On Sunday, July 6th, Ebenezer, an active HIV patient, AIDS orphan, and one of the students in the Mayne Krobo Region of Ghana whom the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office assists through the Every Child is Our Child program, passed away. He was admitted to the local hospital at around 6:20 pm and died soon after. While active and happy as usual at school on Friday and playing football, one of his favorite pastimes, on Sunday morning with friends, he complained of severe headaches and was quickly rushed to the hospital on Sunday afternoon. We have been informed that no autopsy will be administered, but that the cause of death has been officially declared as AIDS.
This news comes as a shock to us all, as Ebenezer had been very healthy in the past, had supportive foster parents, and was successfully taking anti-retroviral medication for several years. Ebenezer is the second child of the Every Child is Our Child program to pass on, both of whom tested positive for HIV.
The UU-UNO wishes to convey its deepest sympathies for all of Ebenezer family and friends, many of whom have shown deep admiration and love for him. The Director of the UU-UNO, Bruce Knotts, expressed that during his trips to the ECOC schools, the Queen Mothers of Ghana always put Ebenezer on the itinerary of house visits, and as a result, Mr. Knotts got to know Ebenezer and made sure to visit him. This fact makes his passing all the more painful for all of us at the UU-UNO as we mourn this dear child.
To learn more about the ECOC program and how you can donate, please visit our website here.
Bringing UU Values to the UN and to the U.S. and Canadian Governments
I have previously shared with you the fine work done by Frances Cosstick of the small Unitarian Fellowship of Ottawa, Canada’s capital. She and her colleagues organized a series of meetings at the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs on January 20, 2014, which included call ins from Canada’s missions abroad and officials from the Prime Minister’s office. We ended with a conversation with a special assistant to the Foreign Minister.
In March, we learned that our Unitarian Universalist minister, Rev. Mark Kiyimba, was questioned for over two hours as to why he and his UU congregation were promoting homosexuality in violation of the newly enacted Ugandan anti-homosexuality law. I called for a meeting with Ambassador Donald G. Teitelbaum, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. He invited his colleagues from the bureaus of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and Population, Refugees and Migration. I was joined by colleagues from the Episcopal Church, United Church of Christ, and Methodist Church with input from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society at a meeting on April 11th. We spoke about the Ugandan violation of religious and other basic freedoms against the LGBT community and also against adherents to all liberal faiths in nations such as Uganda, Nigeria and Russia. We also talked about the resulting massive influx of refugees and asylum seekers fleeing oppression in these nations which refuse to honor their treaty obligations to protect the human rights within their borders.
This meeting was followed by an invitation to the Department of State to consult on global LGBT human rights, on May 15th. I was part of a group of about 20 faith and secular LGBT leaders, many of whom the UU-UNO had introduced to global LGBT advocacy at our 2009 and 2010 global LGBT meetings at the Church Center of the United Nations and at Union Theological Seminary. We were told that the Department of State had organized a faith-based consultative committee to advise the Department on Peace, Conflict Resolution and Development. Later it was decided to form a fourth subcommittee on Social Justice, focused on global LGBT human rights. All these meetings are off the record, so I can only give you the broadest outlines of what was discussed.
I attended my first meeting of the full committee at the Department of State on June 6th. There were many friends at this meeting as well. Some from the global LGBT movement, but also those dedicated to the other issues to be discussed, including Religions for Peace, which I remind our readers, was co-founded by UU minister Rev. Homer Jack. After a general session, we retired to our four subcommittees. In our Social Justice subcommittee, we all said that we wanted to have input into the other areas: Peace, Conflict Resolution and Development, as well. We were assured that we would have that opportunity. Not all the members of the Social Justice subcommittee were religious liberals. Some participants from less liberal faiths wanted to divert the subcommittee’s focus away from LGBT human rights. It was clear that the representatives from the Department of State and the White House wanted to keep the focus on LGBT human rights. The representative of one of the larger, less liberal faith traditions, said that he could support declarations against violence and extreme discrimination, but not for equality. I said that I would take what was offered for now, but that our ultimate goal was full and complete equality for everyone everywhere regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. By equality, I mean spiritual, moral, political, social and economic equality—full and complete equality. Two more meetings of this group are scheduled this year in September and December, with more planned next year, which will likely conclude in June.
On June 20th, I was the third to the last speaker at the end of a week-long opportunity for civil society to provide input to the United Nations as it formulates its Sustainable Development Goals, which will guide global development efforts from 2015-2030. We were one of 90 groups which support an independent goal #10 dedicated to human rights. However, we were the only group which called for explicit mention of LGBTQ human rights. Our intervention was the only to receive applause that day. The co-chairs said they supported our initiative, but they doubted it would be accepted by the consensus of the member states of the U.N. We have an uphill fight ahead of us. Our intervention was included in the written outcome document. We will have another opportunity to provide our ideas on implementation later this month. Read more here. Watch the video here. My speech begins at 38:15.
A week or so later, I got the very surprising invitation from the White House to attend a forum on global LGBT human rights on June 24th. Read the press release from the White House here. I was also alerted that I would receive another invitation to dinner at the Vice President’s residence. The meeting included about 75 people, leaders in religion, non-profits, business, media and LGBT activism. Ambassador Susan Rice, National Security Advisor to the President and other White House officials gave heartfelt speeches about how important they consider global LGBT human rights. There was a panel discussion. Again, I met friends from previous UU-UNO events. I keep telling people that the speakers we get at UU-UNO events are the makers of history. Many were at the White House that day. We broke up into smaller groups to discuss religion, finance, business, and social media. In my group I brought up religious freedom, the necessity of shortening the lengthy refugee and asylum process and making sure that U.S. Government money goes to faith-based organizations which reflect the inclusive and affirming values of the Obama administration. I got some push-back on this last point. I was told that the administration could not play politics with U.S. Government assistance. I retorted that I was not asking for a political litmus test, but a values test. The previous administration, I pointed out, made sure that U.S. Government funds went to faith-based organizations which reflected their conservative and intolerant values. I passed out talking points and background notes regarding our efforts to include explicit reference to LGBTQ human rights into the 2015-2030 U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.
We ended by each group reporting out to the entire group and our nearly 6 hours at the White House came to an end. We then made our way up to the Vice President’s residence for dinner with Joe and Jill Biden. Both spoke from their heart about their dedication to LGBT human rights. Just as the Vice President invited us into his house to get to know us better, I had to rush off to catch the last train from Washington, D.C. to New York City which arrived early the next morning. Within a few hours I was on another train to Providence, RI for a fantastic GA.
To support our continued access to the highest levels of the United Nations and to the Canadian and American governments, please donate generously to the UU-UNO.
Find yourself in the Global U/U Story at UUA General Assembly in Providence where we’ll be blessed by the presence of more than 30 honored guests from a dozen countries. Each of our international partners brings inspiring news to share about how the Global U/U Story is changing lives around the world.
A great place to begin is at Booth #304 in the exhibit hall at the Convention Center: that’s where you’ll find the he International U/U Village in Providence! Meet and talk with leaders from all of the organizations that participate in theCoalition of U/U International Organizationsand many of our international partners.
And, please join us for public events organized by the Coalition organizations:
Tuesday June 24
Event: Collegial Conversation at UUMA Ministry Days: The Global U/U Story and Your Ministry | RICC Ballroom E
Wednesday June 25
Event: GA Opening Celebration & Introduction of International Guests | RICC Plenary Hall
Thursday June 26
Workshop: Reaching Out in Love Through Intercultural Competency | RICC 557
Worship: Love Reaches Out Around the World | RICC 555-556
“This development has been deeply disturbing and was largely unexpected. The ruling party in India has taken the position that this decision should be overturned, either legislatively or through executive action. The LGBT activist organizations that brought the initial case to court have said they will file an appeal so it can be heard by a larger bench of judges.”
The UU United Nations Office is also consulting with interfaith partners about a collective response. The UU-UNO has monitored press accounts in India which indicate widespread criticism of the Supreme Court striking down of the 2009 High Court ruling which struck down the British colonial era law which criminalized same-gender love. Many prominent political leaders want to see this criminal ban removed, so there is hope that the Indian Parliament will do what the Supreme Court failed to do and end the criminalization of same-gender love.
Updates will be posted here in the days ahead.
UNAIDS calls on India and all countries to repeal laws that criminalize adult consensual same sex sexual conduct
GENEVA/NEW DELHI, 12 December 2013—UNAIDS expresses its deep concern that, through its recent decision on the constitutionality of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, the Supreme Court of India has re-criminalized adult consensual same sex sexual conduct. In 2009, the Delhi High Court had found unconstitutional the application of the 150-year-old law criminalizing “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” between consenting adults. Now, again in India, gay and other men who have sex with men, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people face the possibility of criminal prosecution.
“The Delhi High Court decision in 2009 had restored dignity for millions of people in India, and was an example of the type of reform we need for supportive legal environments that are necessary for effective national AIDS responses,” said the Executive Director of UNAIDS Michel Sidibé. “We want government and civil society to be able to provide HIV information and services to all people, including gay and other men who have sex with men, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, and for them to be able to access the services without fear of criminalization.”
The 2009 decision by the Delhi High Court to annul the law was widely considered a milestone against homophobia and towards zero HIV-related discrimination. In the past four years since the law was annulled, there has been a more than 50% increase in the number of sites providing HIV services for gay and other men who have sex with men, as well as transgender people in India.
For the protection of public health and human rights, UNAIDS calls on India and all countries to repeal laws that criminalize adult consensual same sex sexual conduct. Such criminalization hampers HIV responses across the world. These laws not only violate human rights but also make it more difficult to deliver HIV prevention and treatment services to a population which is particularly affected by HIV. On average globally, gay and other men who have sex with men are 13 times more likely than the rest of the population to be living with HIV.
UNAIDS urges all governments to protect the human rights of gay and other men who have sex with men, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, through repealing criminal laws against adult consensual same sex sexual conduct; implementing laws to protect them from violence and discrimination; promoting campaigns that address homophobia and transphobia; and ensuring that adequate health services are provided to address their needs.
In the 2011 United Nations Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS, all UN Member States committed to removing legal barriers and passing laws to protect vulnerable populations.
On Sunday, October 20, 2013 the Bicutan UU Church in Metro-Manila installed its first minister, Rev. Ma. Theresa (Tet) Gallardo. The church’s new chapel, which was dedicated one year ago, was filled to overflowing with people. And, the spirit of the gathering was both inspiring and exciting.
Special guest participants in the installation service included representatives of Hindu, Muslim, and Buddhist groups in Manila as well as a group of musicians specializing in the indigenous music of the Philippines. Rev. Gallardo joined the children of the church in a beautiful covenanting ritual that reflected the multigenerational commitment of the Bicutan church. Messages of solidarity were read from Rev. Peter Morales (President, UUA), Rev. Brian Kiely (President, International Council of UUs), Rev. Fred Muir (UUA Ambassador to the UUCP), Rev. Carol Huston (President, International Convocation of UU Women) and Rev. Diane Rollert (Minister, UU Church of Montreal).
The theme of the service was ‘Asserting UUism in the Phlippines.” In the installation sermon, Rev. Eric Cherry recalled a message from Matthew 7:16 that good plants are recognized by their fruits:
…to ‘assert’ UUism in the Philippines, you’re going to have to provide some really good fruit. And, when you do, people are going to know that its source is also very good. And, how wonderful it will be when they discover that the source is you. This very church. This very minister. This very congregation – bearing good fruit. And, by it, they will know you.
Rev. Gallardo was ordained by the UU Church of the Philippines in April, 2013. She brings decades of professional leadership experience to this new responsibility, as well as deep connections within the LGBT community in Manila. She accepted the installation with humility and grace, and looks forward to the shared ministry that she and this church are poised to pursue.
Congratulations and godspeed to the Bicutan church and Rev. Gallardo. May your ministry together be a blessing.
Vishna is a four year old boy who is like any other you will meet at that age. He is from Cambodia, and has bright brown eyes and pinchable cheeks. His circumstance is a little different; he was born in prison. His mother is held there because they cannot find her husband, his father, and so they hold her and Vishna in prison instead.
What can be done about a child born in prison? Rev. Karen Tse, a Unitarian Universalist Minister living in Geneva, Switzerland, tells us that we have a way to prevent this from happening.
To understand how one must first understand two things that cause stories like Vishna’s: one, that 95% of injustice and torture happens to the common person who has no voice (as opposed to political prisoners or famous activists), and two, that there are already laws that Cambodia and other countries have passed that say such behavior is illegal. Such laws exist in 93 countries, as a matter of fact. Yet millions of people are tortured every year.
People have been guaranteed their rights. There are laws forbidding this behavior. Political leaders around the world do not want to torture their own people. The problem is implementing these laws. Rev. Karen Tse has pinpointed the issue: torture is cheapest investigative tool. While people should have lawyers, it’s expensive for developing legal systems to provide people with lawyers on a timely basis. And this is why Vishna has lived his entire life in prison.
His life is not hopeless. He is actually the delight of the prison. Every day he does his best to visit every prisoner, and the guards let him! This boy is the embodiment of hope.
Rev. Karen Tse took this hope and formed International Bridges to Justice in 2000. Since then, this organization has created country centers in the most populous nations to train lawyers and provide as many people as possible with legal access. It has sponsored JusticeMaker competitions which implements a brilliant legal plan that has had astounding successes.
This process is not just about justice. It is about peace. Too often we find ourselves too late. Protesting a war already underway. Helping countries after war has ravaged it for years. By helping projects like Rev. Tse’s, by helping JusticeMakers, we prevent conflict. When people have a just legal system there is no need for violence. We don’t just wish for world peace. We make it happen.
This is your invitation to be part of Vishna’s hope. For the first time, we are connecting individuals and congregations with these JusticeMakers. We call this program Communities of Conscience. As Unitarian Universalists, we are about making the world a better place instead of thinking about it. By building a relationship with a JusticeMaker (like people do at KIVA.org or Women for Women International) you become part of a worldwide mission of justice and peace. Your congregation can become a Community of Conscience, or you can join one that helps a specific JusticeMaker. Together, we can set people like Vishna and his mother free.
Members of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office Climate Change Initiative engaged with member states and many other UN entities at the Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which completed its fourth of eight planned sessions last month, June 17th-19th, at the UN headquarters in NYC. Called for by the Rio+20 conference, the OWG learned about specific issues of concern through presentations and side events and had open statements and discussions about these issues. The member states were entrusted to make these goals clear, aspirational as well as limited in number, which proved challenging as many important issues and concerns were raised throughout the OWG.
Discussion topics of this Fourth Session were “Employment and decent work for all, social protection, youth, education and culture” and “Health and population dynamics”. These sessions are facilitating the development of a proposal to the General Assembly for a set of sustainable development goals for post 2015, this date marking the end of the Millennium Development Goals. We are in excited anticipation for the final report of the OWG, scheduled to be completed in the next year and hope that the social, economic and environmental dimensions are effectively addressed and integrated to minimize trade-offs between them.
At last week’s 52nd annual General Assembly the UUA International Office was honored to welcome over one dozen international partners from all over the world as they joined us for the week of workshops, worship, and events in Louisville, KY.
A number of foreign dignitaries were welcomed to General Assembly Friday morning. The Rev. Eric Cherry, director of the UUA’s International Office, introduced the Rev. Kotaro Suzuki of the Hiroshima Dharma Center of Rissho Kosei-kai, one of the UUA’s longtime interfaith partners in Japan. Also on stage were Naoki Taketani, director of Rissho Kosei-kai’s International Group, and Rika Okayasu from the same organization; Dr. Thomas Matthew from the South Asia Chapter of the International Association of Religious Freedom in India; the Rev. Steve Dick, executive director of the International Council of Unitarian Universalists, headquartered in the United Kingdom; the Rev. Petr Samojsky from the Religious Society of Czech Unitarians; Vyda Ng, executive director of the Canadian Unitarian Council; the Rev. Arpad Csete, president of the Transylvania Unitarian Ministers Association; the Rev. Adel Nagy, minister of the Recsenyed Unitarian Church; and the Rev. Bela Jakabhazi, minister of the Nyomat Unitarian Church.
Others were Logan Deimler and Lara Fuchs from the European Unitarian Universalists, representing UU Fellowships in Frankfurt, Germany, and Basel, Switzerland; and Cassius Shirambere, president of the Assembly of Unitarian Christians of Burundi.
The Rev. Rebecca Sienes, president of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Philippines, said the church is grateful for the help it has received over the years from UU groups in the U.S. She shared that the church is embarking on its biggest social justice project—building a two-story dormitory at a university so that female students will have safe housing. “I am sending warmest greetings from your brothers and sisters in faith to this General Assembly,” she said.
Leaders of Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist (UU) communities from around the world led an international worship service on Saturday June 22nd, calling on all who attended to remember the interdependent web of faithful international relationships that shape us.
Unitarian Universalists have been blessed by rich and productive interfaith relationships for more than a century. Through this work we grow in faith and in effectiveness. Bringing together several interfaith partners and presented by the Coalition of International UU Organizations, the workshop explored where we have been, how we have matured, and how we are called to new interfaith opportunities today.
Participants of the workshop included: Cassius Shirambere of the Unitarian Church of Burundi, Dr. Thomas Matthew of the International Association for Religious Freedom, Rev. Rebecca Sienes of the UU Church of the Philippines, and Rev. Kotaro Suzuki of Rissho Kosei-kai.
Pictures From a Hiroshima Schoolyard
In collaboration with All Souls Church, Unitarian, Washington, DC, the UUA International Office was pleased to co-present a special film screening of “Pictures From a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” Rev. Rob Hardies of All Souls was on hand to introduce the film and its director/producer team, Bryan Reichhardt and Shizumi Shigeto Manale. Also in attendance were UUA President Rev. Peter Morales, UUA International Office Director Rev. Eric Cherry, and Rev. Kotaro Suzuki, Director of the Chugoku Division of Rissho Kosei-kai and minister of the Dharma Center of Hiroshima.
During this one-hour documentary journey, current parishioners of All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington tell the story of A. Powell Davies, the minister in 1946 who, infuriated by the picture of an A-bomb commemoration he saw in a newspaper, inspired his congregation to reach out to children of the decimated city of Hiroshima after the bombing. An incredibly moving story, one congregation’s response to the inhumanity of weapons of mass destruction ends up sowing seeds of reconciliation which reverberate today through the beauty of children’s artwork.
In over 76 countries, religion is used as a rationale to oppress people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Now is the time for people of faith to respond to faith-based intolerance and, on June 12, the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office and other organizations joined together to do just that. Over 100 people gathered in the United Nations Church Center for a screening of the film God Loves Uganda, a new documentary by filmmaker Roger Ross Williams about the importation of Western evangelical values into Uganda. Following the film, attendees listened to
testimony from a Ugandan refugee and engaged in a discussion about the film with five interfaith clergy members. The evening concluded with a message from Ugandan UU Minister Mark Kiyimba, urging everyone to support Ugandan faith leaders in their work for LGBTI equality. Click here to watch the video. The evening was greatly informative for all, and left everyone inspired to support Ugandan work for equality and to strive for change in their own countries.
The documentary God Loves Uganda premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 18, 2013, and has won numerous awards at film festivals. It tells the story of the International House of Prayer (IHOP), an evangelical Christian organization that sends missionaries around the world to spread the word of God. IHOP’s leaders have focused many of
their missionary efforts on Uganda, a place they believe is ripe with the possibility for spiritual renewal—in part because half of the population is under 15. IHOP sends young Americans to communities throughout Uganda, to build churches and minister to people and even provide social services, but the IHOP missionaries also spread their evangelical values, including homophobia. Widespread persecution of LGBTI people has forced many to flee the country and led to the murder of others, including gay activist David Kato, and has culminated in an American-influenced Anti-Homosexuality bill being introduced into the Ugandan parliament. The bill, often referred to as the “Kill the Gays” bill, would make homosexual behavior punishable by life imprisonment or even death. God Loves Uganda seeks to raise
awareness of what is happening not just in Uganda, but around the world, and is a powerful call for international support for LGBTI rights.
The evening opened with an introduction by Bruce Knotts, Director of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office, who spoke about the importance of the film and of faith support for LGBTI rights. After the screening of God Loves Uganda, a refugee from Uganda gave a powerful testimony affirming the accuracy of the film and spoke about his experiences and the importance of international advocacy. A panel of clergy members—Rev. Eric Cherry from the Unitarian Universalist Association, Imam Daaiyee Abdullah from Muslims for Progressive Values, Pastor Joseph Tolton from Rehoboth Church, Rabbi Deborah Hirsch from Congregation Shaaray Tefila, and Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer from United Church of Christ—then answered questions posed by Mordechai Levovitz, event organizer and Co-Director of Jewish Orthodox Queer Youth, about the film and faith-based advocacy. Although the clergy members came from different religious traditions, their values and beliefs in equality were remarkably similar, and they all expressed the importance of supporting and getting involved in work for LGBTI equality.
After the event, many attendees expressed how much they appreciated the speakers’ testimonies, and how powerful they found the film. The evening truly brought together a community of faith and faith allies to support equality and interfaith activism, and showed that, if we join together, we can change the world. No Longer in My Name was cosponsored by the United Nations NGO Committee for Human Rights, the Unitarian Universalist Association, United Church of Christ, Muslims for Progressive Values, American Jewish World Service, Union of Reform Judaism, Jewish Orthodox Queer Youth, GLAAD, Bronx LGBTQ Center, and Love Beyond Borders.
The Unitarians of Indonesia are an inspiring part of our global faith with tremendous commitment, good organization, an evangelical attitude, and a strong focus on ministry with youth and young adults. It was a pleasure to visit with them for 4 days in April 2013.
Gereja Jemaat Allah Global Indonesia (JAGI) - the Unitarian Christian Church of Indonesia, was founded in the mid-1990’s by Rev. Aryanto Nugroho and currently has around 500 members. Rev. Nugroho has published highly regarded theological books, and is very well connected in interfaith circles and with national leaders.
JAGI is headquartered in Semarang, where the church owns and operates a large building that houses the sanctuary, classrooms, offices, a library, and space for a future NGO. A maternity clinic – Bhaki Ibu – operated by the wife of the founder of the church sits across the street from the church building; Mrs. Nugroho estimates that she has been a midwife at more than 200,000 births.
JAGI is administered by a National Leaders Board that includes a Council which supervises a Board of Elders and an Executive Board (responsible for daily operations). JAGI has 8 ordained ministers and an executive director. It consists of 4 Churches (Semarang, Jakarta, Solo and Sukorejo-Pasuruan) and 3 Mission Areas/Fellowships (Yogyakarta, Surabaya and Klaten). Semarang is the most established congregation and at the center of JAGI. (more…)