SOULFORCE MEDIA ALERT: February 16, 2006
For Immediate Release
Contact: Jacob Reitan, 952-212-8311, email@example.com
Haven Herrin, 469-867-5725, firstname.lastname@example.org
Robyn Murphy, 612-965-0838, email@example.com
(Lynchburg, VA) The first ever Soulforce Equality Ride is set to begin in early March. During a 51-day bus tour, thirty-five young adults will confront nineteen religious colleges and military academies that ban the enrollment of lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender students. The main reason history is taught in any school is to learn from past mistakes and to avoid repeating them. But by practicing religion based discrimination, these institutions of higher learning are repeating past mistakes.
"For centuries the Bible has been used to exclude and condemn. People of color, women, and people of other faiths have all been victims of Biblical misuse. Today is it gay and lesbian people who are the victims — the other" said Jacob Reitan, Founder and Co-Director of the Soulforce Equality Ride. "We challenge the schools to take ownership of the damage caused by their policies."
There are nearly 200 schools that ban the enrollment of openly LGBT persons in the United States and some, like Colorado Christian University, also exclude straight allies. Students on these campuses are already responding to the Soulforce Equality Ride with excitement and gratitude:
"I don’t think that most of the Wheaton community has any idea how unsafe and unwelcome GLBT people feel here." -a closeted student at Wheaton College, IL
"They all say I am going to hell…I can’t help how I feel inside, but I have to hide it. Thanks for trying to let people know that we are just like them and we have a right to be on the same campus. God created us and loves us all!" -a closeted student at Lee University, TN
It is encouraging that many schools on this journey are finding common ground with the riders. President George Brushaber of Bethel University in St. Paul, MN writes, "We are committed to working with you on the details of your visit to Bethel to make it a good learning opportunity for our students."
Ensuring successful college visits required the Soulforce Equality Ride to begin dialogue and planning over a year ago. The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, headed by President Bob Andringa, represents most of the schools on the route. Andringa himself approached Reitan and Rev. Dr. Mel White, President of Soulforce, to facilitate communication between the activists and the schools. "We share some hopes even though neither I nor our presidents are going to embrace some of your ultimate goals," Andringa said. "But we can agree that the ride should advance education, civil dialogue, learning to respect differences, and making safe places for students exploring their own sexual identities."
Conversely, Liberty University has promised to arrest the riders upon their arrival, and this school is not alone in its self-isolating tactics. Reverend Jerry Falwell, Liberty’s Chancellor, has stated that he would rather see his school burn to the ground than accept the goals of the Equality Ride. Jacob Reitan and Haven Herrin, Co-Directors of the Soulforce Equality Ride, maintain the legitimacy of their presence at the schools. "We understand that Liberty University is a private institution. We do not dispute the school’s right to disagree, ban, denigrate, or arrest, but we can and do question the moral underpinnings of their choices regarding communication and discrimination. We remind Reverend Falwell that it was less than 40 years ago that he took similar stands as he denied admission to his church to people of color. Has he forgotten how he called the Civil Rights movement the Civil ‘Wrong’ movement?"
Soulforce founder and president, Reverend Dr. Mel White went on to say "It is one thing for an average parishioner to discriminate against a gay person and say it is based on their religious beliefs. That’s ignorance. But it is quite another thing for someone who has the title of Reverend and is a leader. Falwell is abusing religion now just as he did in the past. Religion should be a source of compassion and love and support for fellow human beings."
Soulforce’s purpose is freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance. For more information go to www.equalityride.com orwww.soulforce.org.