Half the Sky

The Half the Sky movement is cutting across platforms to ignite the change needed to put an end to the oppression of women and girls worldwide, the defining issue of our time. Inspired by journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book of the same name, Half the Sky brings together video, websites, games, blogs and other educational tools to not only raise awareness of women’s issues, but to also provide concrete steps to fight these problems and empower women. Change is possible, and you can be part of the solution.

The Series

The Half the Sky project includes a four-hour television series for PBS and international broadcast, shot in 10 countries: Cambodia, Kenya, India, Sierra Leone, Somaliland, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Liberia and the U.S. Traveling with intrepid reporter Nicholas Kristof and A-list celebrity advocates America Ferrera, Diane Lane, Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Gabrielle Union and Olivia Wilde, the series introduces women and girls who are living under some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable — and fighting bravely to change them. Their intimate, dramatic and immediate stories of struggle reflect viable and sustainable options for empowerment and offer an actionable blueprint for transformation. The series will premiere in the United States Oct. 1 and 2, 2012, with international broadcast to follow.

This TV series (and the book) provide a great opportunity for individual Unitarian Universalists and UU congregations to develop greater understanding of the global context of Human Rights for Women.  And, with that great understanding, to pursue action steps in many ways – including partnering with the UU Holdeen India Program (donate) and the UU United Nations Office (donate) – both of which are actively engaged with partners around the world fighting for Human Rights for Women.

For more information, please contact the UUA International Office

New York City Bar Association Hosts Public Forum on LGBT Rights in Africa

Re-posted from the 44th Street Blog, the official blog for the New York Bar:

On April 23rd, the New York City Bar Association hosted a public forum called “LGBT Rights as Human Rights: Recent Legal Developments in Africa,” which considered developments in LGBT rights in relation to legislation in Africa that criminalizes same-sex activity or organizing on behalf of LGBT people.

Panelists shared their perspectives on the complex causes of the legislation, including the legacy of colonialism, influence of fundamentalist religious groups, inflammatory political rhetoric and misuse of the media to incite violence against LGBT people. Also considered were the far-reaching effects of the legislation, which go beyond violence and imprisonment to include undermining national HIV and AIDS responses and excluding LGBT people from basic human rights entitlements such as schooling, housing and medical care. (more…)

Update on LGBT Human Rights in the Political Sphere

Hillary Clinton

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a historic speech outlining LGBT rights as human rights at the UN.

Presidential Memorandum

The White House issued a Presidential Memo setting on LGBT rights, specifically confirming the US government’s obligation to LGBT asylum seekers and refugees.

The relevant language of the memo is:

Sec. 2.  Protecting Vulnerable LGBT Refugees and Asylum Seekers.  Those LGBT persons who seek refuge from violence and persecution face daunting challenges.  In order to improve protection for LGBT refugees and asylum seekers at all stages of displacement, the Departments of State and Homeland Security shall enhance their ongoing efforts to ensure that LGBT refugees and asylum seekers have equal access to protection and assistance, particularly in countries of first asylum.  In addition, the Departments of State, Justice, and Homeland Security shall ensure appropriate training is in place so that relevant Federal Government personnel and key partners can effectively address the protection of LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, including by providing to them adequate assistance and ensuring that the Federal Government has the ability to identify and expedite resettlement of highly vulnerable persons with urgent protection needs.

The US Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration also issued a press release.

World’s Second Gay Prime Minister

Belgium has become the second country in the world to select an openly gay leader.

Elio Di Rupo will lead a government, ending 540 days of post- election brinksmanship between the parties of the Dutch-speaking north and French south.  He will lead a coalition of six parties.

Family Watch International Fights UN Sexual Orientation/Gender Identity Human Rights Initiatives

Sharon Slater at the Nigeria House in NYC in March, 2011

The UUA’s United Nations Office has been following the very disturbing trend of American fundamentalist ministers and politicians stoking the flames of homophobic bigotry around the world.  Countries of particular recent concern have been Uganda, Malawi, Jamaica and Nigeria.

Family Watch International, which does nothing to strengthen families, has launched a very disturbing campaign to encourage hatred towards people because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.  Recently, these attacks have been aimed at the United Nations itself, because the UN system, including the UN Human Rights Council, had been far more vocal than in times past in condemning violence, criminalization and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  (more…)

Waste pickers of New Delhi

On February 14, 2011, Rev. Peter Morales, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), embarked upon a two-week journey to India to visit with several partners of the Unitarian Universalist Holdeen India Program (UUHIP) and with leaders of the Unitarian Union of North East India (UUNEI). This blog post by Rev. Morales is part of the continuing coverage of the journey. In this update Rev. Morales reflects upon his visit with waste pickers in New Delhi.

The best way to read this posting is to sit next to an open garbage can, preferably a “ripe” can. Try to imagine living with that smell all day, every day.

Today we visit “waste pickers” in New Delhi. These people make their living sorting through garbage, picking out what has value in the recycling market. It rained a couple of days ago, so the path into the site is muddy. We have to pick our way carefully. Mahesh and Shashi, who work to help organize waste pickers, lead us to a small room. The room is the only “structure” in the dump. This dump for sorting garbage is one of about 70 in the city.

We enter to meet some of the leaders of this waste picker community. As always, they offer tea. We hear numbers that are simply staggering. There are 350,000 waste pickers in Delhi. This site is far from the worst. In the distance we can see a “land fill” larger than the mesas back home in Colorado. The waste pickers live here at the site, in makeshift huts among the garbage. Cattle and dogs wander around.

The big issues for these waste pickers right now are, ironically enough, access to garbage and a place to process it. Now that there is money in recycling, big corporations are moving in, threatening to move these people from garbage sorters to unemployed. They also want a place set aside for sorting so that they don’t have to live among the piles of waste.

I find myself wondering whether any of these people have ever slept in a bed with a mattress and sheets. Or whether any of them have ever experienced hot and cold running water. I wonder, but I know the answer. Few of these people will live to the age of 50.

In a matter of weeks or months everyone will be forced to leave. As New Delhi continues its explosive growth (there are something like 17 million in the metropolitan area), the waste sorting sites get pushed further and further out. A couple of blocks away a new five star hotel is going up. Its owners will not want guests looking out on heaps of garbage.

The children here cannot attend government school because they are “undocumented.” Having been born at home in villages, they cannot prove they are citizens of India. India has millions of illegal migrants who are actually Indian citizens but cannot prove it.

The small room we are in doubles as a one-room school run by volunteers. On the chalkboard are names of the months in Hindi and English. The school started with five children. Now there are 55, so many that they have to meet outdoors. As we meet, a couple of curious kids pop in. One boy, dressed in yellow pants and shirt, looks like he just got out of the shower. His hair is perfectly combed.

As we visit, it is clear that the people, while quite friendly and polite, are not sure what to make of a religious leader who has come wearing jeans and sturdy REI walking shoes. They wonder if I am going to preach or do something ceremonial. I try to explain that for us, spirituality and work for human equality are inseparable, that for many UU’s service is our prayer. “Oh,” one of them says in Hindi, “for you work is worship.”

The program we fund through the UU Holdeen India Program helps support basic organizing work among the waste pickers. Progress is very slow. The challenge is simply staggering.

As I return to my simple hotel room (one star level, but it now seems like the ultimate in luxury), I reflect on what I have seen. None of this is necessary. People need not live like this.

I realize that what is most disturbing in all of this is what has happened to people in India and in the whole of our world when we tolerate such things. Some important part of us dies when we become numb to the suffering of others.

Rev. Morales was recently on a two-week journey across India to meet with human rights partners.

View more photos from President Morales's visit with the waste pickers of New Delhi!

LGBT Human Rights in Uganda

The human rights situation for LGBT people in Uganda is frightening. And brave Ugandans are standing on the side of love in incredibly inspiring ways. Unitarian Universalists around the world can join together to support the work happening in Uganda by contributing to the Unitarian Universalist Association / Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UUA/UU-UNO) LGBT Uganda Fund. And, by understanding the context in which this is happening.

Unitarian Universalists in Uganda have been organizing against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill since it was first introduced, and will continue to oppose it as it returns to the Ugandan Parliament for reconsideration in 2011.

On Valentine’s Day 2010, Rev. Mark Kiyimba – leader of the Unitarian Universalists of Uganda – organized a successful “Standing on the Side of Love” event in Kampala with support from the UUA. Rev. Marlin Lavanhar, minister of their partner church (All Souls Church, Tulsa), participated, as did a representative of the UU-United Nations Office. More information about the event is available from UU World.

The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO) continues its vital work for LGBT human rights in Uganda and around the world. The UU-UNO recently organized the second LGBTI/SOGI Consultation, which included retired Anglican Bishop Senyonjo and Frank Mugisha, the executive director of “Sexual Minorities Uganda.” Both Bishop Senyonjo and Frank Mugisha are close partners of the Unitarian Universalists in Uganda. You can listen to an NPR interview with them online.

The UUs in Uganda have asked the UUA and UU-UNO for help in order to continue to work closely with all LGBT human rights activists in Uganda. Together with their partner organizations, the UUs in Uganda will help members of their community escape violence and continue important human rights work.

A gift to this Fund can help the UUs in Uganda bring much-needed support to people like Peter, a gay man currently living in Kampala, who has been chased out of his house by violent mobs on multiple occasions. Recently he wrote that he is “moving around sleeping [at] different houses in fear of my life due to the tragic incidence that befell me.” Or Thomas, a medical doctor who has conducted over 100 Health and Human Rights awareness talks and community dialogues and has reached over 500 BGLT individuals in Uganda to provide education, counseling, and support. Your contribution to the UUA/UU-UNO Fund can help these courageous individuals continue their outreach work and influence public policy.

Your contribution to the UU-UNO LGBT Uganda Fund will also help Rev. Mark Kiyimba provide a religious message of welcoming and justice to all Ugandans, including the LGBT community. With your help, Rev. Kiyimba can continue and expand his work in the community, including an expanded Standing on the Side of Love event in Kampala on Valentine’s Day 2011.

In addition, your contribution will:

  • Provide shelter and support for LGBT citizens and their allies in Uganda, including a youth safe house, a telephone hotline, and other direct services.
  • Support advocacy work around LGBT issues in Uganda to dispel myths and fears.
  • Help the UU Church in Uganda host their second Standing on the Side of Love Conference in February 2011.

Please consider making a generous contribution today.

To hear more perspectives on the events in Uganda:

Current TV correspondent Mariana van Zeller produced an in-depth program – Missionaries of Hate – about the influence of American religious leaders in Uganda. Below is the trailer for the program, or watch the full program here.

In mid-December an interview with the author of the “Kill the Gays Bill” – David Bahati – was aired on the Rachel Maddow Show:

IARF-India Chapter: Organizing Human Rights Education

The International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF) works for freedom of religion and belief at a global level by encouraging interfaith dialogue and tolerance.  Founded in 1900, the organization has member groups in twenty-five countries, from faith traditions including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Shinto, and Zoroastrianism.

HRE training in Indore, January 2009

Since 2007, the IARF’s India chapter has been doing inspiring work in the area of human rights education (HRE), and interfaith event organization.

Hosting numerous workshops, trainings, and conferences each year, IARF-India has trained over 3,220 youth/young adults, teachers, social workers, and students  in the areas of interfaith understanding and human rights, highlighting issues around social inequality as well as the tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).