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

34th IARF World Congress Recap

From August 24-27, the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF) held its 34th World Congress in Birmingham, UK. A quadrennial event, this year’s theme was “Challenges for Religious Freedom in the Digital Age.”

UUA President Rev. Peter Morales introduced keynote speaker Karen Armstrong, who delivered an impassioned speech titled “Religious Problems and Imperatives of Our Age” to over 250 attending delegates hailing from 25 countries. During the introductory proceedings, Armstrong was presented with the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Award.

The two and a half day program hosted 11 sessions featuring 39 presenters from all over the world. Three plenaries were held addressing the following topics: “The coming-online faith world,” “How (not) to liberate the world,” and “educational potential of religious narrative animation.”

The second plenary address was delivered by His Grace Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom.

Providing a powerful opportunity for interfaith connection, discussion, and collegiality across borders, this year’s Congress was hosted in Birmingham, a city whose rich history of “indigenous British religious nonconformity” made it a perfect milieu for 2014’s gathering.

Check out this Storify collection of tweets and facebook posts from Congress participants:

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Related

My Summer with the UU-UNO

Hi everyone,

Like my fellow intern Zandy, today marks my last day as an intern with the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office. Through the last ten weeks with the office I have had such an amazing experience and will thoroughly miss it. The other interns and staff members I met here will be connections and friends for years to come I hope, and the opportunity to work on important causes about which I am passionate has been both affirming and inspiring.

My name is Sage Mitch, and I am a junior at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. I came into this internship without any clear expectations for what this internship might look like or what my role with the office would be. While searching for positions this summer, I discovered the UU-UNO, and thought as a life-long UU and budding international relations enthusiast, the position would be a perfect fit. At the end now of a summer here that passed altogether too quickly, I know that I was right.

The small, but ambitious nature of the office allowed me to explore many different interests and participate in several projects. Like Zandy, I began my summer making calls to our Envoys in congregations across the US and Canada in order to get feedback on the program and update our database of contact information. It was inspiring to speak with such dedicated volunteers, many of whom have been involved with the office for years and years. It was intimidating at first as a brand new member of the office to be speaking to such expert enthusiasts, but I quickly came to enjoy the task. It was really a great reflection of the care and passion in so many UUs that envoys, young and old, would take the time to speak with me quite extensively about their ideas and experiences. After speaking with so many people about their passions, I was eager to begin working with my own at the office.

After doing a little work with the Every Child is Our Child program, I began working chiefly as the climate change intern within the office.  As the climate change intern, I prepared to be in contact with Climate Action Teams (CATs), research climate issues and potential projects, and encourage the expansion of the CAT program. In the first week of July though, I heard murmurs about the People’s Climate March. Between inquiries to our office and our own research, it quickly became clear that this March was going to be a big deal, and something we had to get involved in. I made the necessary contacts with UUs involved in the early organizing, and we reached out to our Climate Action Teams. I thought that this would be a good event for the office to participate in in September, but not a major project. Then sometime toward the end of the month, the March exploded into action. I feel as though I’ve spent most of the past month in communications about the March and the activities and workshops scheduled surrounding it, and I have loved every minute of it. The March is scheduled for Sunday, September 21 to correspond to a UN Summit for world leaders on climate change the following week, and is supposed to be the largest climate march in history. Thousands of UUs will be involved among a massive interfaith movement. Witnessing the connection between so many different faiths and climate justice has been truly inspiring. It is very difficult for me to have to leave this project now and miss the March itself. I wholeheartedly encourage anyone who can to participate in the myriad of UU and interfaith activities that weekend and to carry the messages of climate justice beyond!

In addition to my work with climate change, I did some work with the NGO committee on Disarmament, Peace, and Security, specifically with the publication they produce called The Disarmament Times. In this work I was able to research and learn about leading disarmament experts and efforts. Through this work, I also learned more about the interconnected nature of many of the human rights issues our office works to address. For instance, between my two main areas of climate change and disarmament, I was able to see how an increasing climate crisis and dearth of natural resources is leading to more global political conflict; and in reverse, the defense industry is a major contributor of greenhouse gas emissions. And the connections extend throughout the realm of human rights; in helping to prepare materials for congregations to celebrate UN Sunday I repeatedly saw the connection between this year’s theme of indigenous rights to my focus of climate justice – among the many other areas it can connect to including women’s rights, SOGI/LGBT rights, and economic justice. Because our office addresses such a broad range of issues, I saw more the universal effects of human rights abuses and the need for action in all areas.

I leave my internship impassioned to take these lessons with me in my work in the future. This summer I had the opportunity to shake hands with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and see Mala Yousafzai speak (both of which left me feeling star struck and inspired), but was most impressed by the work I see going on in the UU-UNO every day. I learned this summer how much work goes in to true progress and the role that I can play in working for human rights. I hope to have the opportunity in my work in the future to pursue something I am as passionate about with as talented a group of people as the staff and interns at the UU-UNO this summer.

In Peace and Justice,

Sage

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

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. 

Giving, Receiving, Sharing: God Particles

 

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 8.51.32 AMThe Remonstrant church in the Netherlands – a century-long liberal religious partner of the UUA – is embarking on an innovative ministry called ‘Goddeeltjes’ (God particles).  They will be publishing 6 small spiritual booklets by church leaders about finding parts of God through Giving, Receiving and Sharing.  After approaching Dutch Television producers about this idea, they produced a short movie (7 minutes, includes English subtitles) to introduce the idea.  Isn’t it beautiful?

May it be a blessing.

UN Conference ‘Women in Power: Making a Global Difference’

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When fellow intern Zandy and I heard that there would be a UN conference entitled “Women in Power Making a Global Difference,” I cleared my schedule to be sure I could be there. What could be more exciting than powerful women using their influence for the global good?

The conference room was emptier than I wished it would have been. In my mind, the masses should come together on this issue. The issue of gender inequality affects men and women alike. Fortunately, the panelists were both men and women of many different racial backgrounds. The moderator of the event, Terra Renee, managed to weave the speeches of each leader into a cohesive call to act on behalf of these issues, leaving attendees with a feeling of empowerment.

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The Ambassador of Grenada to the United States, Denis Antoine, spoke about how closing the gender gap could “unleash greater global power.” He stressed that women have no representation in public decision making roles despite their strong roles in the home; mothers can teach their sons and daughters to be agents of change. Mothers are inherently strong leaders and should be given the opportunity to lead outside of the home.

Sire Dione Conde, the President of African Women for Good Governance, had a lot to say about the ability of women, whether they are mothers at home or powerful leaders, to make a difference. Like Ambassador Antoine, she also emphasized the role of mothers: confident mothers raise confident daughters. Furthermore, if women are empowered in their communities, they will raise empowered girls.

Mamadou Tangara, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Gambia, mentioned the tremendous image(3)difference that free education has made for girls and will continue to make in the future in his own country.

Dr. Ekua of Nigeria opened with the endearing statement, “I am one of the most gender sensitive men you can find on the earth.” He highlighted the need to not only talk about women’s issues, but to brainstorm concrete strategies to move forward, and create bench marks for  progress. In particular he noted that media is often used as a tool to objectify women instead of as a resource to promote gender equality.

Lynne Walsh, Director of the Universal Peace Federation, declared that society is off-balance; a great way to think about the untapped potential of women.She argued for male-female teamwork as the key to success. She spoke in terms of both global and national issues. However, both Zandy and I found her ideas to be quite heteronormative. She focused on family ideals and the importance of children growing up in a two-parent (male-female) household. I think this idea disregards women’s ability to affect change, globally or otherwise, all by herself or in a group of women without men. Single mothers, female leaders, and same sex couples who are successful at raising children were discredited by her words. We both agree that men need to be part of the discussion on gender equality, but that her idealization of the male presence undersold the potential of women. I hope that we can all see that women have the power to catalyze change, indiscriminate of gender identity and whether or not they are part of a gender binary.

Stephanie Aisha Steplight Johnson, Dean of the Liberal Arts School of Essex County College, shared her understanding of good governance. Good governance consists of a government providing protection, natural resources, education, and health for its citizens in order to ensure a high quality of life. Unfortunately, often it is the citizens who must take the infrastructure of their communities into their own hands. She closed with Nelson Mandela’s statement that the “ordinary men and women guarantee true democracy and freedom,” hoping to foster the spirit of good governance among not only politicians and leaders but each and every civilian.

Lindsay Ashby focused on the justice system, mentioning the positive changes in gender equality in the United States through the reversal of five sexist rulings. Next she discussed the bridge between women’s equality and energy justice. She recounted her trips to help developing areas during which women would ask for wells that would enable water to be more accessible to the community, while men asked for soccer fields.

image(2)                The event culminated with a discussion of the 276 Nigerian girls who were kidnapped by the Boko Haram terrorist organization in April. It has now been just over 100 days that the girls have been in captivity and unfortunately it has been confirmed that 11 of the girls’ parents have died during their absence. Marsha Lee-Wash of the Law Enforcement Guardians spoke with passion on this issue. She stressed the magnitude of uncontrollable violence in our society today, but declared that we must continue to advocate on behalf of human rights. She stated that the girls deserve the “freedom to live and dream without harm,” and that “we cannot afford to go to sleep on the dreams of girls.” Her most notable conclusion exposed the cracks within the UN system; she asked the audience to “move beyond the titles [they] have acquired,” stop having “conferences for the sake of conferences,” and use this opportunity to create a call to action. This amalgamation of speakers from eclectic backgrounds helped to inform the audience about the plethora of national and international impediments to gender equality and why each of those battles is equally important to fight.

There are so many ways to get involved in the fight for women’s rights. Some are right here at the UU-UNO, located in the Church Center of UN Plaza. The UU-UNO aims to promote awareness and action through education and advocacy such as pushing for ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) U.S. and international implementation, preventing sexual violence and child marriage, participation and hosting events each year at CSW (the Commission on the Status of Women), film screenings, and writing reports. For more information, to host a film screening, or attend an event please visit our Women’s Peace building website or e-mail us. We’d love to hear from you!

 

Untitled    -Lauren Potenza & Zandy Stovicek

 

 

 

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

 

A Lost Soul

UU-UNO LogoOn 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.

UU-UNO Director Bruce Knotts and Ebenezer
UU-UNO Director Bruce Knotts and Ebenezer

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.

News from the UU-UNO Director, Bruce Knotts

Bringing UU Values to the UN and to the U.S. and Canadian Governments

 

logoI 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.

Bruce Knotts at the White House LGBT Forum
Bruce Knotts at the White House LGBT Forum

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.

The White House.  Photo taken by the author.
The White House. Photo taken by the author.

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.

Vice President and Dr. Biden at a reception they hosted for participants of the LGBT Forum
Vice President and Dr. Biden at a reception they hosted for participants of the LGBT Forum

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.

 

Yours Sincerely,

signature

Bruce Knotts

Director

Bknotts@uua.org

bruce