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.