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UU-UNO Director’s Letter

Bruce Knotts

February 2013

UU-UNO Again Makes History at the UN!!

Click here to read the Huffington Post Article

The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office introduced the first-ever sustained LGBTQ advocacy program at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City and for better or worse, we remain the only NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) at UN headquarters in New York City with sustained programming on sexual orientation and gender identity issues. Other organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and the Council for Global Equality, work together to sponsor large events from time to time (once or twice a year). However, it is only the UU-UNO that works on these issues at the UN headquarters day in and day out. Most importantly, it is only the UU-UNO which tackles sexual orientation issues at the UN from a faith-based perpective. 

As you can see from the Huffington Post article (click on link above), the UU-UNO presented the first-ever panel discussion on so called 'Reparative Therapy,' which purports to turn gays into straights or pray the gay away. This so called therapy is insidious because it is coupled by the religious right with the criminalization of sexual orientation, including the death penalty. 

The striking example of this is in Uganda, where the religious right have incited violence and a bill aimed at killing all the gays and lesbians in the country. Many people are appalled by the cruelty of such laws, so the religious right has an answer: "Such laws are not so cruel. If you don't want to face the death penalty because you are gay, all you have to do is pray the gay away and take some therapy." A recent comment to the Huffington Post article stated: "Like any other business, if you don't like it, don't go. Gays don't like it because then it will mean that life is full of choices and by golly, you know that they hate using that word." This reduces 'reparative therapy' to a simple consumer choice. However, when faced with going to jail or facing the death penalty, it is not just a simple consumer choice, but a life or death decision. Even here in the United States, parents, religious leaders and some employers insist that if you are gay, you are going to Hell and before going there, you will lose your family, job, educational opportunties (at some institutions) and housing (in some states). So, 'reparative therapy' is far more than a consumer choice. 

Earlier in my life, I bought the rhetoric that my sexual orientation was a choice, so I made the intelligent choice and chose to be straight. It didn't work and I remained gay and eventually grew to celebrate my sexual orientation instead of buying into the shame and self-hate that was being peddled to me by my parents, church, employer and 'friends.' I was luckier than many others. 

The panel discussion delved deeply into how people are forced into this 'therapy' and that it doesn't work (and is not necessary), but rather causes depression, shame and often results in suicide. We read a letter from someone for whom this therapy worked; and our panelists discussed that in a few cases it can work. However, the success rate is so low that to claim the therapy works, constitutes consumer fraud, which is the basis of a case brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which was represented on the panel by Sam Wolfe and his client Chaim Levin. Mr. Levin reported some bizarre and apparently common practices to have patients strip naked in front of the 'therapist.' Some 'therapists' who are mostly 'ex-gay' themselves will hug and caress their patients so they can experience 'non-sexual' male affection. 

Jack Drescher, MD  and Rebecca Jordan-Young, Ph.D. discussed how the 'therapy' that is being done, is not done ethically or correctly. They told our audience that in all cases of therapy, any reputable therapist would want to 'qualify' the patient for a course of therapy. For example, if one wanted to change their sexual orientation, a good therapist would want to know why. Is it because of pressure from the law, family, the religion, employer, etc.? Even if there was a genuine desire to change one's sexual orientation that came from a genuine internal motivation and not from outside pressure, the patient should be advised of the very low rate of success and the possible resulting shame if the therapy does not succeed. Failure is blamed by disreputable therapists on the lack of desire on the part of the patient or with religious therapist; the patient's lack of sufficient fatih is blamed. In both cases, therapists take no ownership for the failure of the therapy nor is the methodology of the therapy ever questioned. Blaming the patient in this way, causes even more shame with its attendant consequences of depression and the risk of suicide. 

The panel also made it clear that according to international law, one's sexual orientation or gender identity are not conditions to be 'cured.' According to current psychological and psychiatric thinking, one's sexual orientation is not something to be cured. Thus, such therapy would be analogous to a doctor operating on a perfectly healthy organ or limb. Why would one risk a surgery on a limb or organ that contained no defect? Finally, we turned to Pastor Jay Bakker, son of Jim and Tammy Fay Bakker, who spoke about religion and money. When he preached against homosexuality, he had a full calendar of speaking engagements and lots of funding for his work. When he realized that loving someone of the same gender was not a sin, the money quickly dried up and so did the invitations to speak. However, over time, his income has improved, but not to its former levels. Pastor Jay Bakker made the point that Biblical injunctions that are used to condemn homosexuality were written before the term 'homosexual' was ever used, and long before the term 'gay' was used. There was no understanding of same gender attraction because there are references in scripture which condemn it, but also scripture which clearly mentions love between King David and Jonathan; Ester and Naomi; and Jesus and his Beloved Disciple. There is also the fact that times change. The Bible clearly endorsed slavery and subjugation of women in ways which our spiritual development in the 21st century cannot tolerate. We also cannot tolerate oppression based on sexual orientation or gender identity regardless of what may have been written in ancient times. 

Nuclear Power

The UU-UNO convened a meeeting, on January 29th, to discuss Nuclear Power with Mycle Scheider, an expert in nuclear energy. To learn more about Mycle, click on this link.  To summarize his conclusions, Mycle said that nuclear power is expensive and dangerous. It takes much needed funding away from developing renewable sources of energy; notably solar and wind power. I have provided a link to his PowerPoint presentation, which provides details of his findings and research, click here.

Creating Change

Mordechai Levovitz (a UU-UNO intern studying at New York University) and I attended the Creating Change Conference in Atlanta, sponsored by the Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Annette Marquis, who is the UUA LGBTQ and Multicultural Ministries Program Manager, also attended. It was a wonderful conference with more details than I can describe adequately. However, there were 3,400 attendees and the conference opened with an inspiring video from President Obama. Kate Clinton was the amazing Mistress of Ceremonies. 

My big take away was that this conference was not just about LGBT rights. It was clear from this conference that the LGBT movement has matured greatly and benefited from important alliances with other social justice movements, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), groups supporting economic justice, indigenous rights, migrant rights, the rights of people of color, rights of people with disabilities and more. 

Deepak Bhargava, Executive Director of the Center for Community Change (CCC), was the Keynote Speaker. CCC builds the power and capacity of low-income people, especially low-income people of color, to change the policies and institutions that affect their lives. Under his leadership, CCC has played a leading role in campaigns to achieve universal health care coverage, improve jobs, safety net policies and advance Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Deepak is a leading progressive thinker and strategist, he has written and spoken widely about issues such as poverty, immigration and community organizing. Born in Bangalore, India, Deepak immigrated to the United States when he was a child. He lives in Washington, D.C. with his partner, Harry Hanbury, a documentary filmmaker. Deepak spoke about the harm income inequality does to our economy and democratic institutions. His speech, as well many others at the conference, dealt with broad social justice issues that are important to everyone, including the LGBTQ community. 

Congregational Visits

  • December 2, 2012: Victoria, BC
  • January 6, 2013: St. Louis, MO
  • February 3, 2013: Morristown, NJ
  • March 3, Morristown, NJ, again. They like us there! 
  • Our Envoy Coordinator, Kamila Jacob, joined UN Sunday services in Columbia, MD; San Francisco, CA and Rock Taven, NY.

Spring Seminar

We are planning a truly outstanding Spring Seminar this year, titled: Sex, Love and Violence: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in a Globalized World. We will have an array of outstanding speakers from all parts of the world, different faith traditions, and much, much more. We will have an Interfaith panel, a Media panel and more. There will be a film, music and interactive activities. Registration is now open! Click here to register and then click here to pay your registration fee, using the UU-UNO code. 

To sponsor an attendee, please go the the registration payment page (uucsj.org/pay) and use trip code: UU-UNO. Instead of your name, please put "Scholarship," we will know your name and email address for follow-up from the cardholder information. 

Updates on Additional Office Programming

Justice Con: JUUstice for All Souls

The UU-UNO and Joseph Priestly District Youth Steering Committee (JPDYSC) worked together to create the program itinerary for the annual winter con with a social justice theme. The Youth Conference (CON) was held at ALL Souls Church Unitarian in Washington, DC. The event took place the first weekend in February and 135 Youth (as well as adult advisors) from congregations all over the Joseph Priestly District (JPD) came together to talk global human rights. Youth leaders from DYSC collaborated with the Envoy Coordinator to create fun and educational workshops. The workshops included activities and discussions around women’s rights, race and immigration, SOGI rights, climate change, and indigenous cultures. We also had workshops about thinking globally while acting locally, multigenerational work in congregations, becoming an envoy, and improvisation where participants acted as social justice Suuper heroes and resolved global conflicts. All participants met in small groups made of congregations in their region of the district to create their social justice SUUper heroes and collaborate to create a Justice themed event.  All participants also received a folder with information about leadership opportunities, DYSC and the UN Office to know they can always reach out for assistance and information. The collaboration with the JPD leadership team was a great success and youth and adults were empowered to take action in their congregations and communities. Keep an eye out for the upcoming blog on Faith Without Borders.

Every Child is Our Child (ECOC)

The office would like to extend our gratitude to everyone who has been supportive of the 2013 annual ECOC Site Visit. We will be doing an ECOC evaluation and community needs assessment to move forward with supporting gender equality in education for children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS and the empowerment of women. If you have not had an opportunity to do so, please spend a moment viewing created by two of our interns. Click here to watch the video!

UN Office leads a side event during the Commission on the Status of Women

The UU-UNO has increased its advocacy on issues around empowering women.  We will be very active in March at CSW 57. Every spring the Commission on the Status of Women meets for two weeks to develop recommendations for international communities on a specific topic. This year, the focus of the meetings will be on Violence Against Women. The UU-UNO is proud to be playing an active role in four CSW side events. In addition to hosting a panel, "Educating Women and Girls for Communities Free of Gender Based Violence”, the office will be collaborating on panels with the NGO on Mental Health, DPI/NGO Youth Representatives, and United Methodist. These side events are well attended by UN agencies, NGOs, government representatives and others. These meetings will provide an opportunity for the UU voice and values to be represented to a global audience in efforts to address Violence Against Women. 

For additional Women's rights programming ideas, such as our Half the Sky movie screening and discussion, please write to UNintern@uua.org, with the subject line: "ATTN: Women's Rights". 

Committee Meetings

I chair three important committees at the United Nations. They are: the NGO Committee on Human Rights and its Anti-Racism Subcommittee; the NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace and Security and the Faith and Ethics Network for the International Criminal Court. If you would like to attend any future meetings, please let us know. We held the following meetings recently: 

  • December 12, 2012 - Meeting with the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda
  • December 18, 2012 - NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace and Security
  • January 15, 2013 - NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace and Security
  • January 17, 2013 - Faith and Ethics Network for the International Criminal Court
  • January 29, 2013 - Meeting on Nuclear Power
  • January 30, 2013 - Faith and Ethics Network for the International Criminal Court
  • January 31, 2013 - International Health and Policy Consequences of Sexual Orientation Change Efforts

If you have questions or concerns, please write us at unitednations@uua.org.

To support this important work please visit https://giving.uua.org/UU-UNO

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