NEW YORK – This week close to a hundred LGBT activists, members of the LGBT media and a group of progressive, liberal faith leaders and secular officials will gather in New York City to address LGBT rights on a global scale.
Dubbed “Compass to Compassion – discovering a common way to LGBT global equality,” the two day conference will be the third meeting of its kind.
The event will be held at the Union Theological Seminary in the Upper West Side, an organization that is affiliated with Columbia University.
Ken Williams (shown at left, top), Editor in Chief of San Diego Gay & Lesbian News , was personally invited to take part in this year’s meeting, by internationally known Rev. Canon Albert Ogle, of St. Paul’s Cathedral, located at 2728 Sixth Ave. in San Diego. Ogle established St. Paul's Foundation for International Reconciliation, to further engage with a global coalition of human rights, faith and health care organizations to raise awareness about the damage caused by the criminalization of homosexuality in 76 countries.
Ogle (seen at left, middle) asked Williams to participate in "Compass to Compassion" because since taking the helm at SDGLN in Feb of 2010, Williams has developed a reputation for shining light on LGBT issues of a global nature. As a result of his diligence, 20% of SDGLN’s current readership is outside of the United States.
"It is an honor to participate in this very important gathering of global leaders," Williams said. "The goal is to find new ways to amplify their voice in a world where anti-gay religious leaders are exporting homophobia to Africa and all parts of the globe."
In light of the increasingly hostile events of the last year, Uganda and its "Kill the Gays" legislation is a main focus of the conference.
"[That legislation] has spurred international condemnation because that tiny African nation is the 'line in the sand' on whether gay rights will succeed on a global scale," Williams continued.
As well as being a table facilitator throughout the event, Williams is also participating on a media panel on the second day, along with Ross Murray, Director of Religion, Faith & Values at GLAAD, Andre Banks of All Out, and Susan Reed, Director of Strategy and Innovation at Auburn Media.
The panel will be conducted in front of all attendees and will discuss how LGBT media can be used to further awareness to these important issues and to continue getting the word out regarding LGBT discrimination and anti-gay travesties around the world.
"It is a great honor to have one of our own serve on such a prestigious panel. Under Ken Williams' direction, SDGLN has become a model for LGBT news media across the globe," said Johnathan Hale, publisher of SDGLN.
On Friday, GLAAD issued its own statement via blog about this week's event.
Compass to Compassion brings faith and secular leadership together to understand more clearly the reach of powerful fundamentalist networks around the globe and their effects on LGBT people globally. Using the case of Uganda as a starting point, discussion will focus on how attempts to further criminalize LGBT people globally will profoundly shape the future of theology and foreign policy in the United States. The featured guest will be Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, former Anglican bishop of Uganda, and vocal opponent to criminalization for LGBT people.
Uganda has been the most well-known “experiment” in recent so-called “ex-gay” politics. Emerging LGBT leadership in 76 countries where being gay is a criminal offense need partnerships with US and European-based LGBT and human rights organizations. The consultation will mobilize grass roots concerns with policy and strategic direction for everyone concerned about LGBT equality everywhere. Compass to Compassion will create the coalition to bring relationships, stories and technical resources needed to make global equality a reality within our lifetime.
The consultation will feature several keynote speakers, including Jeff Sharlet, the nationally best-selling author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. His most recent book is Sweet Heaven When I Die.
In 2000, Sharlet teamed up with novelist Peter Manseau to create KillingTheBuddha.com, which has since become an award-winning online literary magazine about religion and spirituality. From 2003 to 2009, Sharlet was a research scholar at New York University’s Center for Religion and Media. He’s been a frequent guest on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show and NPR’s "Fresh Air" and has appeared on HBO’s Bill Maher Show, Comedy Central’s Daily Show, NBC Nightly News, CNN, NPR, BBC, and other media venues.
The Family (also known as The Fellowship), is a secretive group of U.S. religious and politicial leaders, many who live in a "fellowship house" on C. Street in Washington, D.C., who put on the annual National Prayer Breakfast and participate in other "fundamental elitist" activities. Within a year of Sharet's book, it was uncovered that The Fellowship was involved in the "Kill the Gays" bill in Uganda.
"I can't wait to me [Sharlet]," Williams said. "His keynote speech will be a great kick-off."
Day one of the consultation will focus on both Uganda and "dominionism" -- a relatively new and controversial term that also deals with religious extremism. It refers to politicians and their supporters who attempt to get people elected who believe in their views, with the goal of creating a non-secular United States.
Day two will first focus on decriminalizing homosexuality across the globe. According to Williams, many of the spiritual leaders in attendance believe that this is key to solving the world's health care crises, as an anti-gay world climate perpetuates them. If it were decriminalized, healthcare and medicine would be available to all, without discrimination. The second day will wrap up with media and communications panels and speakers.
Attendees registered run the gamut, but include distinguished guests from Columbia University, Harvard, Purdue, the Episcopal Church, the RFK Center, Human Rights First!, and Integrity USA, among others.
One registered attendee is raising a few eyebrows, as he will be representing The Institute on Religion and Democracy, known as IRG. Consultation organizers are not sure whether or not this group, -- normally affiliated with the far-right -- comes in peace, wishes to protest, or merely plans to gain a better understanding of what Compass to Compassion hopes to accomplish, but all are welcome.
Registration for the two day event is free, but required. To learn more about the consultation, its mission and partnerships, or to register for this week's two day event, visit the Compass to Compassion website.
The impressive list of progressive spiritual officials and other equality leaders scheduled to speak, includes the following:
- Dr. Serene Jones, President Union Theological Seminary
- Rev. Canon Albert Ogle, St Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation
- Bruce Knotts, Universalist Unitarian Legislative Ministry at the UN
- Jeff Sharlet, journalist and author
- Rev. Dr. James Forbes, Founder and President, the Healing Nations Foundation and Board member for Union Theological Seminary
- Rt. Rev. Christopher Senyonjo, Executive Director and Founder, St. Paul’s Reconciliation and Equality Centre, Kampala
- Rev. Mark Kiyimba Founding Minister of the Kampala Central Unitarian Church
- Rev. Canon Petero Sabune, Global Partnerships Officer for Africa, Episcopal Presidiing Bishop’s Office
- Val Kalende, Ugandan activist and postgraduate student at Harvard Divinity School
- Dr. Scott Long, visiting Fellow, Human Rights Program, Harvard Law School
- Rev. Harry Knox, HRC religious Council and Integrity USA
- Rev. Kelby Harrison, Union Theological Seminary
- Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma, Project Director, Political Research Associates
- Rev. Fr. MacDonald Sembereka Regional Coordinator- Southern Africa -INERELA+
- Rev. Dr. Joseph Palacios, Director, Catholics for Equality Foundation and Adjunct Professor in Liberal Studies and Latin American Studies Programs, Georgetown University.
- Jessica Stern, Director of Programs, International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.
- Julie Dorf, Senior Advisor, Council for Global Equality.
- Rev. Cindi Love, Executive Director of Soulforce.
- Pastor Joseph Tolton, Pastor Rehoboth Church and Global Justice Institute.
- Dr. Tim McCarthy, Carr Center , Harvard.
- Dan Baer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
- Rev. Pat Bumgardner, Metropolitan Community Church, New York and Global Justice Institute.
- Andrea Shorter, Equality California
- Dr. Tim McCarthy, Director, Sexuality, Gender, and Human Rights Program Carr Center for Human Rights Policy Harvard Kennedy School
Bishop Christopher recently launched a foundation to support the "at risk" communities of those 76 countries where homosexuality is still a crime, to offer HIV prevention and educations programs.
Here is a video where he shares what we can all do to further global equality:
Photos: Top, left: Ken Williams, Editor in Chief of San Diego Gay & Lesbian News; Middle: Rev. Canon Albert Ogle, of St. Paul's Cathedral; Bottom: Bishop Christopher Senyonjo.