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,


Bruce Knotts



Watch UU-UNO Director Bruce Knotts give impassioned speech at the United Nations

On June 20, 2014 at the  United Nations, NGO representatives from all over the world had an opportunity to provide input on the UN’s 2015-2030 sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Once confirmed, these goals will be the UN’s official sustainable development mandate for the next 15 years.

While there was already language in the goals meant to protect “the marginalized and people in vulnerable situations,” there was no explicit mention of LGBTQ human rights, which we believe will in reality exclude LGBTQ persons from these significant policies. 

In his speech, Bruce addresses this issue by making specific recommendations aimed at including LGBTQ people.



As you will see, Bruce’s speech was the only one to garner  enthusiastic applause. We are so proud!

Watch the video here

His speech begins at 38:15

Still Fighting to Bring Back Our Girls: The State of the Girl Child in Nigeria and Around the World


On June 9th, Kechie’s Project organized a panel discussion entitled, “The State of the Girl Child in Nigeria.”

Several UU-UNO Interns attended the event at the UN Church Center in order to garner more knowledge about this human rights topic.

Kechie’s Project is a non-profit organization that actively engages in the important task of empowering girls globally through education. Their programs are very unique and specific; they empower high school students in Harlem, New York by holding leadership conferences and workshops.

logo bigThrough a cultural exchange program, these young New Yorkers are able to communicate and mentor Nigerian girls  who have received scholarships and academic materials from Kechie’s Project. This event was developed as a reaction to the kidnapping of 276 Nigerian female students by Boko Haram, a terrorist fringe group based in Northeastern Nigeria.


Love Reaches Out Globally at UUA General Assembly!

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 10.21.47 AMFind 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.

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 10.17.14 AMA 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 the Coalition of U/U International Organizations and 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

Event: Unitarian Universalist Service Committee Gala |  RICC Hall C  |  RSVP Required

Friday June 27

Event: UU Partner Church Council (UUPCC) Annual Meeting & Luncheon  |  Biltmore Hotel Garden Room  |   Purchase Tickets

Event: International Association for Religious Freedom Reception |  Biltmore State Suite B

Workshop: Beyond Borders – Implementing Intercultural Conversations |  RICC Ballroom BC

Saturday June 28

Event: UU-United Nations Envoy Breakfast | Providence Biltmore Salon 6

Event: International Women’s Convocation Annual Breakfast & Meeting | Biltmore Hotel Renaissance Salon | Purchase Tickets

Event: Introduction of International Guests, Presentation by Coalition of UU Organizations & 30th Anniversary of UU Holdeen India Program Speech | RICC Plenary Hall

Event: UU Holdeen India Program 30th Anniversary Celebration | Biltmore Grand Ballroom

Event: UU-United Nations Office Greeley Sermon Award Ceremony | Biltmore L’apogee 17

Homophobia in Nigeria: Film Screenings and Panel Discussion


On June 5, 2014, the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO) hosted a film screening and panel discussion on homophobia in Nigeria.

The program began with opening remarks by Director, Bruce Knotts, around the importance of this issue and the UU-UNO’s role in advocating for human rights and social justice.

Community leaders, students, asylum seekers and asylees alike attended this event at the UN Church Center to come together on this issue.

IMG_8430The issue, according to UNO Director Bruce Knotts, is that “LGBTQI Rights need to be contextualized in the larger movement for human rights.” As UU-UNO Intern Ray Firmalino explains it, if one is “bullied, thrown out of school, beaten, and arrested when they, for example, seek HIV treatment, states are barring a whole class of people from basic human rights” such as life, liberty, property, education and health care. (more…)

UU-UNO Director invited to the White House to discuss Global LGBT Human Rights

white house


I received the following invitation last week:

You are invited to a White House Forum on Global LGBT Human Rights, to be held on Tuesday, June 24th, from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. EST.

We are pleased to announce that Ambassador Susan Rice, National Security Advisor, will deliver keynote remarks. Participants will engage with senior Obama Administration officials on the Administration’s ongoing efforts to protect and promote the human rights of LGBT individuals internationally.  The forum will also provide an opportunity to discuss how the faith community, private sector, philanthropic organizations, HIV and health advocates, and the broader human rights community can partner with the Administration in this important work. (more…)

Respect, Protection, and Sustainability: UN Indigenous Forum 2014

logoStarting May 12th, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues convened for the thirteenth time at United Nations Headquarters in New York City. The ten day forum focuses on a spectrum of indigenous issues including economic, social development, environment, culture, health, education, and human rights. The first six sessions of the Indigenous Issue’s Forum had an overarching theme. After the sixth session, the forum decided to alternate sessions focusing on policy discussion one year, and the next, implementation. Only the sessions, every other year, which focus on policy discussion, have a theme. This year’s theme was, “Principles of good governance consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: articles 3 to 6 and 46″. 

While the United Nations meets to discuss the issues this year, many side events are open to nongovernmental organizations and visiting groups. The UU United Nations Office had the opportunity to attend many of the side events on topics ranging from sustainable development of indigenous people’s land, to indigenous women’s role in conservation, to Russian indigenous education, and even indigenous peoples’ opinion on the progression of indigenous rights in Latin America. (more…)

“Veil of Silence” Film Screening and Panel Discussion on LGBTQI Rights in Nigeria

logo The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office Invites YOU to a film screening of “Veil of Silence“.

Veil of Silence

             Film screening at 1:15pm followed by panel discussion at 2:30pm


Habeeb Lawal—Filmmaker, Veil of Silence

Bruce Knotts—Director of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office

Selly Thiam—Founder of None on Record


Let us come together and break the veil of silence surrounding the LGBTQI community in Nigeria

Thursday, June 5, 2014

1:00pm to 4:00pm

United Nations Church Center

777 UN Plaza, New York, NY 10017

10th floor


Free and open to all!

 Visit the event page on Facebook!

   Co-Sponsored by


NGO Committee on Human Rights










Join the UU-UNO at General Assembly!

2014 GA logo

Please join the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office during our General Assembly 2014 Events!


UU-UNO Director, Bruce Knotts, will be speaking at LGBTQ and Immigration – An Intersection of Human Rights, hosted by UURISE, on Thursday, June 26th, from 12:30pm-1:45pm (Program #2), at RICC-Hall D.

While the DOMA ruling is welcome, we can’t let it overshadow discrimination of LGBTQ immigrants in detention and the community. LGBTQ immigrants seeking refuge from persecution find limited protection in US immigration law.  We consider current limitations of immigration laws, and how UUs can blend LGBTQ and immigration reform advocacy.


Beyond Borders: Implementing Intercultural Conversations, hosted by the UU-UNO will be held on Friday, June 27th, from 5:00pm-6:15pm (Program #7), at RICC-Ballroom BC.


“Think globally, act locally”. Panelists will address promoting cultural and spiritual inclusion and the importance and value of understanding.  We invite participants to look at their strengths in human rights and climate justice and encourage them to further strengthen their efforts by extending their passions to a global stage. Teresa Cooley, Bruce Knotts and Kamila Jacob will be speaking.


The Dana Greeley and Blue Ribbon Awards Reception will take place on Saturday, June 28th, from 6:00pm to 7:30pm, at Providence Biltmore L’Apogee 17.

2013 Dana Greeley Sermon Award winner, Dylan Debelis
2013 Dana Greeley Sermon Award winner, Dylan Debelis

The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office will extend 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 congregation donation or committed to an annual budget line, and had 15 or 5% of their members donate as individuals to the office, and have an envoy or envoy team.

The Dana Greeley Sermon Award winner will be announced and refreshments will be served.


The Envoy Breakfast will be on Saturday, June 28th, from 7:00am to 8:30am, at the Providence Biltmore Salon 6.

This is a unique opportunity to meet UN Office staff as well as envoys.  Come with your whole envoy team if possible. This is an opportunity to share your work with others and exchange ideas to enhance your Envoy toolbox! Aspiring Envoys are also welcome. RSVP Required (below).



Meet Isaac: An Every Child is Our Child Volunteer in Ghana


I had the privilege of meeting Nanleeb Ishmael Isaac during our annual site visit to Ghana in February.  He is our newest volunteer for our Every Child is Our Child program and works closely with our program monitor.  Isaac is 26 years old and comes from a family of 9.  He is from Nakpanduri, in the Northern Region of Ghana.  Both his parents are peasant farmers and he describes them as “wonderful parents who would do everything they can to get all of us to school!”  He studied business and accounting before going to University for development studies, where he pursued a B.A in integrated community development, graduating in 2013.

Isaak, Bruce, one of our ECOC children and his caretaker
Isaak, Bruce, one of our ECOC children and his caretaker

When I asked Isaac about ECOC it was evident that he is very passionate about the program, women’s education, and the wellbeing of orphaned and vulnerable children.  Isaac described ECOC as the “most interesting community based program” he has come across since completing his education.  “I want to volunteer for this program because it is my goal and objective to help empower women and promote girl child education and the alleviation of extreme poverty among women in the rural poor. There is a saying that ‘when you educate a man you educate an individual but when you educate a woman you educate a whole nation’.  Women empowerment should be seen as a global issue because when women are empowered through education they will be able to change the world for the better.”

We are delighted to have someone as passionate, intelligent and hardworking as Isaac on our team and we wish him the best of luck as a volunteer and as he begins his career as community developer!

You can help our students achieve their education goals by making a generous donation. Please contact the UU-UNO office if you and/or your congregation has interest in further engaging with this program!

By Maria Militano, Every Child is Our Child intern September 2013- May 2014.  Maria visited the ECOC project in summer 2013, February 2014, and will return in summer 2014.