UU-UNO Director's Report: June 2012

By Bruce Knotts

Every Child is Our Child Project in Ghana Please see a full report on the May 7-12 visit to the UU-UNO Every Child is Our Child Project. This group plans to meet again at General Assembly. We are working and planning together to sustain and hopefully to grow this important project which acts out the deepest principles of our faith. UU-UNO’s 50th Anniversary this year 2012 makes the 50th year that the UU-UNO has been providing services to the United Nations and to UUs. We are planning for an important celebration of our 50th anniversary in New York on November 3rd, 2012. Rev. Peter Morales (UUA) and Gillian Sorensen (UN Foundation) have both agreed to speak and we are working on providing a wonderful event to mark our 50 years at the United Nations. We have been digging into the archives at All Souls NYC and finding important documents and photos related to our history. We have obtained a grant from the UU Funding Program which will allow us to produce a short film which will document our 50 year history where we have made history in the areas of interfaith work for peace, human rights, international justice and mitigating the effects of climate change. We are developing materials so that all UUA and CUC congregations can join in this celebration by hosting events at their local congregations in conjunction with UN Sunday. UN Sunday Materials are ready Every April, the UU-UNO hosts an International Intergenerational Spring Seminar. This year the topic was Race and Immigration. The Seminar topic becomes our UN Sunday Topic as well. Our UN Sunday materials are ready and we encourage congregations to host a UN Sunday this year. Many congregations chose to have a UN Sunday near to the UN birthday of October 24th. We also encourage ministers and lay people to submit their UN Sunday sermons to our Greeley sermon award competition. The winner of this competition will get to deliver the award winning address at General Assembly next year. See you at GA The UU-UNO plans a reception on Thursday June 21st at 6:30-8:00 PM at the Hyatt Hotel, Cassidy Room. At this reception, Kent Price will deliver his Greeley Award winning sermon. We will recognize our Blue Ribbon Congregations and celebrate our 50 years of service to the UN and to UUs. I’ll be speaking at the following: Thursday, June 21st, 10:30-11:45 am LGBT Issues and Immigration Convention Centre, Room 125 Thursday, June 21st, 5:00-6:15 pm Anti-Slavery Panel Hyatt Hotel Cowboy Artist Room Saturday, June 23rd, 10:45 am-12:00 pm Bring the Doctrine of Discovery Back Home Convention Centre, Room 120 BC LGBT Refugees and Asylum Seekers Lastly, we have been working with other faith and secular leaders on LGBT refugee and asylum seeker issues. Perhaps, I should define my terms. A refugee is someone who leaves his or her country due to a “well-founded fear of persecution” due to race, religion, political affiliation and lately due to sexual orientation or gender identity. Generally, this refugee will go to a neighboring country, which may be little better than the country of origin and seek refugee status with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). Often some years later, the UNHCR may find this refugee a third country of permanent resettlement. The largest resettlement country is the United States. However, Canada is also a large recipient of refugees, including LGBT refugees. The USA only began taking LGBT refugees a few years ago. After much suffering and many years of waiting, LGBT refugees when they finally get here, they often find life in the North America very difficult. They wonder if all their sacrifice and waiting was worth it only to find abuse and oppression here not unlike what they faced back home. Asylum seekers are those who come to this country and then seek to remain here due to their well-founded fear of persecution in their home country. One such asylum seeker is Victoria Preshad. She is a transgender woman who was repeatedly raped and beaten in her home country of Guyana in South America. Once she had the chance to visit a relative in the Bahamas who told her not to return to the torture she was subjected to in Guyana. Her relative advised her to seek asylum in the USA while she transited Miami airport. She was not treated well by homeland security at Miami when she asked for asylum. She was told that she would be detained and deported if she refused to board her flight to Guyana. Despite the threats, she persisted in asking for asylum. She was detained in a jail in Miami and then chained hand and foot and sent to the immigration detention center in Newark, NJ where she was, at first, put into the male population. Victoria was at high risk for rape in the male section of the detention center. Then she was put into solitary confinement to protect her, but such confinement was also a kind of torture. Eventually, her asylum case was accepted and she now runs a small beauty shop in Queens, NY. Victoria’s story illustrates our broken immigration system. Victoria broke no laws. She had stolen nothing and harmed nobody. She did not enter the United States illegally. She asked for asylum which was her right under U.S. law and eventually, her case prevailed. However in the meantime, she was treated as if she had committed the worst of crimes, when, in fact, the worst of crimes had been committed against her both in Guyana and in the American immigration detention system. Many refugees and asylum seekers need our help and among the most vulnerable are those who have a minority sexual orientation or gender identity. Canada has been offering refuge to LGBT refugees and asylum seekers for a longer period than the USA. My impression is that conditions for refugees and asylum seekers are better in Canada then in the USA. However, any migrant of any kind needs friends and a helping hand. Our congregations in both Canada and the USA can be friendly, welcoming places where new migrants can make friends and learn about life in their new country. The UU-UNO has been working with the Organization for Refuge Asylum and Migration for about four years and a few LGBT refugees have been helped by UU congregations. Last Sunday, I attended a meeting in Philadelphia made up of representatives from various Protestant denominations, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, secular organizations and the United State Agency for International Development (USAID) to see what we could do together to help LGBT refugees and asylum seekers. The conversation has begun and we hope to have concrete action for our congregations to consider in the coming months.

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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