Bruce Knotts- An LBGT Humanitarian
Bruce Knotts (he/him/his) was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia before he joined the Department of State as a U.S. diplomat. His chief areas of focus are human rights, with an emphasis on women’s rights and GLBT rights. Bruce married his soulmate, Isaac Humphrey (he/him/his), in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in August 2006.
Tell me about your husband.
Isaac is from Dallas, Texas and he works for LDJ Productions which produces major fashion shows in New York and across the country. He’s actually been in the fashion industry for the past 13 years. He’s amazing! I know any day now he’s going to have his big break. He would be here for this, but he’s actually leaving for Fashion Week in Tokyo this weekend.
How did you and Isaac meet?
We actually met online. I had dated everybody I could find in DC, frankly. None of it was working out. I had kind of given up on dating but I ended up on this website, match.com, and his photo popped up. He was soooo cute, of course, but I looked at his age and location and thought it would never go anywhere. I messaged him anyway and told him he was cute. Turns out, he loves the international scene and loved that I traveled. He messaged me back!
How did you know he was the one?
It felt different. Like when we talked on the phone for the first time. We had been emailing back and forth for a while and I know it sounds petty, but I just really needed to hear his voice. We both hate phone calls, and he was really hesitant, but we ended up talking for 4 hours that night. That trend continued. We both hated long conversations but there we were. Talking until we fell asleep nightly. They say that sex is the gay handshake, but we learned so much about each other before we finally met up!
Do you believe in soulmates?
I don’t think I've ever believed in that actually. Although, Isaac and I definitely are! We are very different and have an age difference of 25 years. I come from an affluent white family and he comes from a poor African American family. But we are very, very compatible. We love to just enjoy one another’s company and truly compliment and balance each other out. I also love how supportive we are of one another! We truly believe in the other person. He’s always proud of me and I’m always proud of him. It's perfect for us. We both have our self-doubts and inner insecurities.
Tell me about your wedding.
I married Isaac in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in August 2006. We’ve been married and in love for 11 years, together for 12. We had to go to Canada to become legally married back then. We kind of modeled our wedding after our friends Ted and Clayton. They went to Vancouver and had a three day wedding reception on the bay. We loved everything about it!
How did your families react?
It’s ironic our families kind of destroy the stereotypes. He comes from a religious African American family from the South. But they see that he’s the happiest he’s ever been and is in a healthy thriving relationship. They were a little reluctant at first, but they accept us. They love him and see how happy we are and they see our love and know it’s real. My family though, they have entirely rallied against our relationship. Everyone alienated me. They want nothing to do with us.
Have you experienced discrimination elsewhere?
I retired early from the embassy in Bush’s administration. I was tired of encountering homophobia. I was well thought of and everyone predicted that I would become a foreign ambassador; I had the experience, the qualifications, and the recommendations. But it was clear that it wouldn’t happen under that administration. The one thing that held me back from becoming an ambassador was that I was gay. They refused to let a gay man rise to that kind of honor. I served for 26 years in government service and 3 years in the Peace Corps. Now I work for the UUA at the UN and I get to advocate for LBGT rights from a religious institution!
How have you worked for LGBT rights?
One of my first experiences working for the UUA-UN was planning for the DPPI conference in Paris in 2008. They were planning a conference about human rights. They included everyone but the LBGT community. Each week I would raise my hand and ask, “What about LBGT rights?” Eventually it caught on. One more conservative member, Sister Joan, finally beat me to the punch one meeting and asked, “What about Bruce’s LBGT people?”
That was my start. We got the approval from the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and Paris. I was given a workshop at the conference tasked with addressing LBGT rights as human rights. It was the UN’s first LBGT round table discussion and I was on the panel. It was the first time that LBGT was mentioned at one of these conferences. We drafted a resolution based off of work place discrimination on sexual orientation and identity. The draft was spear headed by the EU. Everyone voted for it, with the exception of the US and the Caribbean. By 2009 the Human Rights Council resolution included a no discrimination clause about sexual orientation and sexual identity.
Talk to me about your Interfaith work
At the same time that we were pushing for LBGT rights as human rights, there was a lot of religious push back. So we asked for a faith based response in favor for LBGT rights. We held conferences in 2009 and 2010 and brought together 100 faith voices. We found traditions that held affirming wings among Muslims, Buddhists, and Christians. Every faith tradition was represented even if some of the wings were unauthorized. We called ourselves “A Compass for Compassion.” We were an interfaith group that said, “No” to the religious conservatives that taught homophobia. We helped religious bodies see that they could affirm the LBGT community and include us.
Tell me about your religious journey.
I was raised in the Church of Christ. My mother always wanted me to become a minster. So I went to school to study ministry. It was then, in my sophomore or junior year, that I started to come to terms with my sexuality.
I was 19 years old, praying to God that I wouldn’t die a virgin, when I started to process through my orientation. The first person I slept with was a black man. He was wonderful. Just as nice as could be. Suddenly, I knew it was all over. I couldn’t be a Church of Christ minister. They wouldn’t ordain me! Today, in 2017, I still couldn’t. They still do not affirm.
But now I represent a progressive faith body at the Ecumenical office at the United Nations!
What issues do you think the LBGT community is working on today?
In a lot of states, you can get fired for simply being gay. Yeah, we have the right to get legally married, but it ends there. And across the world its infinitely worse. The fight must continue. People are losing their lives world-wide for their gender identity or sexual orientation. The fight must continue until every LBGT individual across the world is safe. It’s not time to disband and relax. We need to rally up and stay vigilant.
I think it’s also important to name that any oppression to any group is an affront to the safety of every group. It’s not enough for me that LBGT individuals are free to live their lives without fear. My husband is black. Our movement is tied to other movements. We need to make sure that every person of color, every woman, every indigenous person is free. Then we can go the bar and have a drink!
What current political challenges do you think we’re up against?
Last year the United Nations was voting on same sex partner benefits. While the UN did offer partner benefits, it was only applicable to employees that lived in countries that affirmed same sex marriage. The vote was really close. While Russia tried to vote it down, the USA was the biggest advocate for partner benefits. They fought to ensure that every employee of the UN, regardless of whatever country they come from, received partner benefits. Now, however, I imagine that the USA would not have led that charge. Under our current administration, the LBGT community (among others) are under attack.