UU-UNO Director's Monthly Report: December 2011

By Bruce Knotts

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. ECOC 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.

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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