U/U youth are invited to participate in an international youth exchange program through the First Unitarian Society of Westchester (FUSW). Since 2008, American U/U youth have been exchanging with U/U families in Europe for a couple weeks each year, experiencing the profound transformative power of cultural immersion.
The fee for participating in this program is nominal, entailing round-trip airfare and spending money; host families provide room & board, welcoming visiting youth into their homes to experience day-to-day life in the host country.
If you have a youth traveler interested in participating, or if your family is interested in hosting, contact John Cavallero, FUSW’s Director of Religious Education with questions.
A Review of the LGBT-Faith and Asylum Network Retreat
January 8-January 10, 2014
The trip from New York City to Washington, D.C., daunting as it may seem for a first-timer, is quite easy and comfortable. As a native New Yorker, born and raised, I had never embarked on a trip to D.C. via public transportation, but after learning about this retreat, I knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t miss despite my New York state of mind.
After being brought on board the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO) as an intern this past September, I have been charged with exploring the needs of LGBTQI asylum seekers and refugees to the United States. It had become apparent to the Director, a retired Foreign Service Officer, that the needs of this group are not currently being met. Given the two-fold mission of the UU-UNO to engage in the work of the UN to promote a peaceful, just, sustainable, and pluralistic world, as well as to inspire Unitarian Universalists and others to support such work, it became clear that the UU-UNO should join forces in meeting this unfulfilled need. (www.uua.org/un)
LGBT Faith Asylum Network (LGBT-FAN) is a newly assembled group made up of faith leaders, asylum-seekers, asylees, activists, LGBT community center staff, policy experts, and refugee resettlement workers dedicated to helping people who flee to North America because of persecution in their home country based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. More information about LGBT-FAN can be found at the website, www.lgbt-fan.org.
For some readers, this may raise questions, maybe even for most. It’s fairly complex, but in its simplest form- at least 76 countries of the world currently criminalize same-sex relations. Meaning, it is a punishable crime to be gay or to engage in homosexual acts. An accused person may be arrested (or in some cases illegally seized) and tortured. Among these countries are Uganda, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Iran, Jamaica, and more recently Russia and Ukraine, just to name a few, and in some countries, even face the death penalty (www.ilga.org) The 1951 Refugee Convention states that a refugee is someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” In order to become a refugee, a person must have a national identity outside of the United States and receive a referral from the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP.) This is especially complicated considering that one’s safety depends on their ability to remain secretive. For this reason, among others, such individuals are forced to flee their country and begin the process of seeking asylum when they are at the United States border. This person, unlike a refugee who comes to the United States through a refugee resettlement process, is considered an “asylum seeker” and there are few services currently available for such a person. As a result, they are often detained in less than humane conditions for extended periods of time, face abuse in detention centers, and ultimately may be deported back to their country of origin. Individuals who are not deported and allowed to stay are not allowed to work. This begs the question: How can one survive in a foreign country where they may not speak the language, have no family, and do not qualify to receive services or find work?
How can we as a nation and its members at all levels of awareness of this issue begin to take steps to end the perpetuation of abuse of human rights within our borders? In an effort to share the tremendous wealth of information on this issue I obtained while at the LGBT-FAN Retreat with dedicated professionals from all over the United States and Canada (which as a nation has already adopted progressive policies on this matter), I present this retreat review.
I traveled with the Director of the UU-UNO, Bruce Knotts, as well as Elizabeth Cormier of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco. Our first stop after arriving in D.C. was Senator Feinstein’s office to speak with Counsel Emily Hyams. She was very open to hearing what we had to say and seemed interested in the issues surrounding the LGBTQI refugee and asylum seeking communities, particularly because Senator Feinstein has a reputation of being a supporter of LGBTQI rights. The trouble we ran into was around answering her questions about exactly what happens when an asylum seeker comes to the US. The truth is it depends. There is no formal network for asylees until after they have been given asylum status. This deficit is exactly what LGBT-FAN and the collaborative member retreat aimed to address.
Wednesday afternoon, before the Retreat began, at Capitol Hill was a briefing on “Asylum as LGBT Persecution Escalates.” The briefing sought to provide information on the needs of LGBTQI asylum seekers, specifically three major focuses for policy change. Among them are the one-year filing deadline for asylum applications, alternatives to immigration detention, and the “bed quota” which requires that 34,000 detention facility beds be filled each night.
Professionals spoke with passion and conviction to a crowded room of people about how the one-year filing deadline for asylum applications does not meet the needs of the applicants. Panelists mentioned considerations such as the mental health obstacles after facing trauma and the journey toward self-identification. Research done by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) identified a high rate of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the asylum and refugee sexual minority community. This report, “Invisible in the City” can be read at: http://www.hias.org/uploaded/file/Invisible-in-the-City_full-report.pdf. A one year deadline does not respect the process of “coming out,” especially for someone without a support system and who has likely spent a significant portion of their life hiding this part of themselves. In the event that the individual is comfortable coming out, how will they feel about their need to prove their sexual identity to the U.S. Government when their very reason for fleeing to the U.S. is to escape an intolerant government in their country of origin? Furthermore, how will they prove this without access to paperwork, legal documents, photos, and “witnesses” from back home? The representative from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society drew a parallel between LGBTQI asylum seekers to Soviet Jews, who had to hide their Jewish heritage for decades in the Soviet Union and then when they came to America, had to demonstrate persecution based on their religion. Similarly, LGBTQI asylum seekers strive to hide their sexual orientation and/or gender identity to survive, only to be required to effectively articulate their identity upon arrival to the U.S. Like the Soviet Jews, peeling back the layers to find one’s true self while effectively describing the oppression one has spent a lifetime trying to escape may take more than the required year to happen.
Issues around detention facilities were also discussed. Detainees have limited access to communicative methods, thus they have little chance of accessing an attorney, forcing them to figure things out for themselves. If an individual is identified as LGBTQI, they are placed in solitary confinement. Though this is for “protective” purposes, solitary confinement is a form of punishment used in prisons. Sexual abuse is also happening in detention centers and allegations of abuse are not adequately investigated. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released a recent report on this matter. The note can be viewed at http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b32d4.html. Panelists also discussed the immigration bed quota that requires ICE to fill 34,000 detention facility beds nightly. Surely, panelists argue, we can come up with a more humane way of addressing immigration control concerns.
Other obstacles that the refugee and asylum seeking community face were also discussed. The process of seeking asylum “takes a long time and is very difficult”, one asylum-seeking panelist who wishes to remain anonymous pointed out. Having no health insurance, money, food, shelter, clothing, or social and emotional support is aggravated by language barriers, heavy accents, and a general lack of awareness of United States laws and culture. This gap in foundational support has been addressed by some faith based organizations in the United States, including the members of LGBT-FAN.
Rochelle Fortier-Nwadibia, an attorney on the panel who has worked on asylum cases, eloquently stated that, “This country serves as a beacon of hope for many being persecuted.” If we continue to criminalize, convict and isolate, how are we any different here than they are there? A briefing attendee stated that, “In order for change to happen, there has to be support, a constituency, and political pressure.” One can sign a petition to members of Congress on these issues at: http://www.change.org/petitions/honor-the-human-rights-of-lgbt-asylum-seekers-in-the-u-s. An appropriation bill is rapidly approaching, remind Congress to keep these issues in mind!
The issues previously mentioned would permeate the conversations of the entire retreat and will become fruitful in ways not immediately evident, even to participants. LGBT-FAN members from Washington, D.C. to Chicago, San Francisco, Worcester, MA, New York City, Toronto and New Orleans convened to discuss the group’s role in doing this work including motivation, coordination, strengths and opportunities, leadership, mission, governance, and service gaps that service providers and those newly informed could take on.
The final day’s activities consisted of debriefing, implications, and reflection. I left the retreat with an enormous respect for the people who have dedicated so much of themselves to others, especially when no one else will; for that is the true definition of activism. I left the retreat with a renewed awe for the courage of the individuals who have endured such a terrible pain of the world- hate perpetrated by others, and have survived and thrived despite the seemingly endless forces working against them. I left the retreat with a new state of mind. I no longer feel like the disconnected lone pioneer I once did, but a part of network, a team bound together by an unrelenting passion for human rights and social justice.
Is world peace an optimist’s dream? Something shouted at war protest by people who don’t understand the way the world works? Or is it something much more realistic? If you want to take action that’s beyond just talking about it – this is for you.
As broadcast on KKFI Kansas City Radio, Shawna Foster, US Coordinator for International Bridges to Justice, shows how stopping torture implements world peace. And how easy it is for you or your congregation to be a part of it.
She builds off of Rev. Karen Tse’s startling revelation that 98% of torture is preventable. It can be eradicated quickly, if we in the West seize on the opportunity to help other countries figure out their own methods for implementing human rights, rather than just talking about it or making another new law.
We can free youth wrongfully imprisoned and make it so that no child is born in jail, enforcing due process. Learn how it’s done by listening below, or visiting ibjuu.org.
With the passage by Uganda’s Parliament today of a law imposing severe punishments for homosexuality, it has continued to be a profoundly disturbing month for LGBT rights globally. But one cause for hope has emerged today in India, where, last week, the country’s Supreme Court shockingly upheld a law criminalizing gay sex.
India’s central government has now approached the Supreme Court to petition for the case to be re-heard by a larger bench of judges. The fact that the government chose to take this next step in the appeals process is an important indication of official support for LGBT rights in India.
In response to those arguing that Indian culture opposes homosexuality, the government’s petition to the Supreme Court states, “Even in India, Section 377 [the law criminalizing gay sex] was introduced not as a reflection of existing Indian values and traditions, but rather, it was imposed upon Indian society due to the moral values of the colonizers. Indian society prior to the enactment of the IPC [Indian Penal Code] had a much greater tolerance towards homosexuality.”
In one moving instance at a press conference, Gautam Bhan, a leading gay rights activist and petitioner in the Supreme Court case said:
I was asked by a reporter today, ‘Isn’t it daunting to fight the Supreme Court?’ Do you know what’s daunting? It is that moment when you are 15 and you are terrified of who you are. If we have survived that, the Supreme Court does not know what fear looks like.
Hear Bhan’s statement here:
UUHIP will continue to post updates about this struggle unfolding in India for equal rights.
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.
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.
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.
“This development has been deeply disturbing and was largely unexpected. The ruling party in India has taken the position that this decision should be overturned, either legislatively or through executive action. The LGBT activist organizations that brought the initial case to court have said they will file an appeal so it can be heard by a larger bench of judges.”
The UU United Nations Office is also consulting with interfaith partners about a collective response. The UU-UNO has monitored press accounts in India which indicate widespread criticism of the Supreme Court striking down of the 2009 High Court ruling which struck down the British colonial era law which criminalized same-gender love. Many prominent political leaders want to see this criminal ban removed, so there is hope that the Indian Parliament will do what the Supreme Court failed to do and end the criminalization of same-gender love.
Updates will be posted here in the days ahead.
UNAIDS calls on India and all countries to repeal laws that criminalize adult consensual same sex sexual conduct
GENEVA/NEW DELHI, 12 December 2013—UNAIDS expresses its deep concern that, through its recent decision on the constitutionality of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, the Supreme Court of India has re-criminalized adult consensual same sex sexual conduct. In 2009, the Delhi High Court had found unconstitutional the application of the 150-year-old law criminalizing “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” between consenting adults. Now, again in India, gay and other men who have sex with men, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people face the possibility of criminal prosecution.
“The Delhi High Court decision in 2009 had restored dignity for millions of people in India, and was an example of the type of reform we need for supportive legal environments that are necessary for effective national AIDS responses,” said the Executive Director of UNAIDS Michel Sidibé. “We want government and civil society to be able to provide HIV information and services to all people, including gay and other men who have sex with men, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, and for them to be able to access the services without fear of criminalization.”
The 2009 decision by the Delhi High Court to annul the law was widely considered a milestone against homophobia and towards zero HIV-related discrimination. In the past four years since the law was annulled, there has been a more than 50% increase in the number of sites providing HIV services for gay and other men who have sex with men, as well as transgender people in India.
For the protection of public health and human rights, UNAIDS calls on India and all countries to repeal laws that criminalize adult consensual same sex sexual conduct. Such criminalization hampers HIV responses across the world. These laws not only violate human rights but also make it more difficult to deliver HIV prevention and treatment services to a population which is particularly affected by HIV. On average globally, gay and other men who have sex with men are 13 times more likely than the rest of the population to be living with HIV.
UNAIDS urges all governments to protect the human rights of gay and other men who have sex with men, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, through repealing criminal laws against adult consensual same sex sexual conduct; implementing laws to protect them from violence and discrimination; promoting campaigns that address homophobia and transphobia; and ensuring that adequate health services are provided to address their needs.
In the 2011 United Nations Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS, all UN Member States committed to removing legal barriers and passing laws to protect vulnerable populations.
If you’re a U/U young adult living outside the US, we want to talk to you! The UUA International Office is conducting a listening project. If you’re interested, book Shawna Foster or send her an email.
What’s a listening project? It’s when an interviewer spends time with a certain group of people with carefully developed questions to find out what is going on in their lives. The UUA International Office wants to listen to youngadults to see what their lives are like and how Unitarian Universalism plays a part in it. Through these interviews, we will understand what your needs are as a young adult outside of the United States and can start organizing to meet common needs. As stories are told and published, we can see how our movement is a global movement that touches so many people’s lives. Find out how we’re all in this together by signing up today!
Since 1995, The United Nations Climate Change Conference has been held annually at different locations around the world. This year, the conference was held in Warsaw, Poland from November 11th through the 23rd. We were fortunate enough to have Elena Rahona represent the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office at the conference this year. During this time, she blogged about her thoughts and reactions to the events. Below you will find posts about the ups and downs of these critical negotiations.
Elena Rahona, MS is the Program Manager for Mount Sinai Global Health. She earned her Master’s Degree in International Relations from NYU. Prior to joining the Global Health Team she worked with the Mount Sinai Queens Vanguard Site of the National Children’s Study and spent five years at Mount Sinai’s Adolescent Health Center with the Adolescent Medicine Trials Network, a multicenter research network devoted to the health and well-being of aHIV-infected and at-risk adolescents and young adults.
Message #1: 11/19/13 Greetings from Warsaw
Day two for me and I’ve not yet shaken the grin off my face. Discussing land degradation and desertification over breakfast is a far cry from clinging to a metal subway pole while focusing intently on not spilling my coffee down the freshly pressed shirt of my neighbor. This is what I was hoping for in Warsaw, the chance to be surrounded by like-minded people all fighting the good fight in this world.
I’ve managed to make it to a number of side events where I’ve noticed a distinct rift between those who have faith in the negotiations, and those who are not so convinced in the international community’s ability to come to any sort of meaningful agreements. Regardless, however, the sense of urgency is universal, as is the will to make a difference, in whatever small way possible.
Two things have resonated most with me so far.
Yesterday, one particularly impassioned speaker reiterated over and over again that the knowledge is out there, but the understanding is lacking. Our role is to translate the findings and make them meaningful across sectors. Only then will we see action.
And secondly, I went to another presentation where we learned that in less than a hundred years, the ocean’s pH is expected to drop by .3 to .4 units due to increased CO2 levels. Consider that a mere pH change of .03 units causes extreme health consequences in the human body. Life works within extremely defined and sensitive parameters, and we are destroying it.
The numbers throughout this event are sobering, and so far the experience of being here has made me reflect on the delicacy of our world. It’s something that living in a big city can dull for you, despite thinking about the climate nearly every day.
So I am grateful to be here, and grateful to see such passion, will, and energy. I am grateful to get the chance to engage with people who are trying to make a difference and trying to give us ways to translate facts into action.
I am excited for the next few days to get the chance to talk to more people and to hear about new ideas, new opportunities, and new perspectives.
So thank you to you both. I am very happy to be here!!!!
Program Manager, Mount Sinai Global Health,
Mount Sinai School of Medecine, New York, NY
Message #2: 11/20/13
I’m sitting in the hallway on the little red cushions scattered on the floor, and across from me a government rep from the UK is sweeping his arms around the room and watching everyone grossly engaged in conversations, blogging away on their computers, and all looking terribly important. “This is utter disfunction. No one wants to say it, sitting here giving the illusion of progressing toward something….but I’m tired and hungry, and I’m saying it. Nothing is getting done. It’s actually rather hilarious,” he is saying.
I have to say, despite my unflagging happiness to be here, that I cannot disagree with him. Today has been a day of watching the mounting frustrations. There is much talk of this morning’s walkouts in the negotiations and walkouts even from side events by panelists who are fed up with talking when there is no practical solution in sight for saving their island homelands from the rising tides.
Youth delegations have been kicked out for protesting and voices have been raised during presentations over the Polish government’s denial of visas to large numbers of Africans who were looking to be a part of this event. Do the people really have a voice? Add to this the leaked memo to the US delegation expressing State Department concern about the emerging “destruction and loss” theme and the frustration only intensifies [The memo revealed how US negotiators fear this language will lead to "blame and liability" and that poor nations will thus seek "redress for climate damages." It is a refusal to take any responsibility or change in any significant way.].
The meetings I have gone to today have all asked the question that we all think we are answering in our lives by the plain fact of being here. “What can I do [to make this world a better place]?” There were a lot of answers, but also an inherent understanding that if we really did know, we wouldn’t need to be here.
So it’s frustrating. It almost feels like people here in the bubble of the stadium are separating themselves from those out there. How is it that we know what is happening in this world; that we see a fast moving train to chaos, but that others see no urgency, no real danger apart from some minor inconveniences? This includes some of the delegates who are out on the floor refusing to concede anything. HOW DO THEY NOT GET IT?
The sessions have mostly ended with a resounding pledge to reconvene at next year’s COP with some solid responses. And so it’s back to the man with the sweeping arm, at his sixth COP and counting. “At what point do we all just cash in on our retirement accounts and spend the last days of a still beautiful planet enjoying what it has to offer before it is all taken away?”
I don’t mean to be negative. People will often criticize climate activists for being too negative, too pessimistic. But it is hard not to be. This is the state we are in. You can’t sugar coat it and call it a candy cane.
Will there be any resolution in the next two days? We will know very soon. But in the meantime, we can continue to exchange ideas, meet new people, and work to do our parts. For one outcome is very clear. Giving up is not the answer.
Message #3: 11/21/13: Volveremos, we will return.
A large group of civil society reps have just left the building. As the hours wind down, they have reached their despondency tipping point and staged a walkout. The corporate agenda and backtracking nations (notably Australia, Canada, and Japan) have clouded over any chance of being heard, they feel.
Walking down a corridor I stumbled on an interview Amy Goodman (my absolute hero!) was conducting for Democracy Now! with one of the youth leaders of the mass exodus. “We have not given up hope,” said the representative. On the contrary, they are planning to take this time to regroup and come back stronger than ever at COP 20 in Lima. Civil society must have a voice. The poor, marginalized, and most vulnerable have the most to lose, and yet they have been systematically overlooked here.
As I wrote about yesterday, there has been a lot of emphasis on communications and messaging over the course of the last few days. How can we effectively convince the world that inaction can no longer be tolerated?
I decided to forgo lunchtime meetings today and instead sit in the cafeteria with a beer. I wanted to ask those around me (this is where the beer helps) what they personally felt was going wrong with getting people to pay attention. Frustration once again ruled the conversations.
Everyone realizes that people respond much more eagerly if a positive spin is somehow tacked onto any type of call to action. But as we careen towards a 4 degree hike in temperature (as revealed to us yesterday from results of a new study), it is ever more difficult to have anything remotely flowery to say.
One woman, a Spaniard (they tend to talk with their hands a lot) flailed her arms about and said she was ready to stockpile on beer and retire to her apartment. A US delegate likewise commented that he was at a loss.
“Nature does not negotiate,” was the line making its way around the halls yesterday in the wake of the NGO walkout.
Nature does not compromise. This is the intended message of the activists.
I was thinking about this message last night as a speaker from a panel on the ethical and moral obligations to fight climate injustice begged “scrap the damn lines about saving the planet!” This argument has not worked, he says. This argument is not correct. The planet does not need saving. Regardless of how much we warm, shatter, and abuse, its existence is not threatened. The great earth will keep on spinning for millions of years to come, with or without us.
It’s life, pure and simple, that is in dire need of a rescue. And though the polar bears, and dolphins, and trees are as crucial to our world as any other living creature, in defiance of Poland’s own national hero [Copernicus], this is not the time to suppress our solipsistic urges.
Climate Change is about people. This is the angle that will get the attention.
I found this sentence in a recent article from the Guardian talking about the growing gap in the climate talks between the pledge to keep global warming below 2C and the extent of the current policies to make good on this promise. “When I say gap, I really mean a chasm. And when I say chasm, I mean a huge, gaping, canyon-like hole big enough to either eat a planet or at least lose an Earth or a carbon dioxide swamped Venus down there for a while.”
The gaps are formidable. They are overwhelming to say the least. The gaps in the policies, the gaps in the messages, the gaps in the answers. Mercifully, however there are some gaps that are beginning to close (see, I am capable of positive messages). Two in particular have emerged on top over the course of the week, both fundamentally orbiting around people.
Climate change is, at its core, a human rights issue. There is no dignified life without a safe environment. Period. The poor and marginalized are the most vulnerable to climate change outcomes. Period. We cannot allow violations to mount. We have a moral imperative to end the injustice.
It’s surprising that the human rights lens was so late to the climate change dialogue. But it has arrived in force and there is much work being done to make rights-based advocacy central to climate change negotiations. It is a gap with sizable space to fill and ample room to make a substantial impact.
Climate change action manifests via climate change data. This has been made equally clear over the course of the week, along with the other gap that the world is quickly looking to fill. For the numbers that are beginning to perk the policy maker’s attention are the numbers that relate to human health. Consider that China’s latest move to curb emissions was driven in large part by the numbers released regarding air pollution and mortality.
It should be so obvious that breathing pollution is as deadly as inhaling cigarette smoke. But no one cared to make the link until the scientists began to crunch the numbers. It was a sobering day when statistics revealed that while malaria is responsible for around 900,000 deaths annually, pollution (indoor and outdoor) kills upwards of 7,000,000. That’s seven million. Every year.
Someone needed to collect the data and do the math. But once they did, people paid attention. There are vast chasms of health data that still must be generated, but as noted, focusing on climate change’s direct effects on people above all else is proving to be a very powerful call to action.
Thus, as we wait to hear what progress has been made here in Warsaw, the urgency to DO SOMETHING becomes ever stronger. What can we do? We can remind the world that when one person suffers, we all suffer, and that climate change is the ultimate indignity. We can also focus more attention on producing meaningful data. Linking climate change to human health is a growing field. The more we understand just how profound the consequences are to our living healthy, productive lives, the more the world will listen. Or so we can hope.
The International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU) will hold its biannual Conference and Council Meeting January 28-31, 2014 at the beautiful and inspiring campus of the UU congregation at Shelter Rock in Manhasset, New York. More than 140 Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists from twenty-five countries will gather for the event.
The program (PDF)will include theme talks, worship services, chalice circle groups and other activities, as well as opportunities for networking and getting to know sisters and brothers from around the world.
ICUU is the international network of Unitarian, Universalist and Unitarian Universalist organizations. 23 national full member groups comprise the voting members of the Council. Provisional and emerging groups represent Unitarians from more than a dozen more countries. More information about ICUU can be found at ww.icuu.net and www.facebook.com/InternationalUUs.
All are invited to the ICUU OPENING CELEBRATION AND COMMUNITY GLOBAL WORSHIP and the Welcoming Party on Tuesday evening January 28, 2014 at 7:30 p.m. at UUCSR (at no charge) and to the CLOSING CEREMONY AND PETER MAYER CONCERT at Community Church (Unitarian Universalist) in New York City on Friday evening January 31 at 7:30 pm (suggested contribution $15). An International Minister’s Meeting will be held on the weekend following the Council meeting and Conference (February 1-2).
For additional information, please contact Rev. Steve Dick, ICUU Executive Director
Kujenga Madaraja is a Swahili phrase as in “Bora kujenga madaraja kuliko kuta” which translates as “It is better to build bridges than walls” and is taken to mean “It is better to unite than to separate people.” Swahili is mainly spoken as a second language by many Africans, to communicate with others beyond the tongue of their own tribe.
It reminds us of the potential of our language of faith to transcend the cultures that may separate us if we can discover and master multi-cultural skills and perspectives.
In terms of our international progressive religious community embodied in ICUU, this theme is particularly relevant. How do we truly work together, for mutual benefit? What strengths and depths are available to us when we appreciate and understand our differences?
Intercultural and cross-cultural work requires more than good will and intentions – it requires skills, commitments, and practice. The ICUU is a truly multi-cultural organization, and our work together requires multi-cultural competency. To truly build the bridges of understanding that can support our global cooperation, we each need to learn new skills, together.
In this council meeting and conference we’ll focus on how to improve our skills and increase our effectiveness in nurturing U-Uism in many different cultures, to strengthen our presence and our impact everywhere we live. (more…)
A Study Tour with the Rev. Dr. John A. Buehrens and the Rev. Dr. Jay Atkinson
July 1 to 13, 2014
Join two leaders and leading historians of Unitarianism on a visit to Poland and Prague. Born of Czechoslovak heritage, Dr. Buehrens as a seminarian helped to research the Eastern European history of early Unitarianism as assistant to the late Prof. Geo. Hunston Williams, author of The Radical Reformation. John visited Poland in 1985, to meet people in the Solidarity movement. Dr. Atkinson last visited Poland in 2004 and has written on the history and social ethics of early Polish Unitarians, and their Italian-born leader, Faustus Socinus.
Perhaps the first real “process theologian,” Socinus had a transformative effect not only in Poland – before being suppressed in the Counter-Reformation – but also in Western European religious thought through Milton, Locke, and others, and thence to America. Denied basic rights along with Jews, as non-believers in the Trinity, the last of the Polish Unitarians may have died at Auschwitz, which will be visited during the tour. Since 1989, Polish Unitarianism has risen from the dead. Hosts for this study tour will include leaders of today’s Polish Unitarians who are reviving our heritage there; several Transylvanian Unitarian ministers may join the study tour as well. (more…)