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Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office Takes Lead on LGBT Human Rights

The following was sent to us from the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office.

August 20, New York: the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office will play a path breaking role in next month’s human rights conference in Paris, sponsored by the UN’s Department of Public Information and presented in cooperation with the many nongovernmental organizations with consultative status at the UN. Held to commemorate the signing in Paris in 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the event is cosponsored by UNESCO, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Government of France.

Titled “Reaffirming Human Rights for All: the Universal Declaration at 60,” the conference will be held September 3 – 5, 2008 at UNESCO headquarters in Paris.

Bruce Knotts, Executive Director of the UU UN Office, is a member of the conference’s subcommittee on outreach. In planning sessions, Knotts was struck by the omission of the LGBT community among those whose rights are threatened around the world. “If we were going to discuss the human rights of every conceivable marginalized group,” he recalls, “we could not exclude the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community.”

Leaving aside the question of same sex marriage or other actions that run up against strong religious and cultural norms, Knotts pointed to gross violations of rights that ought to trouble anyone—torture, murder, execution, rape, arbitrary arrest, and beatings. “No culture or religion can condone these crimes,” he argued.

Knotts’ objection carried the day and, for the first time at any UN conference of this kind, LGBT issues will be squarely on the agenda next week in Paris. Moreover, Knotts has been named LGBT Caucus Coordinator for the conference; he will moderate a panel discussion on the Yogyakarta Principles, which apply existing international law to issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity; and he will co-moderate a breakout session that will discuss issues related to all communities not normally heard at the United Nations. The speakers for the Yogyakarta Panel will be Wilhelm Monasso, Executive Director of FILAD (Philanthropy & Advice) an LGBT Dutch NGO; Peter Dankmeijer, Executive Director of GALE (The Global Alliance for LGBT Education) also from the Netherlands, and Cyrille Compaoe, Executive Director Action Voluntaire in Burkina Faso which advocates for and provides medical services to MSMs (men who have sex with men) in Africa. GALE is also sponsoring a booth at the UN Human Rights Village that is being set up as part of the UN Human Rights Conference. The GALE booth will serve as a focal point for LGBT discussions at the UN Human Rights Village at the Hotel de Ville (City Hall) in Paris. All are welcome to visit this booth during the conference.

Bruce Knotts took over the reins at the Unitarian Universalist UN Office in January, after 23 years as a diplomat in the U.S. Foreign Service, where he also served on the Board of Directors of Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies. With more than 1,000 congregations nationwide, Unitarian Universalists hold human rights as a core value and have maintained a presence at the UN since 1946. The Unitarian Universalists are proud of their Human Rights history, including their commitment to LGBT rights. Unitarian Universalists have been performing same-gender marriages since the 1970s. The Manichean Society, which comprised United States Federal LGBT works in the 1950s fighting for the right to work in government service, used to meet in Unitarian & Universalist Churches. Many famous gays and lesbians from history, like Walt Whitman and Susan B. Anthony, were either Unitarians or Universalists or both. The two liberal denominations joined in 1961. The Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, TN was attacked by a gunman in July this year due to the Unitarian Universalist liberal theology and its welcoming of gays and lesbians, according to documents written by the gunman and found by the police. In addition to fighting for LGBT rights, the Unitarian Universalist Church fought and continues to fight to end slavery, to empower women and to end racial discrimination. Many of America’s Founding Fathers (and Mothers) were Unitarians or Universalists, such as America’s second and third presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. The Unitarian Universalist Church maintains its revolutionary and visionary character.

For more information please consult the following web sites:

The UUA Washington Office Welcomes Adam as our Acting Director!

Rob Keithan, Director of the UUA Washington Office for Advocacy, (pictured right) is leaving D.C. to undertake a ten-month ministerial internship in Portland, Oregon. Rob will be dearly missed!

In his absence, former Legislative Assistant Adam Gerhardstein is stepping up as Acting Director.

Alex, Grace, and Lisa stayed up all night to prepare a hearty welcome for our new Acting Director on his first day. Pictures below.

We prepare.

Adam arrives.

And finds his office filled with balloons.

580 of them.

We wish Adam much joy in the coming year!

The Intern Chronicles

Julia Hodgson is a senior at American University where she is studying Psychology, Anthropology and Religion. She grew up in the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship in New Jersey.

As many rising seniors in college find themselves doing, I spent the end of last semester looking for an internship. Last year, I interned at a local non-profit – A Wider Circle – but I figured that now is the only time in my life I could try out a variety of things without feeling guilty that I wasn’t making any money doing so. At the advice of my minister at home in New Jersey, I decided to contact the UUA office in Washington, D.C., where I am going to school. It made sense to me. This would give me a chance to see the more political and action-oriented side of my faith. After countless emails and phone calls, I became the rare summer intern for the UUA Washington Office of Advocacy!

My first project involved a detailed analysis of data collected over the past two years from the emails sent out by the office to their various lists. Using what I could remember from high school statistics class, I did calculations, prepared graphs and charts and detailed explanations of what I had found. As a result of my work, the staff has decided to reorganize their lists to make communications more effective all around.

Of course, not everything was so glamorous. I did the requisite “intern work” of revising resource guides, creating databases, and other such tasks. But the most rewarding project allowed me to act upon what I was passionate about.

I spent a week earlier this summer on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota learning about and working with the Oglala-Lakota people. Horrified at the state of this third-world nation within our country, I knew I had to do something to try to fix it. At the UUA Washington Office I had the opportunity to work with Lisa Swanson, the Legislative Assistant for Racial and Economic Justice, to research and create a new portion of the website about Native American Justice. Now, there is extensive background information and ways to take action to help alleviate the sub-standard conditions that so many Native Americans are forced to live in.

So far, I’ve talked a lot about what I’ve done, but not so much about why I truly did it or how it fits into my life as a UU. I’m at that point in my college career where I’m supposed to be deciding what I want to do with my life. Until I came here, I was entirely unsure beyond “something that helps people.” However, I have been toying with the idea of becoming ordained as a minister since high school and now it’s making more and more sense. After all, it’s a profession that combines my strong UU faith, my love of people, and my belief in giving back to the world that I live in.

Being in the Washington Office has given me a small taste of the power a faith like ours has. I already knew the amazing energy that can come out of a group of people gathered in religious celebration, but this office has shown me the invaluable drive some people have to really make a difference. Between the employees here and the thousands of people who take action online, attend rallies, write their representatives and just plain care, I’m inspired to do more to continue that trend of putting faith into action.

Interning here has been a vital part of my path. I’ve met some amazing and motivated people. I’ve been able to see the behind-the-scenes of UUA social justice work. I’ve learned more about myself and what I want to do with my life. All in all, I’d say it was a pretty great way to spend a summer.

Responding to the Shooting at Tennessee Valley UU Church

Love is the spirit of this church and service is its law.
This is our great covenant: to dwell together in peace,
to seek the truth in love, and to help one another.
– James Vila Blake
— From the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church website

Yesterday morning a gunman entered the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church (TVUUC) of Knoxville, TN, and opened fire on congregants from TVUUC and nearby Westside Unitarian Universalist Church, who were gathered for a joint worship service. Linda Kraeger, 61, and Greg McKendry, 60, were killed. Seven people were wounded, five of whom have been hospitalized in serious or critical condition.

Today our thoughts and prayers are with the Unitarian Universalists of Northeast Tennessee and their loved ones. We hold in our hearts those killed and injured, and their families and communities.

As an office, we took a break a short while ago to light a chalice and share in a moment of silence and prayer. We invite you to also take a moment from your day to offer prayers of healing for our UU community.

UUA President, Rev. William G. Sinkford, has released a statement on the shootings (http://uua.org/news/newssubmissions/117154.shtml) and UUA.org is maintaining a webpage (http://www.uua.org/news/newssubmissions/117156.shtml) with news updates and resources, including links to Making Meaning After Disaster and Trauma Resources for Families and Congregations.

For UUs in the Northeast Tennessee area, a vigil will be held tonight at a church neighboring TVUUC. See Unitarian Universalists Respond to Knoxville Shooting Disaster for details.

To send letters of support and sympathy to the congregations, TVUUC’s address and contact information are available at http://www.tvuuc.org/ and Westside UU Church’s information can be found at http://westknoxuu.org/.

Why UU Service Committee Supports Living Wage $10 in 2010 Campaign

by Johanna Chao Kreilick, Program Manager for Economic Justice, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

The July 24 raise in the minimum wage to $6.55 will help millions of workers deal with the rapidly rising price of gas, food, and other basic items.

Unitarian Universalists – working in partnership with Let Justice Roll – have been at the center of this upward trend toward economic justice. Your living wage organizing and advocacy — from Wichita to Atlanta, to Nashville and Tulsa is helping to make the difference for working families across America.

As leading members of Let Justice Roll, UUSC and the UUA are inviting your continued support and participation, beginning with a call to leaders of faiths across the nation to endorse a letter that will be delivered to the new Congress in January. In combination with the faith letter, Let Justice Roll is inviting congregations and organizations to join us in hosting a diversity of “Living Wage Days” services and community events across the nation January 10 and 11.

Learn more at Advancing the Fair Wage Movement > Stories and sign up to join other UUs in building a groundswell of support for a minimum wage that lifts people out of poverty and strengthens our families and economy.

As Dr. King said in Memphis in March 1968, “Now is the time to make an adequate income a reality for all of God’s children…Now is the time for justice to roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Ratatouille: Another Film That Fails the Feminist Film Rule

Ratatouille: Another Film That Fails the Feminist Film Rule

When we want to be amused and entertained without having to put forth much effort, my partner and I often turn to animated films. A viewing of The Incredibles does wonders for getting my mind to let go of stress from life and work.

In that spirit, we sat down last night to see Ratatouille, a Disney-Pixar release (from Incredibles Director Brad Bird) about a rat who pursues his dream of being a chef in Paris. It won an Oscar in 2008 for Best Animated Feature Film of the Year. It was creative, fun, & funny—we both enjoyed it.

And yet, like so many other “good” movies, Ratatouille fails the very low bar set by what can be called the “feminist film rule.”

As near as I can tell, the test can be traced to a 1985 comic strip entitled The Rule, from the series “Dykes to Watch Out For” by Alison Bechdel. Bechdel credits Liz Wallace for introducing her to the rule. In order for a movie to pass muster, it’s got to have three things:

1. There have to be at least two women in it.
2. The two women must talk to each other.
3. The two women must talk to each other about something other than a man.

It’s a low bar. And yet I’m consistently disappointed by how many films don’t pass, because it means that millions of viewers are consistently ingesting inexcusably narrow and sexist portrayals of women. Ratatouille, for example, has only one female with enough screen time to be called a character. For some hard data, see the 2007 Report of the American Psychological Association Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls, which references two studies of the 101 top-grossing G-rated films from 1990 to 2004. Of the over 4,000 characters in these films, 75% overall were male, 83% of characters in crowds were male, 83% of narrators were male, and 72% of speaking characters were male. In addition, there was little change from 1990 to 2004.

Why is it so hard to portray more women in more roles?

The answer, I think, is that it’s not. It’s not hard to portray more women in more roles; filmmakers simply must want to do it. There needs to be an understanding that more and diverse roles for women are important; that’s it something the viewing public demands—or at least expects.

Applying the feminist film test has been an important consciousness-raising discipline for me; I encourage you to give it a try. Next step: figuring out what meaningful action to take. http://www.mediaandwomen.org/whatcani.html seems like a great place to start.

UU Immigration Activists in the News

“How as people of faith could we not stand with immigrants? Isn’t that what religion is all about?”

–Susan Leslie, UUA, quoted in the Boston Globe

On July 4th, the Boston Globe published a front page article exploring the role of religious groups in supporting immigrant workers. The article features the involvement of the UUA and Boston’s Arlington Street Church with the New Sanctuary movement. Our very own Susan Leslie of Congregational Advocacy is quoted! Read all about it in Churches Champion Immigrants’ Plight.

In addition, the UUA webpage is featuring a story about Massachusetts UU immigrant activists’ involvement in a statewide coalition. Check out Unitarian Universalists Join Welcoming Massachusettes Campaign Kick Off in Support of Immigrants.

Susan and I are collecting stories of how UUs all over the country have been involved in volunteering and advocating around immigration issues, so that we can share them with the greater UU community. Please contact Susan or I if you have a story to share!

Susan – sleslie [at] uua [dot] org
Lisa – lswanson [at] uua [dot] org

Support Iraqi Refugees

The International Rescue Committee (IRC), a seventy-five year old multinational relief organization, is working to bring to attention the current state of the millions of Iraqi War refugees.

They are currently looking for people to sign their IRC Iraq Humanitarian Pledge. This pledge calls upon the Bush Administration and the United States Congress to: strengthen humanitarian assistance to the region, support peacebuilding efforts and community-based reconstruction and development, and expedite the relocation of Iraqi refugees.

For every person who signs the pledge, the IRC will donate an extra $1 to support Iraqi victims of war and refugees.

Please sign the IRC Iraq Humanitarian Pledge and support these important efforts to help the victims of war. For more information on the IRC, please visit http://www.theirc.org/ or click on the banner below.



Ed. Note- This is the 100th blog post for Inspired Faith, Effective Action. Thank you all for your support and kind thoughts.

Act Now to Repeal the Ban on HIV Travelers and Immigrants to the U.S.

Posted below is a special, urgent Action Alert from Immigration Equality.

ImEq Logo

The U.S. bars anyone with HIV/AIDS from immigrating or visiting – even as a tourist. HIV is the only disease singled out by Congress for special treatment. The ban is unfair, ineffective, and disproportionately harmful to LGBT immigrants and their families. While opposite-sex couples qualify for a waiver to the ban, same-sex couples do not.

Today the Senate is considering legislation that would end the ban. Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Gordon Smith (R-OR) added language to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which is being debated on the Senate floor today.

Send a message urging your Senators to support the Kerry-Smith provision and to ensure that the repeal of the ban on HIV-positive visitors and immigrants remains in PEPFAR.

Immigration Equality has been working to end the HIV ban for more than a decade. Don’t let this opportunity pass us by – contact your Senators now and ask them to repeal the HIV travel ban!

Meet the New Social Justice Statements

Two weeks ago, at the Unitarian Universalist Association’s annual business meeting, General Assembly, the new UUA social justice statements were passed. The new four year study cycle–Congregational Study/Action Issue (CSAI)–was passed along with five new Actions of Immediate Witness (AIW).

The AIWs along with the new CSAI will give both the UUA and its member congregations insight into which social justice projects have been given higher priority by the delegates of the General Assembly.

This year, we passed a new CSAI on Ethical Eating. For the next four years, the UUA and its member congregations will be studying how our eating choices affect our bodies, our communities and our world. Questions of environmental toll, resource distribution, health and diet, and economic impact of globalized food economies will undoubtedly be asked. This topic was overwhelmingly passed by the member delegates and was endorsed by UUs for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, UUs for A Just Economic Community and the Youth and Young Adult Caucuses.

This year, six new Actions of Immediate Witness were passed. These AIWs will help guide our public and internal policy for the next year. They are:

The new CSAI and AIWs will be important in the coming year to make sure we all work in a unified and effective community for our common dreams. For more information on these and past social justice statements please visit http://www.uua.org/socialjustice/socialjustice/index.php.