2014: A Big Year for UU-UNO’s Work on LGBT Human Rights

lbbt UNMy name is Raymond Firmalino and I am one of the UU-UNO‘s LGBT Program interns. As part of our blog series on International Human Rights Day, I on behalf of the  UU-UNO will highlight our work this year on one of the most pressing issues of our time: the plight of lesbian, gay, lesbian, and transgender (LGBT) people.

The current situation is dire. Many LGBT people around the world endure brutal acts of violence; are denied opportunities to work, learn and receive healthcare; and must flee their countries–all because of who they are. In some 80 countries it is illegal to be gay or to be suspected of it. Consequently, many LGBT people are excluded from the full measure of human rights.

We raised this issue repeatedly at the United Nations. This past summer, the UU-UNO participated in the UN Post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals Agenda, a policy process in which member states, major groups and civil society developed international development goals for 2015 and beyond. The UU-UNO proposed policies that promote and protect LGBT human rights, and was the only NGO at the UN’s proceedings to do so. (more…)

A Recap of the International Human Rights Work at the UU-UNO in 2014

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December 10th is International Human Rights Day. Guided by our principles, Unitarian Universalists are called to advocate for international human rights; to be a voice for the voiceless by promoting the inherent worth and dignity of all living things. Our Unitarian Universalists United Nations Office is the UU voice to the United Nations. I would like to share with you all of the important accomplishments of our office in 2014.

High Level Consultations

The UU-UNO’s reputation has grown over the past few years, to the point where we are consulted and asked to speak at very influential forums. Over the course of 2014, we have been invited to speak and consult with the: Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development on human rights including religious freedom, women’s rights and sexual orientation and gender identity human rights. These consultations included staff from the Office of the Prime Minister. We enjoy a close working relationship with Amnesty International’s UN Office, and their offices in Canada and the United Kingdom.    1

We have been asked to join a consultative group at the United States Department of State that pulls together faith-based leaders to advise the State Department on the areas of Social Justice, Development, Peace and Conflict Resolution. We have played an important role on the Social Justice subcommittee which has focused on sexual orientation and gender identity human rights. (more…)

The People’s Climate March

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UU-UN Office reflections from the historic People’s Climate March Sunday September 20, 2014.

 

 

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 “The People’s Climate March on September 21st, 2014 brought together people of all identities from around the world.  What struck me the most about this march was the boundless positive energy throughout the march.  We all saw the humanity in one another, we were connected spiritually and emotionally, and we moved as one strong body. The UU-UNO participated in the march held in New York City and thanks to screens set-up throughout the march we were able to see marches in other countries.  Many international participants in the NYC march wore the flag of their country proudly.  Humans working solidarity around the world as global citizens and participants of this movement.  What an energizing and inspirational time in history that will be talked about for years to come! We came together, calling attention climate change and climate justice – we need to take action now.  We sang, we danced, we chanted, we meditated, we lifted our voices and we were present in intentional international community for the good of the globe.”

– Kamila Jacob, Envoy Coordinator

 

“From the powerful signs like “I can’t walk on water!”, to the march and people on the sidewalk cheering, clapping and singing to each other, an incredible force of spiritual empowerment has risen along Central Park West on Sunday, September 21. This is a historic day to be remembered, where over 400,000 people joined the People’s Climate March in New York City.

 

rayInspired by each other, people picked up the yellow sign distributed on the street that writes: Another ___ for people’s climate. So, there we went, another “Buddhist”, another  “bike rider”, another “hot lesbian”…The collective empowerment doesn’t stop at people’s creativity in the various ways they identify themselves. The empowerment is tremendously diversified and widely disseminated through collaboration among different people and different groups.

 

There was one moment when the host asks us to connect our spirit with the ones standing next to us. Our office intern, Kira, reached out to the two people sitting on the ground in front of her, and connected with their hands against hers. Public voices take place in so many different forms that is built on one another’s ideas and power. By gaining affirmation and collaboration from hundreds of thousands of people, we will be able to heal the world like we never have before. After all, this world belongs to all of us!”

– Danning, Intern

 

“To me, being part of the march meant to explore what it means for me to be a woman. I joined 400,000 other individuals from every part of the world to march in solidarity with mother nature. I find it no coincidence that mother nature is being abused in exploited by what I deem our misogynistic global community.”

– Bri, Intern

 

“It was truly an amazing experience to be part of something so historic. The collective energy was so invigorating and powerful. I believe the best way to get someone to hear what you have to say is by showing up and saying it, and boy did we. Over 400,000 global citizens came together to get our message across and I don’t see how our world leaders and policy makers can ignore the message shared yesterday. Not only from the people in New York City but from marches all around the world. I felt truly spiritually connected to everyone there, just being people of the earth. One other thing that stuck out to me was the fact that not one arrest was made. I feel like this spoke to the overwhelming positive energy behind the commitment, focus, and message of the people.”

– Kira, Intern

 

“The empowering and inspiring march united 400,000 people with a message for world leaders on climate change. At the starting point near Columbus Circle, many marchers held signs with a variety of powerful words: “There Is No Planet B”, “Preserve Our Fossil Carbon”, “Solutions Exist”, “Respect for the interdependent Web of All Existence of Which We Are a Part” and “Jobs, Justice, Clean Energy”. Marchers expressed their thoughts and souls in order to let their voices be heard by all the people living on the motherland. Different appeals rising in the demonstrators include clean water and air, green forest, less carbon emission, global warming, new alternative energy instead of fossil fuels, etc, which inspired people on the street to join the march. People hold the same strong faith and beliefs that we need to save the earth and we can do it through the collaboration among diverse organizations, ethnic groups, races and ages. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to get involved in this historic and memorable event with other awesome marchers. I believe every major social movement can be achieved when people get together.”

– Meng, Intern             kira

 

“Marching in the People’s Climate March was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life.  I have never participated in an event of that magnitude.

I was not only impressed by the sheer volume of people, but our commitment to fighting for a more just and sustainable way of life. That commitment was evidenced in the hours and hours people waited to march. In the miles that people with disabilities covered, despite their physical limitations. In the countless signs people made. And in the myriad other ways we expressed our shared concern for the only place we call home.

I was especially pleased that the Climate March organizers purposely placed Indigenous communities in the front of the march, in order to highlight in the plight of these communities. These peoples are on front lines of climate change now, so it was appropriate for them to lead from the front of the march. They bear the brunt of climate change, as their way of life is threatened by increasing frequency of extreme weather events, rising sea levels, droughts, increasing water shortages, and the spread of tropical-born diseases. Out of all of us marching yesterday, it is these communities whose circumstances are the most dire, and I was grateful that they were front and center.

At the Climate March, I heard calls to action, languages I did not know, chanting, the drums of indigenous tribes, singing, and laughter. I felt proud to be unified with my brothers and sisters for a cause that is bigger than all of us. But I also felt the weight of the issue at hand. As Chris Hedges said recently: “It is both an obligation and a privilege to be around right now.” Indeed, I am inspired by the Climate March. But I also feel the immense obligation to do my part to secure this earth for us and for future generations.”

-Raymond, Intern

 

To learn more about our work to combat climate change, visit our UU-UNO webpage, the Climate Portal and the UUA Commit2Respond initiative. For more photos from the People’s Climate March, visit our Facebook page.

Interfaith Dialogue for Human Rights

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Abby McBride is a youth representative for the UU-UNO. She attends Lehigh University and is pursuing a a degree in International Relations.  She is a blogger and manager for The Assembly.

Religion tends to have a bad rap in the media. When people think of zealous religious figures, terms such as “bigot” or “xenophobe” often come to mind. A group of religious non-governmental organizations met at the United Nations on Friday, August 29th, 2014 to discuss putting an end to this trend. The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO) sponsored the interfaith dialogue workshop, entitled “Interfaith Progressive Values Promote Universal Human Rights” as part of the 65th Annual UN DPI/NGO Conference. Co-sponsors included Muslims for Progressive Values, the NGO Committee on Human Rights, the NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace, and Security, the Tzu Chi Foundation, Soka Gakkai International, Won Buddhism, and Buddha’s Light International Association.

 

Kamila Jacob and Debra Boudreaux
Kamila Jacob and Debra Boudreaux

In the workshop, participants emphasized that, while faith is important, it should not stand in the way of basic human rights. Debra Boudreaux, Executive Vice President of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, spoke of her dedication to Buddhism, but said her foundation will help any kind of person, not only Buddhists. Kamila Jacob, representing the UU-UNO, told the workshop that her drive for social justice is put into action by her faith.

 

Hiro Sakuri of Soka Gakkai International voiced his regrets that there is no longer an interfaith conference at the United Nations. In 2005 he established an interfaith conference at the UN, with support from 75 member states, 15 UN agencies, and a set of religious non-governmental organizations. Following this development was the first ever General Assembly high-level dialogue on inter-religious communication for peace. However, the interfaith conference no longer occurs since members of certain agencies and organizations have left. Now, he struggles to find committed people to bring this conference back to life.

 

Bruce Knotts and Ani Zonneveld
Bruce Knotts and Ani Zonneveld

Ani Zonneveld, President of Muslims for Progressive Values, addressed the conflict that occurs between religion and human rights. She proposes that it is not religion itself that creates tension with human rights, but men’s interpretation of it. Of her own faith, Islam, she said “Sharia law is the interpretation of that divine inspiration [Sharia] by men of patriarchal society.” Zonneveld clarified that Sharia is the spiritual path of Islam. However, Sharia law has been warped by the values of the time (centuries ago) when it was enacted and the cultural issues it conflicts with today.

The UU-UNO affirms the Unitarian Universalist belief that there is inherent worth and dignity in every individual. Humanity is diverse in race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and religion, and the UU-UNO recognizes and embraces this fact. The UU-UNO wants to foster interfaith dialogue so that no religious groups stand in the way of the rights of individuals. We must be aligned in what is true, what is right, and what is good.

The UU-UNO recognizes that if religious groups are to succeed in protecting human rights, a greater degree of dialogue and cooperation in the future is essential. The workshop cast a look at what such a future might entail. Members attended from a plethora of religious groups – Jewish, Humanist, Catholic, Atheist, and a variety of others. The UU-UNO is hopeful that interfaith dialogue will continue as we need unity to secure fundamental rights around the world, rather than the division that has plagued religious dialogue in the past.Audience2 - nb

Nine Weeks in the Life of a UU-UNO Women’s Program Intern

 

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Zandy in front of the UN.
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Zandy and Gerardo Porteny Backal

Hi, my name is Alexandra “Zandy” Stovicek and this is my last week as the intern in charge of the Women’s Initiative for Security and Peacebuilding (WISP) in the Unitarian Universalist United Nations (UUUNO) office. I had an incredible time getting to know my office supervisors, fellow interns of all ages and academic backgrounds, and learning about the structure and agenda of the United Nations. As the only intern focused on the WISP program during my time here, I was able to work on a plethora of projects of my own volition. One of my goals for this internship was to focus on networking and partnership building. Although I consider myself an extrovert, I have not had a lot of opportunity to practice building professional relationships in my young adult life, and I know that these skills are invaluable for the road ahead. Two of my objectives were to create a partnership with the US Mission and UN Women. Although I have not had as much success as I would have hoped partnering with the US Mission on indigenous women’s rights, my goal of partnering with UN Women was achieved. I recently met with Gerardo Porteny Backal, the Global Youth Consultant for the HeForShe Campaign at UN Women. HeforShe encourages men to join the fight for gender equality on behalf of universal human rights. Hopefully our organizations will start collaborating on women’s rights after such a successful meeting!

I’ve also looked into partnering with UU groups. We are in the process of working with both the UUA Reproductive Justice Advisory Group and the All Souls Reproductive Justice Task Force on an informative panel on international reproductive health. My other big task related to Unitarian Universalism in particular has been calling envoys from UU congregations to update our database and gather feedback, in order to improve UU-UNO communications and our Envoy program. Perhaps I spoke to some of the individuals who are reading this right now! I enjoyed getting to know UUs from around the country and Canada, hearing their goals for implementation of UN Sundays and other international human rights advocacy events at their congregations.

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UN Women’s Meeting

My main project has been preparation and planning for the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in March. This two-week conference consists of meetings at the UN headquarters and our very own church center, headed by UN Women and the NGO Committee on CSW. After researching a dozen potential topics, I narrowed down our proposal to focus on two themes. The first is about global women’s self-esteem. When the issue of “self-esteem” is addressed, it is often in the context of a Western woman’s issues with her body image, exacerbated by the media. Self-esteem, however, should be considered to mean the worth and value of all women around the world. This is not a national issue; it is a global, universal, pervasive issue: the low self-esteem of women. I intend the event to have a discussion-based format; I’d love for audience members to discuss what self-esteem really means and how it is the root of many issues. The topic will be approached through the lens of a discussion on the war against girl children. Think about this: a man who kills or abandons his female children because they are female must not think a female life is worth living. If a woman kills, aborts, or abandons her female children because they are female, she must not think a female life is worth living, and therefore that her own life is worth living. What creates and perpetuates the dehumanization of women and their low self-esteem? And, how can we change it?

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Zandy and UU-UNO Office and Intern Coordinator, Nickie Tiedeman

The second panel stems from a desire to continue the work and writings of former intern Russell Hathaway, who is passionate about the plight of women in Syria. I developed a panel focusing on the Reproductive and Mental Health of Syrian Refugee Women. The Syrian Civil War is a relevant and important topic. Yet much of the focus on the war concerns bombings, military engagements, and use of chemical weapons, rather than civilians, particularly women and their reproductive and mental health. There is a dire need to focus on this specific topic since many women have suffered physical and sexual violence in conflict, and all have experienced trauma. A number attribute their feelings of insecurity, or their experiences of harassment or exploitation, to the fact that they are living without an adult male, who would ordinarily provide social and physical protection. Many of these women now live in poverty in Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon settlements. They are the survivors of war, the unheard voices, and the lives forgotten. Health facilities have been deliberately targeted and eviscerated during the war and the specific treatment and concern directed towards sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) survivors in particular is crucial. It has been a privilege to watch my work come to fruition, from brainstorming about potential topics to formatting the specific topics to having co-sponsors and panelists commit to participating just this week!

As I head back to Wesleyan University for my sophomore year this month, I am excited to continue promoting gender equality and all human rights on my campus. I belong to many social justice groups that focus on an eclectic mix of topics, from girls’ education to HIV/AIDs to discrimination against LGBT persons to advocating against sexual violence towards women. I hope to use the skills and knowledge base that I have acquired at the UU-UNO in order to become a more conscientious, action-focused member of these groups. In order to remain in contact with this lovely office and the UN in general, I applied to become a UN Women Civil Society Advisory Group Youth Representative. The position would entail meetings with the Executive Director and other representatives in order to include the input of youth on gender equality initiatives. Fingers crossed! You might also find me running around the office come March, as the UN prepares for CSW. I hope to volunteer for this office or NGO CSW during my spring break to see my passionate work come to completion. Best wishes for a peaceful, justice-filled year ahead!

With love,

Zandy Stovicek

UU-UNO LogoIf you are interested in learning more about the UU-UNO internship program, please email Nickie Tiedeman at ntiedeman@uua.org. 

LOVE REACHED OUT: UU-UNO General Assembly Recap

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Thank you for joining the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office during our General Assembly 2014 Events!

 

UU-UNO Director Bruce Knotts speaking at the LGBTQ and Immigration panel
UU-UNO Director Bruce Knotts speaking at the LGBTQ and Immigration panel

UU-UNO Director, Bruce Knotts, spoke at LGBTQ and Immigration – An Intersection of Human Rights, hosted by UURISE, on Thursday, June 26th. Bruce discussed the plight of LGBTQ immigrants who seek refuge from persecution, only to find limited or no protection under US immigration law.  He explained the current limitations of immigration laws, and how UUs can combine their LGBTQ and immigration reform advocacy efforts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond Borders: Implementing Intercultural Conversations, hosted by the UU-UNO occurred on Friday, June 27th.

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“Think globally, act locally.” Panelists addressed ways to promote cultural and spiritual inclusion and the importance and value of global understanding. We invited participants to look at their strengths in human rights and climate justice to encourage them to strengthen their efforts by extending their passions to a global stage. Teresa Cooley, Bruce Knotts and Kamila Jacob spoke on these issues. Alley Wolff also spoke briefly about the Envoy Program.

 

The Dana Greeley and Blue Ribbon Awards Reception took place on Saturday, June 28th.

The Dana Greeley Sermon Award winners were announced and honored. This year’s winning submission came from the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship in New Jersey. The intergenerational team (Gabor Kiss, Shari Loe, George Hays, James McMormick, and Sarah Matsushima) put together a United Nations Sunday service that addressed the theme of the 2013 Spring Seminar (LGBTQ Human Rights).

This year’s Dana Greeley Award winners with UU-UNO Director Bruce Knotts

The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office extended our gratitude to the Blue Ribbon Congregations for their hard work in achieving this status. They have successfully held a UN Sunday service or event, made a congregational donation or committed to an annual “UU UNO” budget line, had 15 members or 5% of their members donate as individuals to the office, and have an envoy or envoy team.
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See our Facebook page for more photos from the Blue Ribbon Ceremony!

 

The Envoy Breakfast took place on Saturday, June 28th.

At the breakfast, we discussed the successes and challenges experienced by congregational envoys, and we helped brainstorm ideas and techniques to enhance our future envoy endeavors.

 

 Watch Bruce talk about our influence at the United Nations during General Session V at 13:26!

 

Youth Envoys loved GA!

“I only attended two days of the UUA’s 2014 General Assembly, but while I was there was I able to participate in UU-UNO related events. At their Beyond Borders workshop, Kamila and Bruce brought speakers who talked to us about what the UU-UNO does and their various programs, including their efforts to combat LGBTQ inequality; they placed an emphasis on helping those whose voices are not often heard. In the morning I attended the envoy breakfast where current envoys and envoys-to-be met and discussed our past successes and failures when trying to spread the word about the UU-UNO at our respective congregations. It was nice to meet other UUs from all around the country who care and know about what’s going on at the UU-UNO, especially because our ages and backgrounds were all varied.”

–       Sarah Matsushima, 17, Morristown, New Jersey

 

“I’ve been going to GA every year since my freshman year in high school, so I was very excited that this year I wouldn’t have to travel far because it is in my region. General Assembly is always a fun experience; it is great to meet UUs from all over the country, and when you sit in a huge conference center with all the people you realize just how many of us there are. GA is especially fun for the youth because of the Youth Caucus, which provides great programming for youth to get to know each other and do fun things like trivia night and the dance they have every year. The UU-UNO has a presence at GA, they have a booth in the exhibit hall and do workshops throughout the week. There is also the Envoy breakfast, and the reception for the Dana Greeley award and the Blue Ribbon award winners.”

–       Corry Sullivan, 17, State College, Pennsylvania

 

“The UU-UNO reception provided a perfect setting to honor certain congregations for their exceptional collaboration with the UU-UNO. We were treated to an excerpt from the exceptional service that earned the Dana Greeley award, and 33 congregations were honored with the blue ribbon award. Overall this event graced its attendees with food, knowledge, and goodwill towards the incredible action the UU-UNO is working towards.”

–       Ben Gaffigan, 18, Frederick, Maryland

 

INTERNATIONAL U/U YOUNG ADULT LISTENING PROJECT

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If you’re a U/U young adult living outside the US, we want to talk to you! The UUA International Office is conducting a listening project. If you’re interested, book Shawna Foster or send her an email.

What’s a listening project? It’s when an interviewer spends time with a certain group of people with carefully developed questions to find out what is going on in their lives. The UUA International Office wants to listen to youngadults to see what their lives are like and how Unitarian Universalism plays a part in it. Through these interviews, we will understand what your needs are as a young adult outside of the United States and can start organizing to meet common needs. As stories are told and published, we can see how our movement is a global movement that touches so many people’s lives. Find out how we’re all in this together by signing up today!

Hiroshima Day 2013

Memorial lanterns in observance of Hiroshima Day. (CC image courtesy of Flickr user pni)

Today (August 6, 2013) is Hiroshima Day! As we observe the 68th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, individuals and congregations alike are invited to view our available interfaith and Unitarian Universalist (UU) resources.

Perhaps one of the most inspiring stories to come out of this difficult time is the story of the Hiroshima Children’s Drawings:

Shortly after the bombing in Hiroshima in 1945, Rev. A. Powell Davies of the All Souls Church, Unitarian in Washington, D.C., gave a famous sermon called “Lest the Living Forget.” In it, he encouraged his congregation to send supplies to the victims of the bombing.

 

After sending school supplies to the Honkawa school in Hiroshima, the church received 45 hand drawn pictures by the children of the city. Distinct from other images depicting the events of Hiroshima, these images were hopeful, inviting children of all ages to envision a different future of peace, reconciliation and open dialogue.

Learn more about the story of the Hiroshima Children’s Drawings, and check out our online resources!

United Nations Sustainable Development Working Group

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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.

Click here more info on the UU-UNO’s Climate Change Initiative

Click here for more info about the Open Working Group and schedule

Click here for additional statements and event resources

Open Working Group in Trusteeship Council Chamber

Click events to read the UU-UNO summary

1)    Main EventEmployment and decent work for all, social protection, youth, education and culture
Panel and discussion: Dr. Haroon Bhorat, Dr. Karen Mundy and Mr. Fernando Filgueira

Side Events Attended

2)   Main EventHealth, Population dynamics
Keynote address: Dr. Hans Rosling, Panel and discussion: Dr. Janette Vega, Dr. Saroj Jayasinghe and Dr. Paulina Makinwa-Adebusoye

Side Event Attended

  Conclusions and Thoughts

Read More…

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Inspired by Indonesian Unitarians

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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.

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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.

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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…)