Take the UN Flag Out of the Closet: UUA United Nations Office Monthly Report for September

By Bruce Knotts

This is the first of a regular series of monthly reports that Bruce Knotts, the Director of the UU United Nations Office (UU-UNO), will be providing to constituents. Look for future reports on or around the 15th of the month. Contributions to support the work of the UU-UNO are essential and deeply appreciated.

September, 2011

While many people have been enjoying an interesting summer, we have been hard at work at the UU-UNO. The big news, of course, is the merger with the Unitarian Universalist Association which began to take operational effect on July 1st, 2011. Legally, however, we still await the decision of New York State and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We have been adjusting to our new relationship and are beginning to realize the enormous benefits of the merger. Certainly, we have realized the cost saving benefits of being part of the larger UUA. It is important to realize that despite our relationship with the UUA, the UU-UNO continues to depend on donor support for our work. We also have a new and enhanced relationship with the Canadian Unitarian Council (CUC). We are working with our Canadian colleagues on a far deeper level than ever before. It is an exciting time with much to learn, relationships to cultivate, and new procedures to master. We are in the process of organizing our third LGBT consultation which will feature UU Minister Rev. Mark Kiyimba and Bishop Christopher Ssenyonjo, both from Kampala, Uganda. Jeff Sharlett, author of the bestselling book, The Family, has confirmed his attendance. These meetings were initiated by a phone call in 2009 from Human Rights Watch, alerting us to the vicious spread of violent homophobic bigotry by fundamentalist American ministers and politicians in Uganda. Human Rights Watch asked us to form a coalition of progressive people of faith to counter this horrible use of religion to justify the most hideous forms of hate and violence. Our next meeting for religious and secular leaders will be October 11-12 at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Related to this event was our meeting yesterday with the Executive Director of The Ali Forney Center in New York City, Carl Siciliano. This center cares for LGBT homeless youth. About 20% of these homeless youth come from other countries. These children have been thrown out of their homes because they are perceived by their parents to be gay or lesbian. New York City has 3,800 homeless youth, about half of whom are gay. These youth are prone to suicide, sexual exploitation, and other sorts of abuse. Religious shelters often berate these gay youth telling them they are possessed by demons and that they are going to Hell. In adult shelters, gay youth are sexually abused or beaten. There is literally no place for these youth to go, save a shelter like Ali Forney, named after a youth who persistently told the police about the serial killing of gay homeless youth to no avail until he himself was killed. His murder has never been solved. The UU-UNO is exploring ways to work with the Ali Forney Center. We mentioned scholarships for LGBT homeless youth at our Spring Seminar. Carl mentioned UU support for activism to increase attention to the problem of LGBT homeless youth. We have begun the conversation with more to come. Such issues were also raised in the United Nations NGO Committee on Human Rights, which I chaired this week and which included Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonović and his staff. Among other things, we discussed the coach of the Nigerian Women’s soccer team who has been systematically sacking team members that she believes are lesbian. She has no proof for her suspicions, but if she believes a team member is lesbian, then out she goes. The systematic oppression of innocent people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity is the subject of a first-of-its-kind report on violence, criminalization, and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity mandated by the UN Human Rights Council. In June the Government of South Africa introduced a resolution condemning violence, discrimination, and criminalization based on sexual orientation. This resolution ordered the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to document the global oppression of innocent people based only on their sexual orientation and gender identity. The author of this report was at my meeting and he said that his report has been written and it is now going through the clearance process. He said that much of what he was able to document will not be in the report, because the report must be brief. I asked if we will ever see all the results of his investigations and he assured me that many of his findings would eventually be revealed in subsequent publications. I hope he will give me some of his findings privately in advance of the publications. The UNO has returned to involvement in Sudan. We applaud the creation of the 193rd UN member state of South Sudan. Predictably, however, the creation of South Sudan has not ended the violence against innocent civilians in Sudan. In the Sudanese states of Kordofan and Blue Nile, there are credible reports of government bombing of civilians and horrible violence against innocent people. The UN cannot verify these reports because the Government of Sudan will not grant access to UN officials. I spoke at a Sudanese rally in front of the UN a few weeks ago and I’ve been asked to speak again at a rally of Sudanese and South Sudanese activists in front of the UN today, Friday, September 15, 2011. There is much more to report. We have been active on the UN Climate Change Working Group and the NGO Committee on Sustainable Development. I continue to coordinate the activities of the UN NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace and Security as a member of the board of directors. We continue to build our relationship with the UN's newest agency, UN Women through a series of meetings with high ranking officials. We are a respected and powerful voice at the United Nations, keeping UU values in the forefront of UN discussions. Next week, the United Nations begins its General Assembly in earnest. Heads of State and Government will descend on the UN to address the General Assembly. President Obama will be in attendance, as will Ahmadinejad and others of the world's presidents. For the first time in decades, we will not be treated to the theatrics and antics of Col. Gaddhafi. However, there will be high drama as Palestine makes a bid to be recognized as the UN’s 194th state. The United States has stated it will veto such a move. Whatever happens, it will be interesting and the UNO will be on top of the most significant events at the UN, especially those related to human rights and climate change. UN Sunday is October 23rd, and we have great resources for your congregation to employ on UN Sunday, including elements for worship services from some of the UUA's and CUC's most respected ministers. On October 23rd I'll be speaking in Fairfax, VA. I hope your congregation will also celebrate the UN on this Sunday, or on any Sunday, to talk about the work of the United Nations. There was a time when nearly every UU congregation displayed a UN flag in their church. I've heard that after 9/11 many UN flags were put in the closet. I can't understand this, but now is certainly the time for your UN flag to come out of the closet. I hope you'll display it proudly in your congregation. If you don't have a UN flag, get one. If you need help, call me. The UN stands for the best of human values and for over 50 years, the Unitarians and Universalists have had a large role in shaping the ideals and policies of the United Nations. When you proudly display your UN flag you are also displaying some of the best in UU values. Thanks to your support, you have a strong and effective voice at the nexus of world affairs at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. It is vital that you continue to support the work of this office by making donations directly to the UU-UNO. Our work at the UN on behalf of Unitarian Universalism depends upon your designated donations to the UNO.


Bruce Knotts, Director

UU United Nations Office

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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Obama at UN

President Obama speaking at the UN