant to the group in August 2002 but that that funding had gone to support a program that provides legal assistance and counseling to victims of discrimination. The roadside signs, erected in Skopje and at least one other Macedonian city, created a furor among conservatives in the United States, who accused the embassy and the State Department of using U.S. taxpayers' money to promote the "homosexual agenda" in the Balkan nation. On Tuesday, a columnist for the conservative National Review labeled the signs as "graphic," including photographs of same-sex embraces and one group of two women and a man resembling Jesus. The billboards read, "Face Reality, The Campaign to Promote the Rights of Sexual Minorities," and bore the embassy seal in their lower right-hand corners, columnist Kerri Houston reported. "It seems that in Macedonia at least, support for the homosexual agenda has become the official position of the U.S. State Department," she wrote.
Cooper denied that charge. "U.S. policies and programs do not promote homosexuality," he said, stressing that the initial grant to the group was provided to promote tolerance. "Discrimination against and maltreatment of minorities, including those practices on the basis of sexual orientation is...a matter of concern. The project in Macedonia is consistent with our policy of supporting tolerance and human dignity."
Macedonian president Boris Trajkovski also weighed in on the matter, telling the National Review he was "appalled to see that the embassy of the United States of America would sponsor something such as this in Macedonia." "U.S. taxpayer funds should not be used to promote alternative lifestyles in my country, and I do not believe that most Americans would appreciate this," the Review quoted Trajkovski as saying. The president added that the billboards were "deeply offensive" to most of Macedonia's population, which he identified as "a very conservative mix of the Orthodox Christian and Muslim faiths." Polls have shown that the vast majority of Macedonians disapprove of homosexuality, with many believing it is a disease.