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RGOD2: Women of Faith. Women of Doubt

As a contribution to the important global reflective process of the Commission on the Status of Women meeting at the United Nations from March 9-20th 2015, the Riverside Coalition is inviting four women leaders from very different backgrounds and experience to share their positions on why two separate movements, fighting against gender and LGBT inequality, need to work more closely together to achieve their missions.

Two movements and the same homophobia rooted in sexism

Composed of several major ecumenical and faith traditions, the Riverside Coalition is seeking to build deeper dialogue on the intersection of health, education and business development with gender and LGBT equality. Both movements have been challenged in recent years with a backlash from religious conservative organizations and denominations/ International progress on the alleviation of extreme poverty cannot go forward without a clearly articulated counter-narrative that integrates faith values with the human rights agenda.

More recently, moves to redefine the family and “traditional values” at the United Nations have caused more polarization on previously agreed strategies to give more access to women to reproductive rights and remove constitutional and legal barriers in 80 countries which perpetuate stigma and discrimination against LGBT people and women and girls.

Without some agreement around values and outcomes, these legal and cultural barriers, often supported by religious understanding of gender and sexual roles and beliefs, will continue to be a stumbling block to progress on achieving many of the outcomes in the spirit of the Millennium Development Goals and the ability to include important issues in the development of their successors, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).

Why this new dialogue is important

The upcoming next meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women will be focusing on these two major issues as 3,000 women from all over the world update the global scorecard on how the world is treating women since the historic meeting in Beijing 20 years ago. It will be important to build new networks and help to influence decisions that are based in empirical data and strategic collaborative agreements rather than on more narrowly defined religious interpretation of law, scripture and its impact on traditional gender roles.

The Riverside Coalition is sensitive to the various perspectives emerging in the Global South and has invited four expert witnesses to build a case for more collaboration between people of goodwill and faith traditions and to highlight models where LGBT and gender equality can help all sections of the community.

Lead organization’s experience

Lead by the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation where over the past five years, we have developed conferences and dialogues at Union Seminary in New York (2012) for secular and religious organizations working in LGBT global rights; at the World Bank (2013 and 2014) where our initial reconciliation work is leading to an important question concerning the need for LGBT and Gender safeguards for all Bank-funded projects, and more recently at the African Sexual and Reproductive Rights Conference in Cameroon where explicit models of collaboration for improved economic and health programs were put in juxtaposition with religious-based anti-gender and LGBT rights issues and the effects on development in general.

The Riverside Church has a long history of gender and LGBT equality as well as within the broader perspective or social justice ministries in the city of New York, nationally and internationally. The church funds $150,000 worth of international programs every year and has been actively involved in community policing issues, just wages, and the negative effects of social inequality.

Led by its first woman Senior Pastor, Rev. Dr. Amy Butler, the congregation is committed to reconciliation and bringing together key advocates and informants to help the faith community improve its understanding of key contemporary issues and develop common strategies for the alleviation of human poverty, illness and oppression.

The Program

The Riverside Coalition will be participating in the NGO Forum on March 8 and provide additional resources needed for progressive faith leaders to share their faith and expertise to the wider CSW network.

On Monday, March 9, the Riverside Coalition will host a panel discussion at the Riverside Church entitled Women of Faith, Women of Doubt. The four panelists will be sharing insights into their work on building support and collaboration between LGBT and gender equality issues in four different contexts and will open up the panel presentations to the CSW delegation and public at large. The four panelists are:

Maxensia Nakibuuka is a community activist living with HIV from Kampala Uganda. She has served as a local political leader and is Chair of the Council of the Laity in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kampala. In 2012, she was one of 500 civil society representatives at the UN to discuss the future global AIDS plan and has spoken about the effects of criminalization of people with HIV and LGBT and other vulnerable and populations. She has spoken on panels at CSW about the importance of community health home-based care for women and at the World Bank on the need for collaboration at the grass roots level for all women – transgender, bisexual and lesbian and straight women. She is developing an important economic model involving a gay/straight alliance in Kampala. In 2014, the Catholic Archbishop invited her to head the Archdiocesan HIV programs and she will be presenting both the positive effects of religious support for health and some of the negative effects of religious discrimination.

Maximillian Ngo Mbe is Executive Director of REDHAC ( Central Africa Human Rights Defenders Network) which is the only human rights defender organizations serving nine Central African Countries in Francophone Africa. Her work has created difficult situations for her family, who, because of death threats, have had to be educated in Europe for their safety. She represents one of the few human rights organizations in Francophone Africa to build trust and connections between the straight community and LGBT community, particularly in Cameroon, where it remains illegal to be gay. There are only two attorneys out of 2,000 in Cameroon willing to represent the LGBT community who find themselves in prison or become involved in extortion by the criminal justice system.

Angeline Cecelia Jackson is Executive Director of Quality of Citizenship, Jamaica and remains one of about five out and visible lesbians in the whole of Jamaica. She has spoken at the World Bank about issues affecting women and LBT women in particular –the focus of her organization. She has a strong religious background but the current attitudes of religious leaders in Jamaica has made it very difficult for her to support any particular religious tradition or denomination. She has attended meetings at the US State Department and White House and has recently completed a two month capacity building training program for young LGBT leaders supported by the St Paul’s Foundation, Metropolitan Church, Los Angeles and the Los Angeles LGBT Center, one of the largest human services organizations in the world serving the LGBT community.

Dr. S. N. Nyeck is Assistant Professor at Clarkson University, Potsdam New York. She had to seek political asylum in the USA following a legal battle in Cameroon where she was publically outed as a lesbian and subsequently had to flee for her safety. Some of the earliest formulations of LGBT identity and news from Cameroon on the underground LGBT movement came from Sybille’s writings and experience.

Dr. Nyeck is a graduate of Swarthmore College and holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of California Los Angeles. She is interested in comparative analysis of government contracts with particular focus is on theorizing and modeling the intersection of law, politics, and human agency in the public sector. Dr. Nyeck is the founder of Africa’s Public Procurement and Entrepreneurship Research Initiative (www.apperi.org) and the co-editor of Sexual Diversity in Africa: Theory, Politics, and Citizenship (McGill-Queen’s University Press 2013). She received the Ruskin Prize and many awards for highest academic achievements including the title of a Distinguished Alumna of the City University of New York, The Pat Hussain Justice Award, and The Edward Said /Audre Lorde Scholar Activism Award.

Other areas of interest are: Early American history, American political development, Africa, comparative institutional development, international regulatory institutions, law and culture, public administration reform, entrepreneurship in the public Sector, public-private partnerships, political theory (gender, sexuality, and politics), politics and literature, contentious politics.

The panel will be moderated by a leading expert in gender, development and faith issues. Several New York Schools will be invited to engage students to learn more about the UN, CSW and the issues affecting women and LGBT people globally. A reception honoring our distinguished guests will follow the presentation.

A second smaller panel presentation will be made on Monday, March 16, place and time TBD.

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RGOD2 looks at faith and religion from an LGBT point of view and is written by the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle, Vicar of St. Peter’s, Lithgow in Millbrook, New York. Ogle is known around the world for his work in support of LGBT rights and HIV-prevention efforts. He is president of San Diego-based St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation. Donations to the foundation can be made by clicking HERE.