Strength for the Fight Ahead

January 20 marks the one-year anniversary of President Trump’s inauguration. For human rights advocates, the past 365 days have been marked by daily efforts to resist actions from our nation’s highest office that propagate racism, hate, fear, ignorance, and greed. Right now, we are fighting for a clean Dream Act even as dysfunction in Washington holds up these efforts.

However, reflecting on the past year, and the work of our partners and staff in action, gives us hope—this work tells a story that is much more about courage and perseverance than one of despair.

Our shared vision of a world free from oppression provides fuel in the fight to advance human rights. Working together, with our partners and allies, we have activated strategies that confront unjust power structures and challenge oppressive policies.

Here are just a few moments from the past year that motivate us for the work that lies ahead.

This year, sustained by the passion of our community and supporters, we will continue to focus on strategies for protecting families fleeing violence in Central America, fighting for an end to ethnic cleansing in Burma, and responding to the front lines of climate change and ready to respond to natural disasters.

Celebrating Pride: Reflecting on SOGI Rights in Southern Africa

Every June we celebrate Pride, taking a moment to recognize, and recommit ourselves to, the ongoing struggles of LGBTQI communities around the world. In the spirit of Pride, I was fortunate to attend UHAI-EASHRI’s “Changing Faces, Changing Spaces” (CFCS) conference in Kenya, and to reflect on the importance of the work of our Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) program partners in Southern Africa.

CFCS provides a unique space in which activists from across Africa can come together to share their work, stories, and strategies about how they are supporting their respective communities. With donors in the room, the activists are empowered to share their perspectives and priorities and to drive a spirited conversation about how to advance the rights of LGBTQI communities across the continent.

Pride Flag waving in the sunlight

Resisting the Marginalization of LGBTQI Identities

One of the discussions that surfaced time and time again was how to resist policies and practices that are designed to erase or marginalize the identities and histories of LGBTQI communities, in response to efforts to frame homosexuality as “un-African” or “un-religious.” For many participants, there was no tension in being LGBTQI and African or LGBTQI and religious. In fact, as several pointed out, many African languages do not address gender as a binary and cultures across the continent have historically been accepting of LGBTQI communities. With this in mind, it is worth asking, how homosexuality became framed as “un-African” or “un-religious”?

As many participants noted, citing research by Kapya Kaoma, a Zambian researcher and Anglican Priest, the U.S. religious right has provided significant funding on the continent to promote homophobia. They have worked to frame homosexuality as a Western concept that has been imposed on Africa, that is “un-Christian” and “un-African.” This agenda has been reinforced through relationships with conservative religious leaders across the continent.

Asserting and Reclaiming Identity

Given the promotion of homophobia across Africa by the U.S. religious right and the ways in which religion is being used to marginalize and erase the contributions and histories of LGBTQI communities, much attention was given to the role of faith communities in asserting and affirming LGBTQI identities and narratives. UUSC’s SOGI rights partners have been engaging in such efforts in Southern Africa, working with allies in faith spaces to promote a narrative and create safe spaces that promote the rights of LGBTQI communities.

While the strategy is one of winning hearts and minds is a long-term change, it is necessary to challenge the dominant and incorrect narrative that homosexuality is “un-African” or “un-religious.” Just as no one lives single issue lives, CFCS participants made it clear that no one person has only one single identity. Rather, everyone possesses a wide array of identities that comprise who they are, such as being LGBTQI and African, or LGBTQI and religious.

In this regard, UUSC’s partners Inclusive and Affirming Ministries, Al-Fitrah Foundation (formerly The Inner Circle), and TULINAM have been doing critical work to collaborate with progressive faith allies to promote respect for the rights of LGBTQI communities in Southern Africa. Through collaboration with progressive faith allies, UUSC’s partners are actively challenging the rhetoric of U.S.-based religious conservatives and creating a space for LGBTQI individuals to assert and reclaim their identities. After spending several days with the activists carrying working on the ground to support the rights of LGBTQI communities, I cannot help but feel that the work of UUSC’s partners is as relevant and important today as it ever has been.

Continuing the Struggle

In the true spirit of CFCS, activists working to promote LGBTQI rights have come together to connect and to reclaim their space. By centering their voices, struggles, and priorities at this conference, it was possible to deeply reflect on the way forward. As June comes to a close, it is important to continue this act of deep self-reflection on the contributions of LGBTQI communities in Africa and around the world–not just for one month, but all year long. This way, we are better equipped to support their struggle as allies and partners, moving forward together.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading in human rights and social justice! This week’s wrap-up includes select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss: Highlights from the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia; updates on family detention; and the latest on climate-forced displacement. 

‘A miracle happened’: 300 rally for LGBT rights in St. Petersburg, Colin Stewart, Erasing 76 Crimes, May 18, 2017

May 17 marked the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (#IDAHOT or #IDAHOBIT). People all across the world celebrated by  wearing colorful clothes that signify the colors of the rainbow, going to rallies, and being vocal online about their support for and solidarity with the LGBTQI community

There were even celebrations in countries with extremely anti-LGBTQI laws. Colin Stewart shares one story about a rally in Russia, where law enforcement stops pro-LGBTQ protests and detains participants. But this year 300 took to the streets in St. Petersburg, and due to their persistence and some fortuitous timing, received police protection. Organizers of the protest shared their thoughts, “Our strategy is ‘constant dripping wears away a stone,’ and today a little chip of that stone fell off.” This is a marked change from the typical response to LGBTQI rallies and protests in Russia and is a testament to how community organizing and persistence can yield surprisingly happy results.

Immigrants in Detention Centers Are Often Hundreds of Miles From Legal Help, Patrick G. Lee, ProPublica, May 16, 2017

It’s almost impossible for immigrants to win their case to stay in the United States if they don’t have an attorney, no matter how strong their case. There are multiple system-level obstacles that immigrants face as they seek U.S. citizenship, and those barriers can be insurmountable if they are being held in detention centers.

In this article, Patrick Lee provides background and context to the reality of this situation. Because detained immigrants lack the right to an appointed attorney, they must either pay for a lawyer or find one who will take on their case pro bono. However, many lawyers won’t take these cases and many who do lack the necessary time and resources to take on more than a handful of clients from the thousands of immigrants currently in detention centers. On top of this, detention center locations often make lawyers geographically inaccessible, something which Amy Fischer, policy director of UUSC partner RAICES, calls a purposeful move by the federal government to inhibit immigrants’ access to legal resources.

Under President Trump, ICE is ramping up its immigration control policies – arresting more immigrants and making plans for more detention centers. UUSC and its partners, like RAICES, are working hard to ensure that immigrants have the necessary legal resources and protections to plead their case and build their lives in the United States.

Mulling the possibility of a “managed retreat” from climate change, Rachel Waldholz, Alaska Public Media, April 28, 2017

Media coverage and aid are much easier to come by for communities displaced when a natural disaster hits. But refugees who are forced to leave their homes due to the slow onset of climate change are often overlooked, even though rising sea levels, erosion, and other consequences of global warming are expected to disrupt thousands of communities over the course of the next several decades.

The choice to relocate is one that must be made by individual communities, but even but even they make that decision, there is often no financial support from local and national governments or NGOs, who have been slow to recognize the severity of climate-forced displacement. Robin Bronen, executive director of the Alaska Institute for Justice (AIJ), argues that the lack of funding is different from political will, which she feels does in fact exist. “There’s this urgent need to protect populations from climate change, but we don’t have the laws in place to facilitate it,” Bronen said. “[That] means that government agencies don’t have mandates or funding to make it possible to actually implement what everybody agrees is the best long-term adaptation strategy.”

UUSC partners with AIJ and other organizations working on climate-forced displacement across the globe to support their efforts to help communities facing destruction at the hands of rising sea levels and prepare themselves for relocation.

Innovation Fellowship Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the UUSC Human Rights Innovation Fellowship?

The UUSC Human Rights Innovation Fellowship is a one-year $25,000 grant, awarded to individuals or organizations, designed bring about systemic change by creating, nurturing, or spreading an innovation in the areas of UUSC’s work. These innovations may be technological or financial products or apps, pathbreaking applied research, advances in corporate accountability, legal arguments, methods of mobilization, or methods of community outreach.

What is the theme for 2018 fellowship?

The theme for the 2018 fellowship is resisting criminalization. The fellowship should address a major challenge facing individuals and/or communities who are criminalized in the United States. Criminalization refers to policies and practices that stigmatize, scapegoat, and profile whole communities as “criminal” or “terrorist.” UUSC’s primary goals in this campaign are to advance community protection strategies and expanded sanctuary, decriminalize poverty, and advance restorative justice.

Who can apply for the fellowship?

Individuals or non-profit organizations with an innovative project that is relevant to the fellowship’s theme can apply. In addition, advocacy organizations, academic institutions, research centers, grassroots organizations, and UUSC partners may apply for the fellowship. However, UUSC partners’ proposed innovations must be separate from ongoing grants. Collaboration by applicants is encouraged.

Applications must be submitted in English.

What are the assessment criteria for the fellowship?

  1. Alignment with UUSC approach and values: The application must reflect UUSC’s values and be compatible with UUSC’s approach to environmental justice and climate action.
  2. Impact: The project must positively impact or benefit marginalized communities in terms of scale and/or scope.
  3. Competency of applicant: The individual or organization must demonstrate clarity and rigor in assessment of the social problem and theory of change of the innovation.
  4. Applicant’s track record: The applicant must have a demonstrated track record that indicates knowledge, competency, and experience in the fellowship’s thematic area.
  5. Creativity of innovation: The application will be judged by the extent to which the project is new, different, or timely.

What is the selection process?

The online application forms will be reviewed by UUSC, with input provided by UUSC supporters. After the initial review, we will conduct a face-to-face interview in person or over Skype or Zoom. The final selection will be made by UUSC.

What are the key dates and timeline of the fellowship selection process?

Applications for our 2018 Human Rights Innovation Fellowship are now closed.

Applications open: November 2017

Applications close: January 2018

Awardees announced: April 2018

Can I reach out to UUSC to inquire about the status of my application?

Unfortunately, due to time constraints, UUSC will be unable to respond to questions regarding an application’s status until April 2018 when the fellowship is awarded. Please e-mail any questions at that time to innovation @ uusc.org.

What do the fellows receive?

Fellows will receive a maximum grant of $25,000.

UUSC Human Rights Innovation Fellowship

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) invites applications for its 2018 Innovation Fellowship on the subject “Resisting Criminalization.” UUSC and the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) are engaged in a joint campaign that aims to “resist the harm created by criminalization” and to “create more safe, just, welcoming, and sustainable communities.” The UUSC Human Rights Innovation Fellowship is a one-year $25,000 grant, awarded to an individual or non-governmental organization, designed to bring about systemic change by creating, nurturing, or spreading an innovation in human rights. For this year’s theme, UUSC invites applications from individuals or organizations working on projects that seek to combat the systemic criminalization of immigrant communities, communities of color, Muslims, and LGBTQI communities in the United States – and individuals and communities at the intersections.

These innovations may be legal strategies, methods of mobilization, methods of community outreach, technological or financial products or apps, path breaking applied research, advances in corporate accountability, or other new approaches. The successful proposal will be rights-based, align with UUSC’s values and approach, positively impact and engage at-risk communities, and provide a new, different, and timely solution.

Applications for our 2018 Human Rights Innovation Fellowship are now closed.

Learn more about Love Resists, our anti-criminalization campaign with the UUA: loveresists.org.

Past winners of Human Rights Innovation Fellowship

The Lowlander Center 

The focus of the 2017 Human Rights Innovation Fellowship was climate-forced resettlement, and the winner was The Lowlander Center, a non-profit organization based in the bayous of Louisiana dedicated to finding community-based solutions for “living with an ever-changing coastline and land loss to climate change while visioning a future that builds capacity and resilience for place and people.” The fellowship was awarded to implement an adaptation tool developed for communities faced with the difficult decision to relocate in the face of climate-induced land erosion and other environmental challenges. Read more about this project.

National Domestic Workers Alliance

The focus of the 2016 Human Rights Innovation Fellowship was economic justice, and the winner was National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), in support of the launch of its “National Home Care Workers Hotline,” which serves as a resource for workers who assist the elderly and persons with disabilities and illness. The hotline provides “know your rights” information along with up-to-date tools and resources for workers education and training for self-advocacy. Read more about this project and the work NDWA is doing.

Partners for Urban Knowledge, Action and Research

The focus of the 2015 Human Rights Innovation Fellowship was the human right to water, and the winner was Partners for Urban Knowledge, Action and Research (PUKAR). The grant funded a vital water access survey in Mumbai’s Mandala slum, coordinated by PUKAR’s Youth Fellowship Program. This independent youth-driven research collective focuses on issues of urbanization anchored in community-based participatory research. (In Hindi one meaning of pukaris “a clarion call.”) The PUKAR collective encourages disenfranchised youth in Mumbai to learn through training and experience about how to conduct valid social science research, followed by support in how to use that knowledge to produce meaningful environmental change in their community. Read more about the work PUKAR is doing through the innovation fellowship!