Summer Centered: Louise Bednarik ’19 Blends Religion and Politics at the United Nations
The political science major is interning at the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office, where she focuses on LGBTQ programming.
As an intern for the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO), a religious non-governmental organization that enjoys a close relationship with the United Nations, political science major Louise Bednarik ’18, a Unitarian Universalist herself, regularly incorporates both her theological beliefs and her coursework into her assignments.
“Unitarian Universalism is a very liberal religion with a strong social justice focus,” says Bednarik, who is also concentrating in peace, justice, and human rights. “I've always known I wanted to work in an organization that aligns with my values, and this internship sits at the intersection of political science and human rights.”
It's an opportunity that funding from the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship has made possible. At the UU-UNO, Bednarik oversees LGBTQ/SOGI—an acronym that stands for “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity”—programming. It’s a field that she has a personal stake in.
“In the fall semester of this past year, I studied abroad in Ecuador, a country where 20 years ago it was illegal to be gay and where it is a cultural norm to consider queer identities as a form of illness,” Bednarik says. “At one point, my host mom mentioned that while she was happy to host students of any religion, nationality, or race, she did not want a lesbian in her home. I identify as bisexual/pansexual, [and] this experience made me reflect about how much progress towards LGBTQ/SOGI rights still needs to be made globally. Since an important goal of the UU-UNO is to make sure that LGBTQ/SOGI issues are at the forefront of the UN agenda, my internship [allows me] to contribute to this work.”
So far, that contribution has taken the form of representing the UU-UNO at U.N. meetings, in addition to working on research posters and writing blog posts about the challenges that face LGBTQ communities around the world.
“[I even] wrote a report about LGBTQ human rights defenders for the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Moldova,” she says proudly.
In recent years, following pressure from the UU-UNO and other progressive organizations, the U.N. has begun to pay more attention to issues of gender and sexuality—and the dangers those who defy conventional labels often face. Even so, Bednarik sees a need for further internal reform, though she does give credit where it is due.
“While the U.N. has started the “Free and Equal” campaign [a global initiative to eradicate homophobia and transphobia] and begun to create offices devoted to protecting LGBTQ people from violence and discrimination, LGBTQ/SOGI issues are still not very prominent at the U.N. [on the whole],” she says. “For example, I recently spent the last week and a half attending the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, which is an annual meeting where countries share their progress and discuss the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. There were about 250 different side events on various issues and sub-topics, [but] only one specifically mentioned LGBTQ/SOGI issues in its title.”
Knowing that there is still so much work to do when it comes to the LGBTQ/SOGI cause, however, only means that Bednarik is motivated to make her efforts in service of it count more.
“In the future,” she says, “I would like to work more at the grassroots organizing or domestic policymaking levels, [which are] not so removed from the actual communities for which they advocate.”
“Summer Centered” is a series exploring Haverford students’ Center-funded summer work.