From the day of its inception, the UU-UNO Love Beyond Borders campaign has focused on creating an allied response to global LGBT/SOGI issues. (LGBT=Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender is the term most used in the United States; SOGI=Sexual Orientation/Gender Identity is the term most used at the United Nations.) Here at the UN, we follow the guidance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and believe that all rights are universal, interrelated, interdependent, and mutually reinforcing.
Many of us have multiple identities of gender, race, ethnic background, religion, sexual orientation, etc. We, at the UU-UNO, work for a world that promotes the inherent worth and dignity of all people. We work for a world that affirms all our identities that make up the colorful and interesting quilt of human existence. This work has been the focus of the UU-UNO for the past 50 years with an intense focus on LGBT/SOGI issues for the past four. We decided to make a new beginning to bring our message to a much wider audience. This new beginning is our Love Beyond Borders campaign. For a campaign so unique, an equally unique launch had to be envisioned. For catering to a community so diverse, we had to reach out to people from different sections of society.
On February 17 (on the heels of Valentine’s Day) we hosted a panel discussion which was sponsored by the UN NGO Committee on Human Rights (Chaired by UU-UNO Director Bruce Knotts) and the UN NGO Committee on HIV/AIDS. We explored how far have we come, our current landscape, and future –as well as possible pitfalls and solutions.
Our diverse panel included Bruce Knotts Director Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office; Chair, NGO Committee and Human Rights; Joyce Hunter Research scientist / Assistant Professor, Center for Clinical and Behavioral Studies, NYSPI Columbia University; Co-Founder, Research Institute Without Walls RIWW); Robert Levithan, Psychotherapist / Columnist the Huffington Post; Eric Sawyer, Civil Society Partnership Advisor UNAIDS; Kyle Schuessler, Transgender Activist and member of the South Nassau UU congregation on Long Island. All the speakers discussed the topic from unique perspectives. Together, we brainstormed possible solutions to deal with the global homophobic crisis both domestically as well as internationally.
As we might expect, as we have made phenomenal strides domestically and internationally to advance equality, there has been a panicked and violent backlash against equal rights. Our panel was well-attended with guests including Ross Murray, Director of faith and Ethics GLAAD, Chris Jones from Union Theological Seminary, Ned Wight from the Veatch Program, Michael Schuenemyer, Health and Wholeness Advocacy Wider Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ, as well as Yoni Ish-Hurwitz from the Israeli Permanent Mission to UN and Peter Verbrugghe from the Belgium Permanent Mission to UN.
The evening reception was more relaxed and intimate. The crowd was diverse in every imaginable way: young and not so young, gay and straight, all colors, a wide variety of nationalities and other backgrounds represented. Energy levels were high and positive. Many in the crowd were introduced to the Unitarian Universalists United Nations Office for the first time. The evening also helped change the preconceived notion of religion. Many were moved to tears to know that there were people of many faiths that affirm the LGBT/SOGI community. Others commented that they had never seen an event at the UN Church Center that was so much fun.
The event was also covered by media including many bloggers. The campaign was also embraced by fashion/ entertainment industry. Ms. J. Alexander and Mr. Robert Verdi, both very well-known icons of the fashion/entertainment industry were present for the event and supported the campaign. Also present were Councilwoman Rosie Mendez, who came forward and shared kind words in support of the campaign along with Mr. Erik Bottcher, special assistant for community affairs for Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. A regular supporter of UU-UNO events is Malaak Shabazz (daughter of Betty Shabazz and Malcom X). This ensured a well-rounded support for the campaign and left many asking when we will be hosting our next event. We plan a larger event in the Fall of this year. All of our work is made possible with your support and the voluntary work of our interns.