Joint Activism: Working Together for Human Rights and Dignity

Left to right: Moderator: Bruce Knotts; Panelists: Tanya Hernandez, Rashima Kwatra, Betty Jeanne Reuters-Ward, Fabrice Houdart, Dr. Monica Motley; Event organizers: Seble Alemu, Kelly Diaz.
Left to right: Moderator: Bruce Knotts; Panelists: Tanya Hernandez, Rashima Kwatra, Betty Jeanne Rueters-Ward, Fabrice Houdart, Dr. Monica Motley; Event organizers: Seble Alemu, Kelly Diaz.

At the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO), we work to ensure that all people’s human rights are upheld and respected, no matter who they are or what their circumstances. Although advocacy areas are often separated, with some organizations and people working to combat discrimination based on race and others focused on sexual orientation, separate identity-based advocacy may not be the most effective way. On Thursday, July 21st, 2016, the UU-UNO hosted a panel event titled “At the Intersection of Racism and Homophobia: Joint Activism for Human Rights & Dignity.” The esteemed panelists held a wide variety of professional, academic, and personal backgrounds and areas of expertise, and complemented each other perfectly to produce a simulating and dynamic conversation. This powerful event left audience members inspired to get to work for intersectional justice.

Panelists included: Tanya Hernandez, professor of Law at Fordham University School of Law; Fabrice Houdart, Human Rights Officer at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in New York; Rashima Kwatra, Communications Officer at OutRight Action International; Dr. Monica Motley, Health and social justice advocate for racial, gender, and sexual minorities; and Betty Jeanne Rueters-Ward, Interim Program Director at the Unitarian Church of All Souls, NYC. These panelists, with their diverse backgrounds, touched on the issue of racism and homophobia in a number of contexts, from Thailand and Iran to the U.S.’s rural south, to the United Nations’ Free & Equal campaign and Unitarian Universalist congregations. They emphasized that no one can be truly free from discrimination unless discrimination is abolished in all its forms.

In activities following the panel, participants explored identity, privilege, and how to be effective activists.
In activities following the panel, participants explored identity, privilege, and how to be effective activists.

The panelists shed light on the magnitude of this problem, highlighting instances of racism and misogyny in LGBTQI campaigns, the failure of courts to address discrimination based on multiple identity factors, and security concerns for LGBTQI people worldwide. Following the panel discussion, audience members had the opportunity to explore different aspects of their identities and consider the integral nature of each, reinforcing Audre Lorde’s idea, echoed by Dr. Motley, that there is no “hierarchy to oppression.” An African American lesbian woman who experiences discrimination cannot say that she was oppressed because of her race, or because of her sexual orientation, or because of her gender to the exclusion of the others, just as she cannot choose to prioritize different aspects of her identity. Her identity as a woman is not stronger than her identity as an African American, or as a lesbian. Examining intersecting identities in this way helped participants to understand the importance of unifying LGBTQI and Racial Justice campaigns.

As Unitarian Universalists and as activists, there is a lot that we can learn from this conversation. Betty Jeanne Rueters-Ward, reflecting on her own experience as a UU activist, pointed out that even campaigns with good intentions can get so narrow in focus that they miss opportunities for joint activism. They fail to acknowledge other injustices that are threatening or disadvantaging the very community members that they are trying to support. Many people focus on the scarcity of resources, and do not open their minds to consider the opportunities that are possible if those volunteers expanded their scope. It is inspiring to see some UU congregations marching with Black Lives Matter banners in their local Pride parades – expanding this kind of integrated advocacy is key to opening up possibilities for collaboration with more groups and achieving more together.

The panelists also addressed why it is so important to take immediate action. In scores of countries worldwide, people face brutal punishment and even death as a result of strict anti-LGBT laws. Additionally, as Dr. Motley observed, there is a lot of racism, homophobia, and transphobia in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields, which can lead to major medical problems because those oppressed communities’ needs are never addressed. Professor Hernandez stressed that even systems designed to protect people from discrimination, are themselves discriminatory, as exemplified by the unwillingness of legal courts to consider intersecting and overlapping identities.

When it comes to the role of faith in activism, religion was cited both as perpetuating oppression and as a champion of justice. As UUs, we have the ability to drive progressive faith-based social justice campaigns. We can bridge the gap between other religious communities and create cooperative initiatives. Betty Jeanne Rueters-Ward addressed how her work is guided by the Unitarian Universalist Principles promoting “the inherent worth & dignity of every person” and “respect for the interdependent web of which we are a part.” Her understanding and internalization of these ideas have driven her to social justice work, as they motivate and empower UUs across the globe to find empathy for those directly affected by homophobia and racism, and to recognize that directly or indirectly we are all harmed by discrimination and hate. In this interconnected world, only by working together for the benefit of those who are oppressed can we all be achieve peace, liberty, and justice for all.

by Kelly Diaz, UU-UNO LGBTQ Rights Program Intern

To watch video coverage of the panel, visit:

An Open Letter to World Leaders


Calling to end pushing LGBTIs into double victimization!

  • First, donors do not fund LGBTI support programs (except few exceptions over the recent years and its too little).
  • Second, donors continue funding governments ignoring their human rights violations against LGBTIs.

As an example following are the areas that USAID and Department of State budget provide foreign aid to other countries:

Peace and Security, Counter-Terrorism, Combating WMD, Stabilization/Security Sector Reform,  Counter-narcotics,  Transnational Crime,  Conflict Mitigation, Investing in People,  Health,  Education,  Social Services/Protection of Vulnerable,

Governing Justly & Democratically,  Rule of Law & Human Rights, Good Governance,

Political Competition,  Civil Society,  Economic Growth,  Macroeconomic Growth,  Trade & Investment,  Financial Sector,  Infrastructure,  Agriculture, Private Sector Competitiveness,  Economic Opportunity, Environment,  Humanitarian Assistance,

Protection, Assistance & Solutions, Disaster Readiness,  Migration Management .

These are similar areas by other governments, UK, EU, Canada, Australia, UN, World Bank and other international institutions provide foreign Aid or loan for ‘good’ cause.

What should the donors do? (more…)

Basic Freedoms in a Homophobic World

photo (3)On February 27th, 2014 the NGO Committee on Human Rights and Unitarian Univeralist United Nations Office held a panel discussion on Homophobia around the world.The panel centered on actions taken by the Russian, Ugandan, Nigerian, and Indian governments against the LGBTQIA community.  In India, a high court ruling made in 2009 that decriminalized same sex marriage was reversed by the nation’s Supreme Court.  In Uganda, Nigeria, and Russia any actions that are perceived as “gay” or the discussion of LGBTQIA issues are reason enough for imprisonment.

During the discussion the violence that accompanies these laws was reiterated by many of our esteemed panelists.  Ms. Roberta Sklar of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission noted that violence is green-lighted when pieces of legislation such as these are enacted.  Anti-LGBTQIA individuals feel justified in harming people that are or even suspected of being homosexual.  Many times, transgender individuals are enveloped in these acts as well.  Police officers tend to be unwilling to help in cases of violence, and in many instances the victims are too scared of what actions will be taken if the police believe that they are homosexual. Bruce Knotts of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office and co-Chair of the NGO Committee on Human Rights discussed the parallels of these current events and instances seen in history.  Governments often test how much oppression the public is willing to tolerate.  The homosexuals, he mentions, in Nazi Germany were the first to be imprisoned.  Allowing oppression of the LGBTQIA community in these nations can allow the oppression of other groups as well. (more…)

Groundbreaking Event on Sexual Orientation Change Efforts: A Recap

The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office organizes a groundbreaking discussion on Sexual Orientation Change Efforts!

Selling the Promise of Change: International Health and Policy Consequences of Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE)
Jan 31st 1-3 @ United Nations Church Center

Conversion Therapy Flyer
Program Flyer

In the Unitarian Universalist (UU) tradition of spearheading, cutting edge advocacy and standing up for vulnerable populations, the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO) organized one of the first ever panel on Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) and its International Human Rights consequences. Collaborating with the United Nations Non Governmental Organization’s (NGO) Committee for Human Rights and the NGO Committee on HIV/AIDS, The UU-UNO put together a panel of experts to present on this controversial issue, so it could be rigorously examined from different frameworks. The topic was reviewed from a medical, political, international, legal, academic, personal and religious perspective. This multiple systems approach resulted in a jammed packed program with six world renowned speakers, the reading of heartfelt personal letter, and a preview of a relevant film on the subject. Attendance at the event was standing room only, with audience participants from United Nations missions and agencies, religious organizations, and advocacy NGO’s .The feedback so far has been unbelievable; our office has been flooded with emails from organizations thanking us for hosting this historic event and wanting more programming. The event was covered in the national media on the Huffington Post and will be published as a collection of papers in the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Mental Health.

Check out the Huffington Post article here! (more…)

Dire Situation for Gays in Uganda

Last week in Uganda the piece of legislation known to the world as the “Kill the Gays Bill” passed in Ugandan parliamentary committee. The bill can be voted into law any day and the Ugandan House Speaker has promised to pass the bill as a “Christmas gift” to the Ugandan people. Since 2008 when Uganda was inundated by high profile western Christian fundamentalists who preached against homosexuality in large conferences, a growing homophobic sentiment has taken hold in Uganda. Harsher punishments for homosexuals have overwhelming majority support in both Ugandan public opinion and government. This bill would represent a barbaric regression for Uganda’s human rights record. Besides directly punishing homosexuals,  sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) advocates and LGBT allies, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance warns that the bill would have a disastrous impact on the country’s HIV response.

The Bill
The bill proposes harsher punishments for homosexual acts, advocacy and even allies. The original bill calls for the death penalty or life prison sentence for “aggravated homosexuality” –defined as when one of the participants is HIV-Positive, or considered a “serial offender”. The bill also prohibits any public support for LGBT rights. Concepts like pride, anti-gay bullying, gay safe sex initiatives or LGBT outreach would all be illegal. The bill also criminalizes those who do not report homosexuals. Parents, teachers and even priests would be punished if they don’t report someone who tells them that they are gay. Landlords who rent to gay people would face up to three years in prison. Finally, and most insidiously, the bill exonerates those who kill gay people if they feel threatened; promoting the kind of mob killings and lynchings that lead to the death of Ugandan Gay Activist David Kato last year. (more…)

Love Beyond Borders – Advent of the New Movement

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.


You Gotta Have Faith: Bruce Knotts stands up for gays at the UN

By Jordan Arseneaulton

Reposted from 2B Online:

Unitarian Delegate to the United Nations Bruce Knotts on patience, persistence, and religious responses to the global homophobia epidemic. His Compass for Compassion coalition of faith leaders and diplomats are trying to fight the homophobic fire with a fire for justice at the international level.

As the head delegate for the Unitarian Church at the United Nations, Bruce Knotts is the bearer of a socially radical message that has made a reputation for Unitarians as ultra-liberal and seriously pro-gay.

Unitarian Universalism is a minority religion, stemming from Protestantism, but which embraces all compassionate theologies, primarily from the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist traditions. They still call themselves an assocuation, and colloquially a “church”, but their practitioners don’t have to ascribe to any single view of god or the afterlife, and they have been known for their intense activism for women’s suffrage (and even had stealth members on the committee that drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948). Bruce Knotts and his “Compass for Compassion” coalition work with religious groups and diplomats to exert pressure on heavily homophobic nations – such as the 40 Commonwealth nations where homosexuality is still criminalized – to alleviate the plight of our LGBT brethren abroad. (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.

UU-UNO Director’s Monthly Report: December 2011

In my last report, you read about our history making LGBT coalition to end global homophobia. We continue to meet via phone to work for justice. Just after our October 11-12 conference at Union Theological Seminary, the UU UNO launched into one of it busiest periods of work.  It is during this time that many congregations celebrate the October 24th birthday of the United Nations.

For scheduling reasons, many congregations schedule their UN Sunday service at other times. This is also my busiest speaking time.  I had the honor and privilege to speak at several congregations over the past weeks. I was invited by the Fairfax, Virginia congregation to speak at their Saturday and Sunday services: October 22-24.  Fairfax is a vibrant, large congregation of 900 members.

I also got to speak to the Social Justice Committee at the Arlington, VA congregation and hope to be able to return to speak to a larger audience there.

Halifax and St. Marys University, Nova Scotia
On October 30, I had the honor to speak to the Universalist Unitarian Church of Halifax.  You’ll note that Universalist precedes Unitarian.  This is unusual as there aren’t many Universalist congregations in Canada and I’ve never before seen Universalist precede Unitarian in a church name.  However, the proud Halifax Church was founded as a Universalist congregation and it retains that tradition.

This congregation also organized the first ever annual Peace Symposium with a focus on Food Security at St. Mary’s University, Halifax.  I was the keynote speaker.  Other speakers included USC (Canada) Director, Mark Austin, Joan Baxter (author), Marla MacLeod (Ecology Action Centre, Halifax) and Susan Stephen (Red River Farm).  The program was Emceed by Olga Milosevich (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation).

Rancho Palos Verdes, California
On November 5th, I spoke to the active hillside congregation at Rancho Palos Verdes, California.  The service was beautiful and as the morning fog cleared, a beautiful view of the surrounding area down to the Pacific Coast appeared.  Later, I attended a beautiful interfaith service at a Lutheran church in Long Beach.

Montreal and North Hatley, Quebec
My husband, Isaac Humphrie, and I took to train to Montreal.  It was a beautiful ride into the Adirondack Mountains into the island city of Montreal (just as New York is an island city).

The November 13th service in Montreal was made ever more interesting by the participation of senior minister, Rev. Diane Rollert and the children of the congregation, one of whom talked about his experiences at the UU-UNO Spring Seminar in April 2011 in New York City.  Diane Rollert was the UU-UNO’s 2008 Greeley Sermon Award winner.  In the afternoon, Rev. Rollert and her husband drove Isaac and me to the North Hatley congregation where I spoke at specially arranged afternoon service at their historic building in this beautiful resort town.

Transgender Day of Remembrance: Long Island, New York
I was deeply honored to be selected to be the keynote speaker at the Long Island Transgender Day of Remembrance hosted by the Mount Sinai Reform Temple in Bay Shore, New York.  Many UUs attended, including many from the UU congregation across the street from the temple.  Kyle Schuessler, one of the organizers of the event and member of the Freeport UU congregation, introduced me and later led the Yogyakarta Prayer, which was developed in our office.

My remarks drew heavily from the Yogyakarta Principles, developed in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, by leading human rights experts using existing human rights treaties and applying them to the lives of the world’s transgender, lesbian, gay and bisexual people.  Special remembrance was paid to transgender people who met violent deaths due to their gender identity.  The individual who most moved me was Ramazan Cetin in Gaziantep, Turkey who was shot to death by her brother.  This transgender woman had an accident and was seeking treatment at a local hospital.  Her brother found out about the accident and went to the hospital and shot her to death in front of witnesses.

Upon leaving the hospital, the brother calmly said to police, “I killed my bother as he was a transvestite. I cleaned my honor!”  Other such cases from the United States and around the world were remembered.  The service was movingly conducted by Rabbi Emily Losbene.  The large temple was packed with standing-room only.  It was a very moving service.  If you’ve never been to a Transgender Day of Remembrance, I highly recommend you mark your calendar and attend next year.  You will never forget it.

LGBT Strategy in Uganda
Ugandan LGBT activist, Frank Mugisha, was awarded the RFK Center for Human Rights, Humanitarian of the Year Award.  This prestigious award comes with six years of assistance from the RFK Center for Human Rights assistance.  Frank is the first LGBT activist to be so honored by the RFK Center.  The RFK Center has held a number of meetings with prominent LGBT activist organizations and individuals to be better informed of the LGBT situation in Uganda and globally.

I was invited to a session with Frank, several RFK staff and representatives from Human Rights Watch and Human Rights First.  I talked about our plans to hold a theological conference in Uganda where the population has only heard the theology of hate for years.  It is our desire, working with UU minister, Rev. Mark Kiyimba, to allow Ugandans know that there are many prominent people and congregations of faith that teach compassion, justice and tolerance.  Though Frank himself, heads a secular organization, Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), he said that it was vital for people of faith to stand up to oppose moves by the Ugandan government and society to oppress, persecute and execute their fellow citizens because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Another topic of our conversation was the need to document human rights abuses.  At the present time, local LGBT organizations are dealing with emergencies and don’t have the time or capacity to undertake the necessary research to carefully document the human rights atrocities in Uganda effectively. It is hoped that with assistance from the RFK Center and other organizations, that the work of documenting human rights abuses can be enhanced.

The ECOC committee continues to meet on a regular basis to find ways to enhance the very successful UU-UNO Every Child is Our Child program in Ghana where the UU-UNO partners with the Manye Krobo Queen Mothers’ Association to ensure that children orphaned by HIV/AIDS get an education and health care.  The UUA and UU-UNO continue to plan a donors’ trip to see the project May 7-12.

Spring Seminar
The April 12-14, 2012 UU-UNO Spring Seminar will be on the topic of Race and Immigration.  Our working title is, “Beyond Boarders: Breaking Barriers of Race and Immigration.”  We are putting together exciting panels and activities for the 2012 seminar.  We want to look at the intersection of race and immigration, observing the fact that the experience of an immigrant (documented or otherwise) from Sweden is most likely very different from the experience of an immigrant (documented or otherwise) from Latin America or Africa or Asia.  Why is that? What can we do?  As usual, the UU-UNO Spring Seminar will provoke thought and call for action.

National Religious Leadership Roundtable
I have been participating in the National Religious Leadership Roundtable discussions for welcoming congregations.  This is but another vehicle that this office uses to combat global homophobia.  Ever increasing numbers in many faith traditions are coming to oppose violence and hatred based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  Our last conference call was on November 22nd.

UN NGO Committee on Migration
In my capacity as chair of the UN NGO Committee on Human Rights, I co-led a meeting with the UN NGO Committee on Migration to explore the human rights implications of global migration.  We discussed UNICEF’s efforts to prevent child trafficking and child marriages.  We stated that not only laws, but social norms need to change as well.  Nations have an obligation under international law to institute effective remedies to deal with child trafficking and child marriages.  Perpetrators need to be prosecuted.  Victims need restitution for what they have lost.  Judicial remedies need to be in place to give victims an effective voice.  Human trafficking is well-funded and highly organized.  Much attention is focused on the trafficking of women, but there is also substantial trafficking in males, especially in Gulf countries, according the UNICEF sources.

Both the UN NGO Committees on Human Rights and on Migration will continue to collaborate on these important issues of human trafficking.  As a historical note, the UU UNO held its 2007 Spring Seminar on human trafficking.

LGBT Sub-Committee
We have begun the first-ever LGBT Sub-Committee to the UN NGO Committee on Human Rights.  At our first meeting we had representatives from the San Diego Gay and Lesbian Network, the Global Justice Institute of the Metropolitan Community Church, Union Theological Seminary, Love Alive International, and the Long Island Community Fellowship Church.  We discussed several topics including the LGBT community in prisons, male sexuality and cultural gender roles, bullying and violence.  We plan to host a major event in February.

Another History-Making Month: UUA United Nations Office Monthly Report for October

UU-UNO logoWe 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.

President Mahmoud Abbas photo
President Mahmoud Abbas at the UN

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.

Hao Wang photo
Hao Wang: NYU Student and UU-UNO Intern

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.

UN LGBT Media Panel group photo
UN LGBT Media Panel and organizers, Union Theological Seminary, New York

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.

UN Women logoWe 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.

ORAM logoWe 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 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.