Letter from Jacob Reitan, director of the Equality Ride, concerning the recent Soulforce student action at Liberty University

Dear Equality Ride friends,

The action at Liberty University was a great success. Over fifty students from all over the Virginia area came to take a stand at Liberty. On Sunday night we gathered at First Christian Church in Lynchburg where we had a three-hour training in nonviolence led by the Rev. Mel White. After the training many students went over to Rev. White’s home where they watched "The L Word" and spent time together in fellowship.

At 8:30 a.m. the next morning we boarded the Equality Bus and headed to Liberty University. As we arrived at Liberty, we were greeted by a great deal of police, Liberty security officials, and news crews. For just over an hour we stood vigil outside the entrance to Liberty University with our sign that proclaimed, "Why Does Liberty University Refuse Academic Freedom And Personal Safety For Their Gay And Lesbian Students?"

After the vigil we went onto the Liberty University campus for convocation at 10 a.m. Because all Liberty students are required to attend convocation, it gave the members of Soulforce a good opportunity to meet students and share our stories. Upon entering campus, we were greeted by three Liberty students who had muffins and other baked goods to offer us. The kindness these students showed us was by and large the case with most students. In the time before convocations started we met a range of students. We shared stories, laughed and explained why we had come to campus.

Sadly, in convocation the welcoming tone of the event changed. Dr. Jerry Falwell began by stating that, "Contrary to what others may think, this is not gay day at Liberty." Dr. Falwell then went into a rather lengthy tirade on how Rev. Mel White is living in sin. He ended his statements by declaring that if any Equality Rider passed out anything there was, "a good place to put it — the trash can." This statement was met with wide applause.

Following convocation, we continued our interactions with Liberty students. I had a number of good conversations about the meaning of academic freedom. I also expressed to many students why it is important for gay students to be afforded a safe space where they can go and talk about their feelings, fears, hopes, and dreams without fear of recrimination. I was surprised by how many students agreed with what I was saying — I was expecting far more moments ending with the joint resolution to "agree to disagree."

At 11:30 a.m. the group of Equality Riders went to the school cafeteria in order to eat interspersed with Liberty students. I had lunch with a young girl from Florida who was a recent transfer student to Liberty.

At 1:00 p.m. we held a press conference. We explained to assembled media that we were there to talk about the need for academic freedom and personal safety at Liberty. We presented to the media the items that we planned to deliver to Liberty as a way to ask for these changes.

First, we presented a proposal for a "safe space" program that we were going to bring to Dr. Falwell. The purpose of the program was to solicit just one professor who would put a rainbow sticker on their office door, sending a single to students that their office would be safe place for students to come talk about GLBT issues without fear of repercussions.

Second, we presented a collection of twenty free books with the latest medical, psychological, sociological, historical, biblical, and biographical information on GLBT issues that we were going to deliver to the Liberty library.

Unfortunately, after announcing that we were going to bring these materials on campus, the Liberty Police announced that we were no longer welcome. An officer announced that if we were to come back on campus after this point we would be placed under arrest. It was a sad end to a great day. While there were many students who would have been willing to engage in civil disobedience to display their concern for the sheltered policies of Liberty, we decided to go home without submitting to arrest.

We had done what we came to do. We talked to students, we shared our stories, and in a rather dramatic fashion we demonstrated to the media and the world that academic freedom and personal safety are sorely lacking at Liberty University.

Thankfully, what happened at Liberty is merely a beginning. There are over 100 religious schools and several military academies with similar bans on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender enrollment. These schools need to hear the case for Equality just as Liberty does. The action at Liberty marked the start of a much larger journey to create change.

Thanks to Liberty, equality is on the move. I hope that you will be part of the movement.

Sincerely,

Jacob Reitan
Director of the Equality Ride
www.EqualityRide.com