International Unitarian Universalism

UU-UNO Director’s April Report

By Bruce Knotts

Race and Immigration

We are just days away from the UU-UNO annual Spring Seminar, where we will spend three days examining global immigration from the perspective of race. Around the world, migrants are treated differently because of their race. Perhaps in most cases, people of color experience harsher treatment as a result of the color or their skin. Tragically this bias against people of color can be as true in Africa and Asia as it is in Europe and North America. Around the world, migrants are often treated like criminals, especially people of color. We take as our guiding principle that anyone who crosses a border should never be treated as a criminal per the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. People who cross national boundaries are not criminals any more than drivers are. Drivers may exceed the speed limit or make an unauthorized turn; they may have to face penalties for violating a traffic rule, but they are usually not treated like criminals for these violations and similarly migrants should never be treated as criminals simply because all entry protocols have not been fully observed. In addition to looking at race and immigration, we will look at ourselves and examine intention and results. Most people do not intend to be racist or bigoted, yet, despite good intentions, unfair race bias happens with dismaying regularity. Our Spring Seminar will analyze the factors that contribute to pervading racism, both intentional and unintended; by understanding the results of what we do, we empower ourselves to take preventative measures on an individual and community level. Many churches say they welcome everyone (intention), however, as a gay man; I’ve been to many churches across other denominations and felt unwelcome (result). The Unitarian Universalist faith has designed the Welcoming Congregation program that is second-to-none in terms of welcoming LGBT people. This program is well-intentioned, informed, thoughtful and effective. Just look at the results in our congregations where you see LGBT people attending and playing significant roles in leadership. We need a similarly effective program to welcome people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds which is equally well-intentioned, informed, thoughtful and effective: Our seminar will explore ways of broadening our congregations’ welcoming programs to achieve this. The International Criminal Court and Kony 2012 Many of you have seen the YouTube video, “Kony 2012,” a 30-minute documentary about the atrocities committed by Joseph Kony, a central African warlord wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The video went viral, gaining about 70 million viewers in seven days, and stirred up a firestorm of commentary and discussion throughout the media. The Kony video raised visibility on the unfolding atrocities in Uganda, however, similar human rights offenses in the Sudan have not been raised to the same level of scrutiny in recent times. The UU-UNO participated in a meeting with the ICC Chief Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo to consider the question of how we can obtain the arrest of the Sudanese who have been indicted by the ICC: Omar Al-Bashir (Sudan’s President), Ahmed Haroun (Governor of South Kordofan), and Abdel Rahim Hussein (Sudan’s Minister of Defense). In addition to the UU-UNO, invitees to the meeting included some familiar faces such as Charlie Clements, Director of the Carr Center at Harvard’s Kennedy school and former UUSC President and CEO, and John Washburn, Convener of the American Friends of the International Criminal Court and former UU-UNO Board President. During the meeting we discussed the ways in which Sudanese indictees can be arrested; if, for example, UN instructions can be changed such that any member state can arrest the indictees anywhere in the world. This opens the possibilities of operations for governments to arrest the indictees on foreign soil. We discussed the pros and cons of this and other proposals. Pressure can be placed on governments to hold ICC member states accountable for arresting ICC indictees when they visit, such as when President Omar Al-Bashir attends African Union meetings in countries that have signed the Rome Statute. Outcomes of this meeting included ways in which to connect the human rights struggle in Sudan while attention on Kony remains current and energized. Mississauga LGBT and Women’s Rights On March 10th, the Unitarian Congregation in Mississauga held a two-hour discussion with the UU-UNO on the topic of global sexual orientation, gender identity and gender human rights. This excellent program drew a diverse audience from Mississauga and surrounding communities. There was an animated discussion over the word, “Queer.” While “Queer” has been used as a derogatory term for many years, lately it has been embraced by the LGBT community as an all-encompassing term for the entire spectrum of the LGBT community; this is especially true of young people in the LGBT community. It is fairly typical for a term of derision to be embraced by the oppressed community as a way to reduce the power of the term to do harm. In our discussion, I explained that the preferred term at the United Nations is “SOGI,” which stands for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity human rights. The Saturday, March 10th discussion was followed by the March 11th UN Sunday service. Love Beyond Boarders We continue our campaign to raise awarness and funds to combate global homophobia. Our immidiate goals are to support Rev. Mark Kiyimba, a UU minister in Uganda, in his efforts to create safe houses to protect LGBT human rights defenders and to sponsor a symposium of reconciliation to garner support from other clergy in Uganda as a way to end the hostility towards people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. For example, the official policy of the Vatican is that nobody should be put in prison because of their sexual orientaition or gender identity and nobody should be executed for any reason. It is therefore logical that every Catholic priest in Uganda should strongly oppose the Ugandan kill-the-gays bill which mandates the death penalty for gays and long prison sentences for anyone who assists gay people. However, many faith traditions which do not support harsh oppression based on sexual orientation and gender identity around the world, do support it in Uganda. We hope to change that dynamic. We have been meeting with representatives of the LGBT Bankers of New York and the LGBT jurists and lawyers of New York and other groups to garner support for our efforts to host another fundraising event in September and to generally get support for our LGBT advocacy. Climate Change Task Force The UU-UNO Climate Change Task Force remains very active in working for a planet which can sustain life. This group of dedicated scientists and other supporters work to reduce global dependence on fossil fuels and to develop sustainable sources of energy. The UU-UNO Climate Change Portal is, in my opinion, the best source of climate change information that can be found in one location. I strongly recommend that anyone interested in climate change issues visit often and share this site with your friends. UU-UNO’s 50th Anniversary This year marks 50 years since the formation of the UU-UNO at the United Nations (UN). Even before the United Nations, UUs were part of the work of the League of Nations, the forunner of the UN. We urge our friends to plan celebrations to honor the historic work of the UU-UNO for the past 50 years, which includes the foundation of Religions for Peace by Rev. Homer Jack in the 1970s, the foundation of the International Criminal Court with the support of the UN Faith Based Caucus lead by Elaine Harvey and John Washburn in the 1990s, and our recent successes in putting sexual orientation/gender identity onto the UN agenda. With regards to that last point, I highly recommend you watch this link . Imagine, in 2008 hardly anyone at the UN was talking about LGBT issues. Now in just four years, the UU-UNO has put LGBT rights front and center at the UN. We are planning to celebrate a half century of accomplishments at the UN with a great celebration and fundraiser in New York city on November 3rd. We hope you plan celebrations in your communities as well. Every Child is Our Child We are planning an exciting visit to the UU-UNO Every Child is our Child Project in Ghana May 7-12 with UUA President, Peter Morales and several major donors. We will visit with the children and the Queen Mothers of the Manye Krobo people and view the ECOC project in action. We will also call on the Manye Krobo King and Paramount Queen Mother, the American Ambassador to Ghana, the Ghana AIDS Commission, UNICEF, the U.S. Peace Corps and others associated with the Every Child Project. Taking donors to see this important project has become a semi-regular tradition. While it is too late to join this year’s trip, we hope you might consider visiting this project in future years. Visits The UU-UNO was grateful to spend time with the Universalist Congregation in Missassauga in early March, as well as with the Unitarian Universalist Church of Rockford. We are planning a few upcoming visits with the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church (April 29th) and the Fourth Universalist Society in the City of New York (May 27th). If your congregation is interested in arranging a visit from the UU-UNO, please get in touch!

About the Author

Bruce Knotts

Bruce Knotts is the Director of the Unitarian Universalist Office at the United Nations. He was born and raised in Southern California. He got his Bachelor’s Degree in History from Pepperdine University and his Master’s Degree in International Education from the Monterey Institute of...


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