Sacred Roots: Indigenous Rights, Resistance, and Reclamation – Recap

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Since 1957 the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office has hosted an annual Spring Seminar. In 1998 the event became an intentionally inter-generational space that brought together youth, young adults, and adults in shared dialogue around issues that matter to our Unitarian Universalist tradition. Each Seminar calls participants to ask difficult questions about the reality of the world that we live in and the hope of the future world that we would like to create. Many participants say that the panels, creative programming, worship, and community building that make up the Seminar are transformative moments in their lives that allow them to reaffirm how their faith can be lived and embodied.

As the Seminar has transformed over the years, the UU-UNO team has similarly transformed each year. We begin to work on the next Seminar the moment the previous Seminar wraps up in order to provide the most amount of time and planning to ensure quality. Through this year long process of preparing the Seminar and implementing it, interns and staff are able to learn, reflect, and grow. However, this forward-looking lens and brisk pace sometimes leaves little time for reflecting on our past accomplishments.  As we look back on our recent Spring Seminar – Sacred Roots: Indigenous Rights, Resistance, and Reclamation (April 3rd to April 5th ) we wanted to publish this blog to reflect on some of the most memorable moments of this inter-generational and interfaith dialogue.

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In Remembrance of the Manya Krobo Paramount Queen Mother

Paramount queen mother

In Remembrance of Madam Mary Rose Quist

(Nana Manye Mamle Okleyo)

Manya Krobo Paramount Queen Mother

(1920-2013)

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During our February 7-14 visit to the Every Child is Our Child Project in Ghana, we were saddened to learn of the passing of the Paramount Queen Mother of the Manya Krobo People.  Over the years, many of us have met this beautiful woman who radiated love and kindness.  Everyone who met her remarked that they felt a sense of peace and tranquility while in her presence.  Our largest delegation met her in 2012 (See the photos below).  On the last day of our visit this year, we learned that the Paramount Queen Mother had passed away after a brief illness at the age of 93.  Her funeral Ceremony will take place in Odumase-Krobo, Ghana, West Africa and will commence Friday the 28th of March and will end with a church thanks giving service on Sunday the 30th.

Our program administrator, Joseph will attend the thanks giving service on Sunday and the UU-UNO has invited Marti Johnson Demos, a UU working at the American Embassy in Accra to represent us at the memorial services.

Our deepest condolences to her family, friends and community.

 

Paramunt queen mother with Peter Moralez

A traditional gift of Schnapps given to Bruce Knotts from the Queen Mothers.
A traditional gift of Schnapps given to Bruce Knotts from the Queen Mothers.

 

 

 

 

    

 

Healing Our World and Ourselves

con6Thanks to generous donations from members of the Climate Change Task Force and the fundraising efforts of Unitarian Universalist Justice Florida, the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office’s (UU-UNO) Climate Change program intern, Caroline Achstatter, was able to attend the second annual Healing our World and Ourselves conference in Vero Beach Florida. By connecting with other UUs involved in environmental justice, her participation strengthened the UU-UNO’s commitment to the fight against human-caused climate change. (more…)

CSW’s 58th Session and the UU-UNO’s Parallel Events

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Background of CSW

The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is a functional commission of UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). It was established on 21 June 1946. It is the principal global intergovernmental policy-making body that dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. Every year, representatives of member states gather at United Nations Headquarters in New York to evaluate progress, identify challenges, set global standards and formulate policies to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment worldwide.

Over the two-week events, participants work to produce final agreed conclusions approved by all CSW Member States. For the first half of the CSW, participants make statements and deliberate on the priority and related themes, with regards to draft agreed conclusions that serve as a starting point. Formal negotiations on the draft begin in the second half of the CSW, resulting in several draft versions of agreed conclusions before a final one is voted upon by CSW Member States. Learn more about CSW(more…)

Spring Seminar in Retrograde: Top Five Countdown!

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By Dylan Debelis

Since 1957 the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office has hosted an annual Spring Seminar. In 1998 the event evolved into an intentionally intergenerational space that brought together youth, young adults, and adults in shared dialogue around issues that matter to our Unitarian Universalist tradition.

Each Seminar calls participants to ask difficult questions about the reality of the world that we live in and the hope of the future world that we would like to create. Many participants say that the panels, creative programming, worship and community building that make up the Seminar are transformative moments in their lives that allow them to reaffirm how their faith can be lived and embodied.

Us here at the UU-UNO are similarly transformed each year. We begin to work on the next Seminar the second the previous Seminar wraps up in order to provide the most amount of time and planning to insure quality. Through this year long process of preparing the Seminar and implementing it, both interns and staff alike are able to learn, reflect, and grow. However, this forward-looking lens and brisk pace sometimes leaves little time for reflecting on our past accomplishments.

As we look forward to our upcoming Spring Seminar Sacred Roots: Indigenous Rights, Resistance, and Reclamation (happening April 3rd to April 5th) we wanted to publish this blog to reflecting at what we here in the Office think of as the top 5 Spring Seminars held within the past twenty years. Remember, this is a completely subjective list. If your list would differ from ours, that’s great! Send us an email and let us know! If we get enough input we may publish a follow-up blog with thoughts from our readers! (more…)

An Open Letter to World Leaders

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Calling to end pushing LGBTIs into double victimization!

  • First, donors do not fund LGBTI support programs (except few exceptions over the recent years and its too little).
  • Second, donors continue funding governments ignoring their human rights violations against LGBTIs.

As an example following are the areas that USAID and Department of State budget provide foreign aid to other countries:

Peace and Security, Counter-Terrorism, Combating WMD, Stabilization/Security Sector Reform,  Counter-narcotics,  Transnational Crime,  Conflict Mitigation, Investing in People,  Health,  Education,  Social Services/Protection of Vulnerable,

Governing Justly & Democratically,  Rule of Law & Human Rights, Good Governance,

Political Competition,  Civil Society,  Economic Growth,  Macroeconomic Growth,  Trade & Investment,  Financial Sector,  Infrastructure,  Agriculture, Private Sector Competitiveness,  Economic Opportunity, Environment,  Humanitarian Assistance,

Protection, Assistance & Solutions, Disaster Readiness,  Migration Management .

These are similar areas by other governments, UK, EU, Canada, Australia, UN, World Bank and other international institutions provide foreign Aid or loan for ‘good’ cause.

What should the donors do? (more…)

Basic Freedoms in a Homophobic World

photo (3)On February 27th, 2014 the NGO Committee on Human Rights and Unitarian Univeralist United Nations Office held a panel discussion on Homophobia around the world.The panel centered on actions taken by the Russian, Ugandan, Nigerian, and Indian governments against the LGBTQIA community.  In India, a high court ruling made in 2009 that decriminalized same sex marriage was reversed by the nation’s Supreme Court.  In Uganda, Nigeria, and Russia any actions that are perceived as “gay” or the discussion of LGBTQIA issues are reason enough for imprisonment.

During the discussion the violence that accompanies these laws was reiterated by many of our esteemed panelists.  Ms. Roberta Sklar of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission noted that violence is green-lighted when pieces of legislation such as these are enacted.  Anti-LGBTQIA individuals feel justified in harming people that are or even suspected of being homosexual.  Many times, transgender individuals are enveloped in these acts as well.  Police officers tend to be unwilling to help in cases of violence, and in many instances the victims are too scared of what actions will be taken if the police believe that they are homosexual. Bruce Knotts of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office and co-Chair of the NGO Committee on Human Rights discussed the parallels of these current events and instances seen in history.  Governments often test how much oppression the public is willing to tolerate.  The homosexuals, he mentions, in Nazi Germany were the first to be imprisoned.  Allowing oppression of the LGBTQIA community in these nations can allow the oppression of other groups as well. (more…)

2014 Every Child is Our Child Site Visit

CaptureIn early February, Bruce Knotts, UU-UNO Director, and Maria Militano, Every Child is Our Child (ECOC) intern, traveled to Odumase Krobo, Ghana for our yearly monitoring visit.  The purpose of this visit was to maintain our relationship with the ECOC leaders, build new connections, explore new opportunities with our partners, assure that our program is meeting its goals and objectives, and to see what else we can do to help our children achieve their goals.

We were not disappointed!  It was a very busy and productive week filled with meetings, lots of questions about the program, and listening to our kids’ stories and their dreams for the future.   We met with the Ghana AIDS commission, Peace Corps, the Manya Krobo board of education, the ECOC selection committee, and the Queen Mothers, as well as visited the schools and some of our students’ homes.

Maria, Bruce, Joseph and Children holding up postcards

We were joined by two wonderful women on the trip, one from Canada, and the other from the United States.  Both were impressed with the program, the work that is carried out by our partnership with the Queen Mothers, and, our amazing, smart, skillful, and talented scholars – the children of the ECOC program.   One of them said that this had been the best trip she had ever been on!

Many of our students expressed gratitude for our program as well as voiced their interest in attending Senior High School.  Currently, we have four students attending Senior High School and according to their headmasters, doing very well.

We are happy and proud to report that our program is doing well, and that our students are thriving!

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!

 

 

Uganda Passes the Anti Homosexuality Bill

On Friday, December 20,index 2013, the Ugandan Parliament passed the long-dreaded kill-the-gays bill otherwise known as the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. 

The bill, as passed, does not call for the death penalty; instead, it mandates life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality.” However, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has not yet signed the bill and much remains unclear about what has transpired today, and more importantly, what will happen in the days to come.

Followers of this story, which began in 2009, will remember that the Speaker of the Ugandan Parliament had promised to pass the bill as a Christmas present last year; though delayed, it seems the Speaker made good on his promise, to the dismay of LGBTQ activists all around the world.

There remains much that we don’t know.  We have yet to get a copy of the bill to know exactly what it says.  There have also been questions as to whether the Ugandan Parliament actually had a quorum today, which is necessary to pass any legislation. 

President Museveni has long been against the passage of this bill, knowing the international consequences and stating that Uganda already has sufficient anti-homosexuality legislation to fully criminalize homosexuality in Uganda.  However, on his visit to Nigeria two weeks ago, Museveni’s tune began to change; he called on Nigeria to support his stand against Western governments, imploring the nation to follow his lead to “preserve African culture.” During this same visit, Museveni was quoted as wondering why the west is “not concerned about the development of my country, they are only concerned about gays.”  

Nigeria also passed an anti-same sex marriage bill this week. Both the Ugandan and Nigerian bills call for lengthy prison terms (life imprisonment in the former and 15 years in the latter). Groups combating HIV/AIDS are urging both nations not to sign into effect their respective anti-homosexual policies as doing so compromises efforts to combat HIV/AIDS in both countries.

Our partners at Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) have issued the following statement on the passage of the bill:

SMUG has learnt that the Bill as passed by Parliament maintains the prohibition of consensual same sex acts between adults and prescribes a penalty of life imprisonment for so-called repeat offenders. It also requires “persons in authority, including persons exercising religious or social authority to report offences under the Act within twenty four hours or else face imprisonment for three years or a fine.” Furthermore, the Bill maintains the offence of “Promotion of Homosexuality” against anyone who acts as an accomplice or in any way abets homosexuality and “related practices.”

 

“I’m outraged and disappointed that the Uganda parliament has acted in a very ignorant and irrational way” said Frank Mugisha the Executive Director, SMUG. “We shall fight this legislation TO THE END.” he asserts.

Read the full statement here.

A UU-UNO former intern Russell Hathaway, now a student at the University of Chicago, has prepared a detailed history of LGBTI issues in Uganda.  To read this, please click here: LGBT Rights Uganda.

The UU United Nations Office is in touch with all of our partners in Uganda, seeking to better understand what the bill says, how that will manifest, and if it has even legally passed. We’ll be following up with actions UU’s can take to stand in solidarity with the Ugandan LGBTQ community once our partners advise us on how best to support them at this difficult time.

In the meantime, your support in our ongoing efforts to combat global homophobia is needed now more than ever: Please donate to the UU-UNO today.

2013 UN Sunday Readings

Get excited for UN Sunday! To celebrate UN Day (October 24th), the UU-UNO posted readings to be used for a UN Sunday service or event.   We invited our UU-UNO Envoys (and any passionate congregants) to host UN Sunday service or event and focus on this year’s topic: Sex, Love and Violence: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in a Globalized World.  A 2013 UN Sunday resource packet is available for download at www.uua.org/unsunday.

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Our final featured contribution in this years UN Sunday Readings blog is by Annette Marquis.  Annette Marquis serves as LGBTQ and Multicultural Programs Director for the Unitarian Universalist Association. She is the author of Resistance: A Memoir of Civil Disobedience in Maricopa County from Skinner House Books.  Learn more about multicultural programming by getting involved in the Ministries Sharing Project and take the survey now: www.uua.org/sharingproject.

 

The Wonder of Us All

Nothing is more sacred than the human body. It is the essence of life. From the glint in our eyes to the formation of our toes, the assembly of molecules that make up each individual human being is as unique as a flame rising from a lighted chalice. None is us is exactly alike – none of the 7.2 billion people on our planet today or the billions that have come before us is exactly alike. The mystery and wonder of that reality is beyond human comprehension. It is what makes life sacred.

Because holding this degree of diversity is so challenging, over the centuries, we have created categories in which to place people: gender, skin color, size, nationality, ability, points of view, belief. These categories help us to organize the world, to simplify the complexities that life offers, to make sense of what can overwhelm us. We find comfort in people who look like us, act like us, have customs we understand, believe in issues that are consistent with our own.

None of these categories has been as simply defined as gender identity and the expectation of sexual/affectional orientation. Is it a boy or a girl? Male or female. Man or woman. However, we say it, the meaning is clear. You are one or the other. There have only been two choices available to us – no in-betweens, no exceptions. Which one you are assigned at birth defines what is expected of you, the gender roles you are assigned. If you’re a boy, you’re expected to be strong, to fight, to lead. And, if you’re a girl, you are expected to be soft, gentle, and submissive. Boys grow up to marry women. A girl’s job is to find a good husband.

In the 21st century of the common era, in what has been called the third wave of feminism, we have begun to recognize, and in some cases, even accept that not all people fit neatly into this binary definition of what it means to be human. Our bodies might not be clearly defined with male or female organs, or in some cases, might be inconsistent with our psychological identity. And who we find attractive, who we come to love, is not limited to the so-called “opposite sex.”

For every person to be fully honored in the unique and sacred package that makes them human, we are challenged to let go of the categories that have brought us comfort in the past. Our deepest, most spiritual task is to open our minds and our hearts to the beauty that lives in the differences between us.

For some of us, this opens up the world and increases our understanding of the challenges that people face. Through this, we develop empathy for and feel a connection to their mutual humanity that would never have been possible before.

For others of us, letting go of the binary categories of gender identity and sexual orientation is discomforting, even scary. We experience the differences as threatening, and in some cases, even immoral. Rather than reach out to develop better understanding, we retreat further into the safety of our own limited lives.

As some places in the world have become more accepting, other places are passing new laws to force people back into the categories they have determined to be acceptable. As a result, people who are perceived to be different are bullied, beaten, fired, thrown out of their homes, driven to suicide, jailed, and, in way too many instances, even killed.

Which type of person are you? Is your world constantly open to new discoveries, to being transformed by what you learn from others, to the unique and wondrous differences between us? Or is it shut down, walled off, fearful of change?

The choice you make matters. How you live your daily life within your own family, with your children, and your grandchildren, your colleagues at work, the people in your congregation matters. Your advocacy for just laws and equal treatment matters. Your witness to what it means to be uniquely, divinely, sacredly human matters.

If you’re worried about knowing all the terminology, all the definitions, all the new categories that people of today are claiming for themselves, it’s OK to let that go. Sure, it’s great to feel informed, to be knowledgeable, but all you really have to do is be open to the differences.

“Tell me about your life and let me tell you about mine.”

And then celebrate the wonder of us all.

 

Click for more information about UN Sunday

Week 6

Lucas

Our contribution this week is a poem written by Lucas Ryan.  Lucas Ryan is a junior at Topeka High School in Topeka, Kansas. He is president of the debate and forensics program at Topeka High. He loves attending youth CONs and the UU-UNO Intergenerational Spring Seminar. This piece was written for the poetry slam at the 2013 Intergenerational Spring Seminar on gloabl LGBTQ human rights.

 

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