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.

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