We began the month with the opening of the UN General Assembly under intense security. The street where we work (44th street) was blocked by police and the only way we were allowed entry was by showing our UN badges. There were snipers on the roof of the UN, helicopters in the air and police boats in the East River next to the UN Headquarters, which is across 1st Avenue from our office. We missed the usual theatrics of former Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was here and he again said there are no gays in Iran. However, as that is old news, Ahmadinejad didn’t provide the theater that he had in previous years. Mostly, he was ignored.
The big news was the formal request by the Palestinian Authority to be recognized as a UN Member State. The U.S. has vowed to block this effort with its veto if necessary.
At the same time, the UU-UNO received its Fall cadre of interns. The UU-UNO has formal agreements with the Columbia University, Fordham University, and New York University Graduate Schools of Social Work. We get two interns from each of these graduate schools. We have another intern from India who has recently completed studies at Harvard University. That gives us a grand total of seven interns. With four paid staff, that means 11 people to carry out our many tasks. Our interns allow us to be one of the most influential and productive offices at the UN.
Last week, the UU-UNO co-hosted its third LGBT coalition conference which brought major faith and secular leaders together at Union Theological Seminary in New York City to combat global homophobia. UU Minister Rev. Mark Kiyimbia, Anglican Bishop Christopher Ssenyonjo and LGBT activist Val Kalende represented a strong and diverse Ugandan contingent at our conference of 91 major global leaders working to end punitive laws based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Our panels looked carefully at the LGBT situation in Africa, the role of media, legal and financial aspects related to homophobia and ways to build global consensus for equality.
We agreed to have a permanent organization to work for global equality and to organize four international conferences: 1. A Theological Conference in Uganda to allow Ugandans to see a theology of compassion as an alternative to the theology of hate that they’ve been given from the likes of Rev. Scott Lively and Rev. Lou Engle. 2. A Legal Conference in Malawi to discuss the growing body of international law which protects the rights of all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. 3. An AIDS conference in Washington, D.C. to discuss unhindered access to medical care regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV status. And finally, we will plan a media conference at Harvard University to discuss the setting up of a Gay Associated Press as a vehicle to get LGBT news into mainstream press.
We continue to explore ways to better work with the new UN agency: UN Women. We have a meeting on Friday with Asger Ryhl who is the Senior Advisor for Strategic Partnerships and Resource Mobilization Inter-Governmental Support and Strategic Partnership Bureau UN Women. This will be my second meeting with Mr. Ryhl and my third meeting with senior staff at UN Women. Joanne Sandler, Deputy Director of UN Women, was the keynote speaker at the UU-UNO Spring Seminar: Empowering Women for a Better World. It turns out that many years ago, when Joanne Sandler led a non-profit women’s organization, she received a grant for the UU Funding Program, so she knows and likes us well. A good start to a long a productive relationship with this new and important UN agency.
We have a long collaboration with the Organization of Refuge, Asylum and Migration which helps Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) refugees settle in the United States. These are refugees who have been so designated by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and accepted by the United States Government. LGBT refugees should not be put in their nationality groups here in the United States, which is what mainstream resettlement agencies often do. For example, putting a gay Iranian refugee into a community of other Iranian refugees in the United States means that the gay refugee will be subjected to the same abuse here from his community that he tried to flee in his country.
LGBT refugees need safe places to go where they will not be abused because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. These refugees often have suffered severe trauma which complicates their adjustment to life in this country. We have worked with congregations in Huston, Chicago and now in San Francisco to host LGBT refugees. The UU congregation is about to adopt an Iranian refugee. This program has been very carefully designed to disperse responsibility to many congregational members. We plan to carefully study to experience of the San Francisco congregation to establish best practices for future refugee placements.
We continue our participation in the NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace and Security, on which I serve as a board member, and on the NGO Committee on Sustainable Development and the Climate Change Working Group. We are working on obtaining observer status with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Getting this status is no easy feat, but we are working to get observer status which will allow the UU-UNO to have a far more prominent role in advocating UU values on Climate Change. (See climate.uu-uno.org for more information)
We’ve had a busy month helping congregations prepare for UN Sunday. Many of you have asked for materials and we are grateful for those congregations to host a UN Sunday and collect funds to support the work of the UU-UNO. My recent and upcoming visits include congregations in Brewster, MA; Barnstable, MA; Northborough, MA; Arlington, VA; Fairfax, VA; Halifax, NS; Rancho Palos Verdes, CA; and Montreal, QC. As you can see, our outreach to both Canadian and U.S. congregations is extensive. Over the course of any year, we visit congregations in all parts of Canada and the United States. We want to hear your concerns and make your voice heard at the United Nations. We are already one of the most influential faith-based offices at the UN. With your support our ability to influence global policy will grow. We are very grateful for the support we get from both the CUC and the UUA. However, it is the support of congregations and individuals that keeps our programs vital and effective.