The Great Harry Belefonte Passes Away, by Bruce Knotts

Bruce Knotts Served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia and worked for Raytheon in Saudi Arabia and on a World Bank contract in Somalia before he joined the U.S. Department of State in 1984. State Department posts took him to Greece, Zambia, the Office of Central American Affairs, India, Pakistan, Kenya, Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia, and the Bureau of International Organizations. In 2004, Bruce was elected to the Board of Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies. Bruce retired from the Foreign Service in 2007 and joined the Unitarian Universalist Office at the United Nations as its Executive Director at the beginning of 2008.

As co-chair of the NGO (Civil Society) Committee on Human Rights, I played a key role in establishing the UN Decade of People of African Descent: 2015-2024. Harry Bellefonte was a keynote speaker at our inaugural event: Confronting the Silence: Perspectives and Dialogue on Structural Racism against People of African Descent Worldwide. This event can be viewed at (https://media.un.org/en/asset/k1k/k1klzhtslm). The recording of this event is well worth viewing. At least listen to my remarks, my introduction of Harry Bellefonte, and his wonderful speech. (6:14 – 20:53)

In addition to founding the UN Decade of People of African Descent, the UU office at the UN also established sexual orientation/gender identity human rights at the UN. When I started work at the UN in January 2008, I was determined to end the discrimination I’d faced in the Department of State due to my sexual orientation. The UN was planning to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Paris in September 2008. I attended planning meetings that discussed the human rights of everyone except for LGBTIQ people. I kept raising my hand and demanded the inclusion of LGBTIQ people. Slowly after many meetings, people begin to accept my proposal. The most important was Sister Joan Kirby, a Catholic Nun. She championed my cause, and I was given the first-ever workshop on LGBTIQ rights at the conference in Paris. At the last moment, Sister Joan Kirby made me a speaker on a much larger round table discussion. I spoke to a Catholic official from the Vatican who told me he was gay and supported everything I was doing. I spoke to the Swedish Ambassador who said that the European Union planned to propose a draft resolution at the UN General Assembly to condemn violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. When we returned, we met regularly at the Mission of Norway to the UN where we planned the resolution that was adopted on December 18, 2008. I was at the General Assembly. https://www.hrw.org/news/2008/12/18/un-general-assembly-statement-affirms-rights-all

The UU office at the UN played a key role in the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) which has recently indicted Vladimir Putin for War Crimes. Elaine Harvey, UU of Kingstone Ontario, Canada, and John Washburn of New York, both older White people, led the faith-based caucus to establish the International Criminal Court. Both went to Rome for the negotiations for the Rome Statute which established the International Criminal Court. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rome_Statute They worked especially hard to ensure that women would be protected. Most of the cases that have come before the ICC have been about violence against women.

The UU Office at the UN insisted on gender equity. Every year, we hosted two workshops at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women which takes place every year in March. We were the only organization that routinely included transwomen. https://www.unwomen.org/en/csw

The UU Office at the UN was part of a large UU network of international engagement. This included the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists which brought together UUs from around the world; the Partner Church Council which brought American congregations together with UU congregations in other counties; and the only remaining UU international organization, the International Council of Unitarian Universalist Women which I am proud to represent at the United Nations. https://www.intlwomensconvo.org. Rev. Carol Houston lives in New York and attends meetings when she can.

Our work was accomplished with a minimal staff plus volunteers and interns. I served as the Director from 2008 to 2022. Six interns during the academic year and four during the summer came from New York University, Columbia, Fordham, Adelphia University, SUNY New York, and the University of Michigan. Many volunteers from New York area churches and elsewhere contributed substantial time and energy.

In 2005, the UU Office at the UN founded a project supporting the education of orphaned children in Ghana. This program was strongly supported by UUA Presidents Sinkford and Morales. An article I wrote about the project in 2017 is still posted on the UUA website at https://www.uua.org/international/blog/every-child-our-child-giving-orphan-children-chance-bright-future. An article written by Peter Morales in 2012 is posted at https://www.uua.org/international/blog/every-child-is-our-child.

I also spent a good deal of time in Taiwan. Taiwan struggled with the issue of same-sex marriage. They held a referendum and a majority of voters voted against same-sex marriage. I spoke in Taiwan to the World League of Freedom and Democracy. I said, “You can’t vote against peoples’ human rights. The majority will always vote against the minority.” My statements were reported in the December 4, 2018 edition of the Taipei Times which can be viewed at https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2018/12/04/2003705464. I was repeatedly quoted during the National Assembly debate on same-sex marriage. Soon the Taiwanese government enacted same-sex marriage. It is the only nation in Asia to do so. I am proud of the role I played. Nonetheless, an official high up in the UUA Administration complained, “Why is Bruce in Taiwan? How is he helping Unitarian Universalism there?”

That brings us to the beginning of the end. And the end. With the focus of the UUA increasingly turning toward White Supremacy Culture (which was never mentioned by Presidents Sinkford or Morales), international involvement wasn’t important anymore. In fact, all international engagement except for the International Council of Unitarian Universalist Women has been destroyed.

The UUA let go of the lease of our office in 2021 and our Envoy Coordinator and I worked from home. We had three interns that also worked mostly remotely but we also went to the UN when it was open. The Envoy Coordinator quit in April 2022 and was not replaced. I was told to retire or be fired in September 2022 and I’ve not been replaced. New York University pulled their interns from the UUA because they were ignored and sent them to Catholic Charities. There is now no office, no staff, no interns, no intern coordinator. The UUA also ended the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists and the Partner Church Council.

The UUA claims to continue the work of the UU Office at the UN, but I see no evidence of this at the United Nations.

For 49 years prior to 2011, the UU Office at the United Nations (UU UNO) was an independent affiliate of the UUA, supported by UU churches and individual donations. In 2022 I sent an email to the Co-Moderators of the UUA asking them to undo the 2011 merger agreement to allow the UU UNO to return to an independent organization that could independently raise its own funds. Meg Riley was silent. Charles DuMond said they would unwind the merger if the UUA administration asked them to. Nothing happened.

There is no longer a UUA presence at the UN. Influencing UN policy can’t be done with visits to New York every 4-6 months. Judging by its actions, the UUA cares nothing for people outside the USA. Apparently, all the lofty language of love the A2 Commission is offering applies only to Americans. Doesn’t this sound familiar? Shutting down a long-standing program that was doing good and effective work is clearly to me a betrayal of our faith.

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Randy
Randy
10 months ago

The UUA appears to be becoming an anti-democratic, insular and authoritarian body. The Article II revisions look like an attempt to consolidate power at the top.

Burton Brunson
Burton Brunson
10 months ago

Where to begin? For starts, why should it be assumed that anyone knows what LGBTIQ means? I don’t. Folks who want to change things around often make up new words, or try to alter meaning of established words. For example, in the matter of same sex marriage. For centuries, millions of people considered the word marriage refers to partnership between a male and a female, with implied potential to reproduce. A same sex partnership lacks that potential. Same sexers have the right to such a partnership. They could use terms like civil union to describe it. No. Not acceptable. We… Read more »

Mark Perloe
Mark Perloe
10 months ago
Reply to  Burton Brunson

Are you suggesting that couples would no longer be married after menopause? Must one get a divorce if a hysterectomy is necessary? This is different from UUA choosing to redefine words. No one is choosing to redefine marriage by including man and woman wording or marriage for those who want children.

george
george
10 months ago
Reply to  Burton Brunson

I have never seen a UU argue against same sex marriage. Surprising and shocking

Samantha
Samantha
10 months ago
Reply to  Burton Brunson

Are you actually a UU ? I have never met a UU member that argues against same sex marriage. You sound more like a Southern Baptist.

Linda
Linda
10 months ago

I hope this isn’t tacky of me, but I haven’t moved beyond the misspelling of Harry Belafonte’s name! Forgive me.

Lilith
Lilith
10 months ago

I am not surprised that the current UUA no longer supports international projects. I am no longer a member of any UU congregation. The “Welcoming” church I joined in the 1990’s is gone. We welcomed gays at a time when they were shunned by many mainstream churches. Now I feel the church (like most of the Democratic Party) is a victim of divide and conquer identity politics as the people we welcomed in turned against us. We became ‘cis’ women or white supremists. The beginning of the end is happening to a lot of groups (BLM has finally been revealed… Read more »

Sally Davis
Sally Davis
10 months ago
Reply to  Lilith

Go to the link and you will see the speech Belafonte made,referenced by Bruce Knotts. The memories of the UUA I had since 1958 came rushing back. I was so proud of all we were doing but didn’t know how much behind the scenes work and organizing by other UUs was involved. Now I can at least say “thank you” as I mourn the loss again.

Paul
Paul
10 months ago
Reply to  Lilith

See the link in the second paragraph. The relevant part starts at about 6:16, great introduction by Bruce Knotts, great speech.

Last edited 10 months ago by Paul
Laura Nagel
10 months ago

Dear Bruce, Thank you for this excellent article and telling the story of the demise of UU-UNO. I didn’t know and assumed you were still functioning. As one of the founders of the International Convocation of UU Women, I’m proud that we are still standing. But, I always assumed it was easier for you because I thought you were under their protective wing, not their guillotine. Your story shows just how determined they were to eat their young. ICUUW was grateful in the end because the United Nations Economic and Social Council awarded us with special consultative status. The UN… Read more »

Cassandra Caramba
Cassandra Caramba
10 months ago

This is a strange article with a misleading headline. At first glance it is hard to see if it is written by Bruce Knotts or by Frank Casper.

It almost seems that the death of Harry Belafonte is being used as clickbait to get people to read a meandering and self congratulating article.

Bad show old chaps.

Frank Casper
Frank Casper
10 months ago

Yes, I can see how “by Bruce Knotts” right there in the title might confuse you, particularly if you’re looking to find something to help render a trivial criticism.

Carol Reich
Carol Reich
10 months ago

I found article illuminating. As a village elder I have forgotten a lot of important work done and am sad at the losses of useful programs. As to remarks about errors, mistakes, misspellings, other? I have learned from my own writing, aging and life works 2 TWO important lessons. How we edit others matters….and that many I know well are other gifted, education language and culture have a profound impact on how people express. My close brown connections may not have English as first language, and I just ask when spellcheck or other impacts communication. Ego? Now that is about… Read more »

Ashton Newhouse
Ashton Newhouse
10 months ago

What we need is for Todd Eklof to become the president of the UUA and kick out all the extreme leftists who continue to blather about illogical illiberal theories of social justice.

Once he is moderator of the UUA we can Make Unitarianism Great Again ! No more universalism, no CRT , just logic and clear thinking !

Tim Bartik
10 months ago

I assume you are just trolling. But if you think this at all resembles what most people involved with the Fifth Principle Project wants, then you are simply way off base.

If we are ever going to have meaningful dialogue, people on different sides of UU disputes have to be willing to try to state the other side’s position in a way that is recognizable to that side, rather than seeking to caricature the other side’s position, which is what you are doing.

Jenna
Jenna
10 months ago
Reply to  Tim Bartik

I assume that the repeated trolling comes from a single person. A person was blocked for their repeated smearing of others, name-calling, false claims, and breaking of discussion rules, and they just keep coming back under new made-up names and emails.

Ashton Newhouse
Ashton Newhouse
10 months ago
Reply to  Tim Bartik

Maybe i have you wrong but i see you all as fighting against the stream of CRT. Personally i see this as a continuation of America’s fight against communist influence.

Tim Bartik
10 months ago

If you are actually sincere in your beliefs: You should be aware that most people involved with the Fifth Principle Project and similar UU dissident projects are farther politically to the left than you are. So, no, I do not think that that the problem with the UUA is “communist influence”, nor is that way of thinking part of the thinking of 90% of the UU dissidents. If you are not sincere in what you are saying, but are trolling (and frankly, that is what you sound like): Why on earth are you wasting your time doing this? Surely there… Read more »

Ashton Newhouse
Ashton Newhouse
10 months ago
Reply to  Tim Bartik

Was i wrong in thinking that you are against CRT ?

Ashton Newhouse
Ashton Newhouse
10 months ago
Reply to  Tim Bartik

I also thought that you were fighting against anti-white sentiments in the UU.

Frank Casper
Frank Casper
10 months ago

We are opposed to CRT to the extent CRT is opposed to what we support, our liberal religious heritage from the Enlightenment. To the extent the UUA opposes the Enlightenment because those engaged in that legacy were white, we are opposed to that view. Hopefully that helps you understand what we are about, if that is your purpose for asking these questions.

Ashton Newhouse
Ashton Newhouse
10 months ago
Reply to  Frank Casper

Excellent !

I’m just trying to figure out what you actually believe.

Frank Casper
Frank Casper
10 months ago

We are all for the most part engaged in struggling with what we actually believe. We adhere to our Principles and Sources as providing the best institutional framework for supporting the freedom to grapple with the nature of our faith. We do not believe and viscerally oppose the notion currently prevailing among many UU’s, but particularly leadership, that our Principles and Sources are white supremacist and should be discarded.

Ashton Newhouse
Ashton Newhouse
10 months ago
Reply to  Frank Casper

To be a bit of a devils advocate here, i would say that most of these progressives believe in a concept of “whiteness” that is distinct from white supremacy.

In my understanding “whiteness” includes values like punctuality, cold logic and conflict avoidance.

When i study whiteness theory, it seems almost impossibly abstracted. While i am very conservative i did find Derick Bell’s ideas somewhat compelling but they are distinct from whiteness theory. Bell is considered the father of CRT.

John Wunderlin
John Wunderlin
10 months ago

I agree it can be very confusing. I hope NAUA or someday UUA can again welcome conservatives to our ranks. Right now they are extremely few and far between. I think you’ll find nearly everyone here regard themselves as old-school progressives, but far from conservative

John Wunderlin
John Wunderlin
10 months ago
Reply to  John Wunderlin

However, we also share the belief that the ‘white fragility’ folks are way off base, so we probably cross that part of the venn diagram with conservatives

Sara Caustic
Sara Caustic
10 months ago
Reply to  John Wunderlin

Nothing that a few days dedicated to watching infowars and fox news won’t fix.

John Eichtodt
John Eichtodt
10 months ago

Bruce has brilliantly carried on, for a great many years, our heritage of being actively present at the UN from its inception.
With deep appreciation,

John Eichrodt,
member EUU, CLF