Activity 8


What Can We Do?


In this activity, students read an Urgent Action information sheet from Amnesty Interational and a petition about human rights abuses against sexual minorities outside the USA. This activity helps students understand how to write on behalf of prisoners of conscience or against human rights abuses. The activity concludes with students writing a letter on a currently active Amnesty International case.


  • To understand the oppression faced by gays and lesbians in other parts of the world
  • To develop and implement appropriate strategies for addressing human rights abuses in the world

Age Level: High school to adult

Time: About 45 minutes


Subject Areas: Social studies, English

* To obtain a current case, look at the Amnesty International USA OUTfront Website at or the Urgent Action Office, specifying a LGBT case, at email: Tel: (303) 440-0913.

Part 1: How to take effective action

Distribute copies of Handout 1: Romanian Urgent Action Case to students. They can read this in class or as homework in preparation for this class.

Ask the following questions:

  • Why would the Romanian government care about a letter from an Amnesty International member in the U.S.?
  • What would make a letter effective?

Explain that prompt, brief, and courteous letters are most appropriate. Distribute Handout 2: Sample Letter on the Romanian case. Ask students to highlight words or phrases that illustrate courtesy. Discuss why it is important to maintain a polite tone even if we are angry at human rights abuses.

  • How might the Romanian government act if this letter were not courteous and respectful?
  • What might be the consequences for the prisoner of conscience?

Handout 3: Gay Romanians Have a Long Way to Go describes the individuals and the social context involved in this case. You may want to assign it to students to give additional background.

Part 2: Taking action now¤Letter writing

Ask students to read Handout 4: Current Urgent Action Case, obtained from the OUTfront Program or Urgent Action Network of Amnesty International USA. (See footnote on page 71.) Using the Romanian letter as a model, students should write a brief and courteous letter to the officials listed in the Urgent Action.

After students have completed their letters, ask them to work in pairs to edit them. The pairs should take responsibility for editing the letters to make them polished enough for sending to a head of state. To facilitate peer editing, each student should fill out a copy of Handout 5: Editor's Feedback Form. Students should return the original letter and the form to their partners, answering any questions the partners might have about comments or suggestions.

You may also wish to review the draft letters before students write their final drafts, using the editor's feedback form or writing your comments directly on the students'drafts.

Students should write a final draft of their letters incorporating their partners'editing comments.

A note about sending the letters

Encourage students to send their letters by post or email. Explain that in most cases, students should not expect a response to their letter, even if they requested one. The power of Urgent Action letters comes in numbers. When thousands of people write on behalf of others' human rights, governments listen.

Some school boards and principals are concerned about students mailing letters to foreign officials. For most students, there are absolutely no repercussions to exercising their right of free expression to officials in other countries. Students who are citizens of these other countries or who have relatives there may not want to send their letters in order to protect their safety and that of family members. Letters should be sent only with the consent of the students who wrote them. For students who are not sending their letters, stress the value of this activity as an exercise in learning how to write a formal letter using careful language and persuasive supporting evidence.

Part 3: Taking action now Petitioning

Ask students to read Handout 6: Petition Form to the United States Secretary of State.

  • Why would the Secretary of State care about a petition about human rights abuses in Uganda against gays and lesbians?
  • What would make a petition effective?
  • What language in this petition is effective in conveying a courteous tone?
  • What language in this petition is effective in conveying what the petitioners want to see happen?

As a class, using the language from the letters to El Salvador, write a petition to the president of El Salvador. Ask for a volunteer to write a final copy of the petition on the computer and print it with lines where others can sign.

As a whole class, brainstorm how to get signatures on the petition. Distribute copies of the petition to students who are interested in collecting signatures. Signed petitions should be sent as a packet.

Updates on Urgent Actions

To find out if the situation on this Urgent Action has changed or to learn more about the most recent Urgent Action cases, visit the Urgent Action website at For specific information about Urgent Action cases related to sexual orientation, go to: The website of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission also posts information on how to take action against current abuses of sexual minorities' human rights. Their address is


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