In the Spring of 2009, Human Rights Watch called the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office and said that fundamentalist ministers and politicians were inflaming homophobic hatred in Uganda. Human Rights Watch asked the UU-UNO to form a coalition of progressive faith leaders to counter this dangerous provocation to violent hatred in Uganda. The UU-UNO accepted the challenge and got to work. In June 2010, the UU-UNO held its first consultation at the UN Church Center. A follow up meeting was held at the UN Church Center in December 2010. At that meeting, the UN LGBT Coalition set itself to support the Obama Administration’s efforts to reinsert “sexual orientation’ into a UN resolution against global extra judicial killing. The coalition mounted a massive effort filling the Facebook page of the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, e-mails to the Secretary of State and President by the thousands from over a dozen faith traditions. In the end 23 countries changed their votes to reinclude “sexual orientation” into the UN resolution. The December 2010 meeting agreed that it’s next meeting would be at Union Theological Seminary.
On October 11-12, 2011, 91 faith, secular, academic and media leaders met to put some teeth into efforts to end global homophobia and especially to end punitive laws which deprive gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people of employment, education, housing, dignity and of life itself. Carefully selected speakers and participants included stellar names in journalism like Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family; from government, like Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Daniel Baer; from academia, like the Harvard Carr Center’s Dr. Tim McCarthy and many faith leaders like SoulForce Executive Director Rev. Dr. Cindi Love. Unitarian Universalists were in leadership roles and participating in every aspect of the conference. Rev. Eric Cherry, Director of the UUA International Resouces Division, Rev. Carlton Smith, from the Arlington, VA UU Congregation, Rev. Mark Kiyimba from the Unitarian Kampala, Uganda congregations, Bruce Knotts, UU-UNO Director and five UU-UNO interns halped make the conference a grand success.
In addition UU Minister, Rev. Mark Kiyimba, there were other clergy and activists from Uganda, Malawi, Zambia and from several American states from California to New York, from Massachusetts to Texas. This broad coalition heard reports on the situation in Uganda and the role of the religious dominionists in the United States. We discussed HIV/AIDS and the lack of access to medical care for both the LGBT community and for those who are HIV+ in many countries. There was an outstanding report on media and the need for an Associated Gay Press to get LGBT stories into the mainstream media. The coaltion agreed to formally build an organization of all its members to further its goals. It agreed to continue meeting. The coalition agreed to work on three major projects: 1. Convene a theological conference in Kampala, Uganda to highlight to Ugandans and Africans that there is a vibrant and progressive theology that promotes the inherent worth and dignity of every person. 2. The coalition agreed to host a major converence on HIV/AIDS and related health issues in Malawi and 3. to convene a meeting to formulate media strategies at Harvard University. Conferees were confident that foundation and other funding could be obtained to finance these important projects.
The one thing that the UU-UNO has demonstrated at the UN is its unique ability to build effective coalitions. Despite its small size and modest funding, the UU-UNO continues to lead in building coaltions to promote human rights and to find a global response for climate change. The UN LGBT Coalition is one of its finest acheivements, and that work has only just begun. With your help, it can continue to thrive, grow and promote UU values at the UN and around the world.
The UU-UNO aims to make similar impact to promote women’s empowerment, mitigate the effects of climate change, and to ensure that no migrant of whatever documentation is treated as a criminal simply for crossing a border to find a better life. The UU-UNO’s light burns brightly as a beacon for justice and compassion at the world’s most important multilateral forum: The United Nations.