News from the UU-UNO Director, Bruce Knotts
Bringing UU Values to the UN and to the U.S. and Canadian Governments
I have previously shared with you the fine work done by Frances Cosstick of the small Unitarian Fellowship of Ottawa, Canada’s capital. She and her colleagues organized a series of meetings at the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs on January 20, 2014, which included call ins from Canada’s missions abroad and officials from the Prime Minister’s office. We ended with a conversation with a special assistant to the Foreign Minister.
In March, we learned that our Unitarian Universalist minister, Rev. Mark Kiyimba, was questioned for over two hours as to why he and his UU congregation were promoting homosexuality in violation of the newly enacted Ugandan anti-homosexuality law. I called for a meeting with Ambassador Donald G. Teitelbaum, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. He invited his colleagues from the bureaus of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and Population, Refugees and Migration. I was joined by colleagues from the Episcopal Church, United Church of Christ, and Methodist Church with input from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society at a meeting on April 11th. We spoke about the Ugandan violation of religious and other basic freedoms against the LGBT community and also against adherents to all liberal faiths in nations such as Uganda, Nigeria and Russia. We also talked about the resulting massive influx of refugees and asylum seekers fleeing oppression in these nations which refuse to honor their treaty obligations to protect the human rights within their borders.
This meeting was followed by an invitation to the Department of State to consult on global LGBT human rights, on May 15th. I was part of a group of about 20 faith and secular LGBT leaders, many of whom the UU-UNO had introduced to global LGBT advocacy at our 2009 and 2010 global LGBT meetings at the Church Center of the United Nations and at Union Theological Seminary. We were told that the Department of State had organized a faith-based consultative committee to advise the Department on Peace, Conflict Resolution and Development. Later it was decided to form a fourth subcommittee on Social Justice, focused on global LGBT human rights. All these meetings are off the record, so I can only give you the broadest outlines of what was discussed.
I attended my first meeting of the full committee at the Department of State on June 6th. There were many friends at this meeting as well. Some from the global LGBT movement, but also those dedicated to the other issues to be discussed, including Religions for Peace, which I remind our readers, was co-founded by UU minister Rev. Homer Jack. After a general session, we retired to our four subcommittees. In our Social Justice subcommittee, we all said that we wanted to have input into the other areas: Peace, Conflict Resolution and Development, as well. We were assured that we would have that opportunity. Not all the members of the Social Justice subcommittee were religious liberals. Some participants from less liberal faiths wanted to divert the subcommittee’s focus away from LGBT human rights. It was clear that the representatives from the Department of State and the White House wanted to keep the focus on LGBT human rights. The representative of one of the larger, less liberal faith traditions, said that he could support declarations against violence and extreme discrimination, but not for equality. I said that I would take what was offered for now, but that our ultimate goal was full and complete equality for everyone everywhere regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. By equality, I mean spiritual, moral, political, social and economic equality—full and complete equality. Two more meetings of this group are scheduled this year in September and December, with more planned next year, which will likely conclude in June.
On June 20th, I was the third to the last speaker at the end of a week-long opportunity for civil society to provide input to the United Nations as it formulates its Sustainable Development Goals, which will guide global development efforts from 2015-2030. We were one of 90 groups which support an independent goal #10 dedicated to human rights. However, we were the only group which called for explicit mention of LGBTQ human rights. Our intervention was the only to receive applause that day. The co-chairs said they supported our initiative, but they doubted it would be accepted by the consensus of the member states of the U.N. We have an uphill fight ahead of us. Our intervention was included in the written outcome document. We will have another opportunity to provide our ideas on implementation later this month. Read more here. Watch the video here. My speech begins at 38:15.
A week or so later, I got the very surprising invitation from the White House to attend a forum on global LGBT human rights on June 24th. Read the press release from the White House here. I was also alerted that I would receive another invitation to dinner at the Vice President’s residence. The meeting included about 75 people, leaders in religion, non-profits, business, media and LGBT activism. Ambassador Susan Rice, National Security Advisor to the President and other White House officials gave heartfelt speeches about how important they consider global LGBT human rights. There was a panel discussion. Again, I met friends from previous UU-UNO events. I keep telling people that the speakers we get at UU-UNO events are the makers of history. Many were at the White House that day. We broke up into smaller groups to discuss religion, finance, business, and social media. In my group I brought up religious freedom, the necessity of shortening the lengthy refugee and asylum process and making sure that U.S. Government money goes to faith-based organizations which reflect the inclusive and affirming values of the Obama administration. I got some push-back on this last point. I was told that the administration could not play politics with U.S. Government assistance. I retorted that I was not asking for a political litmus test, but a values test. The previous administration, I pointed out, made sure that U.S. Government funds went to faith-based organizations which reflected their conservative and intolerant values. I passed out talking points and background notes regarding our efforts to include explicit reference to LGBTQ human rights into the 2015-2030 U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.
We ended by each group reporting out to the entire group and our nearly 6 hours at the White House came to an end. We then made our way up to the Vice President’s residence for dinner with Joe and Jill Biden. Both spoke from their heart about their dedication to LGBT human rights. Just as the Vice President invited us into his house to get to know us better, I had to rush off to catch the last train from Washington, D.C. to New York City which arrived early the next morning. Within a few hours I was on another train to Providence, RI for a fantastic GA.
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Bknotts [at] uua [dot] org