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Today is the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations on December 10, 1948. Michelle Bachelet, the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the United Nations offered a declaration celebrating this 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Bachelet calls us to breathe new life into the declaration. She says: “It is, I firmly believe, as relevant today as it was when it was adopted 70 years ago. It provides us with the basis for ensuring equal rights for groups, such as LGBTI people, whom few would even dare name in 1948. But, 70 years after its adoptions, the work the Universal Declaration lays down for us is far from over. And it will never be.”

Leading up to this 70th anniversary, the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights organized “Shine Your Light for Human Rights” around the world, These Shine the Light events illustrate the wide range of human rights issues affecting people, communities and our planet. They also illustrate intersectionality—the interconnected nature of human rights.

A key part of celebrating this 70th anniversary is the call for each person to take action. Everyone of us can take action in several ways—to promote, to engage and to reflect—with this #StandUp4HumanRights campaign. So, please take some time to reflect upon what the principles of human rights mean to you, your family and friends, and to your community and country. And, then create your own message about human rights and #HumanRightsDay for sharing on social media by using the hashtag #StandUp4HumanRights

In 2012, the Global Faith and Justice Project was founded to amplify faith voices that protect human dignity and achieve equality for LGBTI people and their families. There is no question that the Universal Declaration for Human Rights adopted 70 years ago serves as both foundation and inspiration for this global project and its work. From its preamble, we affirm the “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Together we are building a world that is free and equal.

Our Champions: Kevin-Prince Boateng - YouTube

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World AIDS Day was founded by James W. Bunn and Thomas Netter in 1987 and they agreed that the first observance should be on December 1. Bunn was a broadcast journalist and Netter was a frequent contributor to the New York Times in the 1980’s. They were the first public information officers of the World Health Organization’s Global Program on AIDS. Their work drew attention to the AIDS pandemic, helped alleviate some of the stigma, and helped underscore the threat of HIV to people of all ages, genders and sexual orientations. World AIDS Day has been commemorated on December 1 since 1988, making 2018 its 30th anniversary.

Remembering

On this day, we remember those lost to AIDS-related illnesses. According to UNAIDS, we have lost 35.4 million people since the start of the pandemic and we lost 940,000 people due to AIDS-related illnesses in 2017. Let us remember, light a candle, say their names.

Knowing

The global theme this World AIDS Day is “Know Your Status.” According to UNAIDS, only 75% of people living with HIV are aware of their status. This means that 9.4 million people aren’t aware they are HIV positive and therefore seeking medical care. Since the start of the pandemic, 77.3 million people have become infected with HIV. It makes all the difference in the world for everyone to know their status.

Caring

World AIDS Day allows people to show their support and care for those living with HIV and to unite in the fight against HIV and AIDS. It is critical to remember that we are not fighting against those who live with HIV, rather we fight the stigma still associated with this disease and we work to ensure that more people get access to the life-saving antiretroviral therapy. According to UNAIDS, in 2017, 21.7 million people living with HIV were accessing antiretroviral therapy which was an increase of 2.3 million people from 2016 and up from 8 million people in 2010. So, thanks to the work of global health programs and grassroots local clinics, 13.7 million more people are receiving antiretroviral care.

World AIDS Day is global and local. Since 2002, Breaking Boundaries has been bringing the AIDS Memorial Quilt to Idaho Falls, Idaho. This year the exhibit is being hosted by the Elks Lodge. Holly Frazier, a health teacher at Taylorview Middle School brings her eighth graders to see the Quilt. Frazier says, “I want them to put a face to the disease. I want them to know that HIV happens to moms, dads, grandparents, kids, everyone.” We’re grateful for Holly Frazier and the millions of people like her around the world who bring World AIDS Day home where we live and can find new ways to care about each other. We are all children of God and one human family.

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Michael J. Adee, Director of the Global Faith and Justice Project, an initiative of the Center for Innovation in Ministry, offered an all-day institute on international LGBTQ issues at Creating Change 2018 in Washington, DC on January 25. The Creating Change Conference is the foremost political, leadership and skills-building conference for the LGBTQ social justice movement. It is sponsored and organized by the National LGBTQ Task Force, Washington, DC. Over 4,000 activists and movement leaders participated in the conference.

This institute was a historic first for Creating Change as its first all-day institute focused on international LGBTQ issues. Adee submitted the proposal and coordinated the creation of the institute upon its acceptance. Its title was “Crisis & Resilience: Strategies for International LGBTQ Solidarity” and 11 organizations joined the Global Faith and Justice Project in its creation and presentation. Over 100 people participated in the institute which included high school and college students to elders from across the United States and 5 other countries.

The conveners and presenters included: Urooj Arshad, Advocates for Youth; Twanna Hines and Annerieke Smaak, Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE); Michael J. Adee, Global Faith and Justice Project; Victoria Petitjean, Global Interfaith Network; Graeme Reid and Ryan Thoreson, Human Rights Watch; Gillian Kane and Jeanne Hefez, Ipas; Jessica Stern and Maria Sjodin, OutRight Action International; Cole Parke and Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma, Political Research Associates; Haven Herrin, Soulforce; Evelyn Schlatter, Southern Poverty Law Center; Joseph Tolton and Ann Craig, The Fellowship Global; Addison Smith, Wellspring Philanthropic Fund. “I am grateful to know such amazing colleagues and organizations. It was a wonderful experience to create and offer this institute with them,” said Adee.

The focus of the workshop was the global export of homophobia, sexism and transphobia from the United States’ religious and political right which places LGBTQ people, their families and allies around the world in harm’s way. The historic and current waves of neo-colonialism, white supremacy and Christian exceptionalism result in challenges to human dignity and equal rights for LGBTQ people and their families, threats to women’s reproductive rights and health, and HIV-AIDS prevention and care. In the midst of this global crisis, international LGBTQ and ally activists are doing extraordinary resistance work; operating from their own agency and creative leadership; and demonstrating inspiring resilience.

During the institute, we learned about the hot spots around the world — Chechnya, Egypt, Indonesia, Tanzania, and more and went beyond the headlines. We explored the political, religious and social contexts through: a global mapping exercise; two panels with international LGBTQ activists; an exercise decoding anti-equality vocabulary, religious and “natural family” language used at the United Nations and by the opposition in local or regional contexts; and we finished the day by exploring the meaning and strategies of principled international solidarity for US-based activists; and the building of intersectional, international alliances in LGBTQ and gender justice work. Together we are building a world that is free and equal.

Photo: 2009 Pride in Johannesburg.

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What are the appropriate and ethical boundaries of religious liberty at a time when religious liberty is being used as an excuse or sanction for discrimination? Groups of Presbyterian leaders across the United States are raising this question and it resulted in a ruling made by the recent 223rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

We are grateful this ruling On Clarifying the Position of the Presbyterian Church (USA) Regarding Appropriate Boundaries of Religious Liberty was adopted by the 223rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) on June 23, 3018 in St. Louis, Missouri.

On Clarifying the Position of the Presbyterian Church (USA) Regarding Appropriate Boundaries of Religious Liberty


Presbyterian leaders across the US declared that the “misuse of “religious liberty” is costing lives and depriving individuals of basic human rights. The federal government and state legislatures are considering and passing legislation, and adopting administrative rules and regulations, under the guise of religious freedom, that in reality are nothing more (or less) than a targeted attempt to promote a singular religious viewpoint that does not believe LGBTQ individuals are entitled to the full scope of human rights to employment, healthcare, and parenting rights.”

This ruling calls for “all Presbyterians to distinguish between our historical understanding of our religious freedom to practice the essential tenets of our faith, and the misuse of the term religious freedom as a justification for discrimination.” May all persons of faith and good will take a closer look at this historic understanding and intention of religious liberty and not allow this historic principle to be used as a weapon to discriminate or hinder the protection of human rights. Together we can build a world that is free and equal.

Photograph: David Mullins and Charlie Craig, the couple at the center of the Supreme Court’s Masterpiece Cakeshop case.

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There is a dangerous wave of religious liberty being used to sanction or justify discrimination across the United States and around the world. Most of this discrimination is against LGBTQ people and women with regard to health and reproductive rights. Claims of religious liberty to discriminate are a threat to the human dignity for all persons and a threat to the protection of human rights.

It is essential that people of faith recognize the human dignity of all persons and uphold the human rights of all persons and their families irrespective of their personal religious beliefs. Moreover, one would hope that religious beliefs that recognize the sacred creation and worth of all persons regardless of human differences would be the distinctive characteristics of their faith and actions.

We are grateful that the 223rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) adopted this ruling, A Resolution on Religious Freedom Without Discrimination on June 23, 2018 in St. Louis, Missouri. This resolution was brought to the assembly by the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

A Resolution on Religious Freedom Without Discrimination

The Christian theological basis for this ruling included the “fundamental principle of universal human dignity rests on the biblical foundation that humankind is created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). From this imago Dei, we conclude that no form of discrimination is defensible on religious grounds. There can be no religious freedom without equal respect for the dignity of all persons, a dignity that is denied when services are denied. When claims of “religious freedom” become public efforts to exclude and discriminate, we are called to speak up for justice and stand with the oppressed.”

This ruling acknowledges that “Presbyterians have historically valued religious liberty and continue to support the freedom to act according to one’s religious beliefs. However, in cases involving the refusal of goods and services, false claims of “religious freedom” cause direct harm to those who are denied access. Legislating such claims as cases of protected religious freedom would undermine years of progress in state and federal civil rights and anti-discrimination law. The key distinction lies in whose choice is being limited or protected.”

So, let all of us recognize the sacred creation and human dignity of all persons by refusing to use religion to discriminate or hinder another’s human rights. We are all children of God and one human family.

Photograph: LGBTQ rights activists gather outside the Supreme Court before the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case is heard, December 5.

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Dr. Yvette Abrahams lives close to the earth, on an organic farm outside of Cape Town, South Africa and she cares deeply about the earth. As a LGBTI activist and an advocate for gender equality, climate change is her current ethical interest.

In nature, Abrahams reminds us that over 450 animal species exhibit homosexual behavior while only one is known to exhibit homophobia—the human species. In her article “Thank You for Making Me Stronger: Sexuality, Gender and Environmental Spirituality,” she locates species diversity in a pan-Africanist discourse which argues that the true cultural import is homophobia.

Thank You For Making Me Strong: Sexuality, Gender and Environmental Spirituality

We are grateful to share this new article by Abrahams from the special issue “Sexuality in Africa” of the Journal of Theology for Southern Africa at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. This special issues was published in July, 2016 and had its world premiere at the 21st International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa.

Photo of Dr. Yvette Abrahams from FINDING AFRICA Interdisciplinary Postcolonial African Studies.

Banner photo features view of Table Mountain. There are 9,000 fynbos species found in the Cape and 2,000 types on Table Mountain alone – more plant species than in the entire United Kingdom.

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Few persons are as passionately committed to the human dignity, equality and human rights of sexual and gender minorities in Africa than Rev. Kapya Kaoma. As a Visiting Research at Boston University’s Center for Global Christianity in Mission and an Adjunct Professor at St. John’s University in Zambia, Rev. Kaoma’s research and writing peel away the layers of colonialism, the influence of missionaries, imperialism and globalization to discover the indigenous expressions of gender and sexuality in Africa.

We are grateful to share this new article by Kaoma from the special issue “Sexuality in Africa” of the Journal of Theology for Southern Africa, the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. This special issue was published in July, 2016 and had its world premiere at the 21st International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa.

Unmasking the Colonial Silence: Sexuality in Africa in the Post­ Colonial Context

Kaoma’s article explores the silence associated with sexuality in Africa. Aside from examining the false premise that homosexuality is un-African and un-Christian, this article argues that sexuality in Africa was not only socially controlled, but also carried socio-ethical and sacred overtones. Against the belief that sexuality in Africa exists in silence, the article contends that in the traditional culture, sexuality was highly celebrated until missionaries attached shame to it—thus introducing the silence which is now defended as the default African position on human sexuality. The article concludes with some ethical considerations on sexuality in Africa.

Kaoma address critical questions of the day with regard to sexuality and gender in Africa today including lineage perpetuation, procreation, childlessness, intersex and the existence of African sexualities in the midst of globalized terminology about sexuality and gender. This article is posted on the Sexuality in Africa website. Posting of articles from the special issue “Sexuality in Africa” is done periodically. We commend Rev. Kaoma’s article to you, your education and your activism.

Photo: Arrest of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga in 2010 for having a same-sex wedding ceremony in Malawi.

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