NEW YORK CITY – University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service student Ryan Ubuntu Olson, a 2008 graduate of Gonzaga University, partnered with the Unitarian Universalist-United Nations Office to identify advocacy strategies for faith-based nongovernmental organizations involving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender human rights at the United Nations.
Olson, who earned bachelor degrees in public relations and sociology at Gonzaga, served as the LGBT programs coordinator for the UU-UNO and conducted a needs assessment of faith-based NGO advocacy efforts surrounding LGBT human rights and matched those needs with resources and tools offered by LGBT community organizations. The project is part of the Clinton School’s Master of Public Service degree program.
“I am confident that the hard work that I did while working at the U.N. will be a catalyst for others to engage in more extensive research than I was able to complete in my short time there,” Olson said. “The results really are telling about where we are, and where we can potentially go.”
The assessments revealed a need to improve relationships with LGBT community partners to enhance basic understanding of LGBT human rights by faith-based NGOs operating at the U.N., Olson said. The assessment also refuted a common misperception that faith-based NGOs are not advocates for LGTB human rights, he added.
“I was pleasantly surprised to see that people of faith working in NGOs at the UN are very much willing to acknowledge that lesbians, gay, bisexuals, and transgender people from around the world should be accorded the same basic and equal human rights as everyone else in the world,” Olson said.
“We were very grateful to have Ryan Ubuntu on our team,” said Bruce Knotts, executive director of the UU-UNO. “He shed light on some very important steps for us to take in the near future and we only hope to perpetuate the fine level of work he did while he was here at the UU-UNO.”
The project made the following recommendations: integrate LGBT human rights with other human rights categories; increase education surrounding LGBT human rights with NGOs around the U.N.; increase collaborations with other faith-based NGOs; end a culture of silence surrounding discussion of LGBT human rights; achieve authoritative voice on issues of LGBT human rights; and utilize civil society to develop education and policy surrounding LGBT human rights.
Olson surveyed more than 20 faith-based NGOs with consultative status at the U.N. to determine attitudes and opinions regarding LGBT human rights. The assessment also determined various resources available to the NGOs and their capacity to advocate in support of LGBT human rights.
Olson also surveyed more than 30 LGBT community partners with resources dedicated to LGBT human rights and faith communities. The assessment identified key programs the LGBT community partners provided, trainings they offered, coalitions they were a part of and regional expertise they had worldwide. A consultation of 60 LGBT community partners was pulled together in December to address religiously based homophobia, which also informed the asset map.
Throughout the project, Olson met with several key stakeholders, including representatives of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the U.N. Development Program, the U.S. State Department, the American Foundation for AIDS Research, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and the Metropolitan Community Church.
Olson, who graduates from the Clinton School on Saturday, May 14, plans to further pursue his interests in International LGBT human rights whether through employment or continued education. “I only hope that the work I did might have a small but important impact on the lives of gender and sexual minorities all over the world in relation to their acceptance and inclusion into their local communities,” said Olson, who also serves as a communications officer for the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on May 17.
For more information, please contact Ben Beaumont, director of communications for the Clinton School of Public Service, at (501) 683-5200 or via e-mail.