by Kayla Bonewell and Pam Disel
At every one of the Equality Ride’s 19 stops, two Riders were assigned to be the advance team. Pam Disel and I, both Oklahomans, were in charge of the Oklahoma Baptist University events. It was an amazing and daunting task to coordinate two days worth of activities between 33 activists and 1,649 OBU students, especially given the limitations placed on us by OBU because of our sexual orientation and message.
From the beginning it was my job to correspond with OBU’s Vice-President about our intentions and plans, and it was an awesome leap-of-faith to trust someone who you know is opposed to your presence on their campus and yet continue to be fully open and honest.
OBU would be the second school (Lee was the first) which allowed us on campus in a fashion that would allow dialogue with students. The V.P. told me that OBU’s expectations of us would be similar to that of Lee (which meant we could not deliver our presentations, but only talk with student’s one-on-one). OBU was even more restrictive in the fact that we were only allowed in their student center (as opposed to the entire campus) and that we were initially not able to pass our literature one-on-one to interested students as we had at Lee. It was very hard to accept their restrictions because it parallels the inferiority and unimportance with which the administration views us.
We decided to abide by their restrictions to honor the small step they had taken by allowing us on campus. In that one day we hoped we could show OBU our peaceful methods, our important message, and our pure intentions. The next day we would offer OBU a chance to take an even larger step — we would pass out our literature. We would leave behind printed versions of our dialogue which would remain even after our bus rolled away. It would be OBU’s choice of whether to allow us this action or to take action to silence us.
I truly believe it was due to the mutual trust and respect that OBU’s V.P. and I had for each other that we were allowed to pass out our literature on that second day. Granted, only being allowed to distribute our message in the student center as opposed to the entire campus was not what we would have preferred, but we chose to again honor this second small step as a gain. It was still an act of inequality, but I believe each step towards justice must be acknowledged and praised. Change is a process and my hope is that it will continue to grow even after we leave. On the second day we held a CommUNITY rally. It began with drumming on behalf of my home church (Church of the Open Arms) and proceeded with two speakers: Ryan Rolston and Reverend Scott Jones. Ryan is 22 years old and told her story of being expelled from OBU because her girlfriend kissed her cheek off-campus. Scott followed with his witness of being one of OBU’s most distinguished alums and also his knowledge of a friend who was expelled from school when he confirmed questions about his orientation to be used as evidence after suffering a brutal hate crime. Afterward we presented a newly-formed coalition consisting of local churches and organizations who have pledged to support OBU students suffering in closets of spiritual and physical violence because of the discriminatory policy at their school. The rally concluded by the passing out of mustard seeds. We have come and hopefully planted seeds of the Kingdom of God at OBU; it is now the responsibility and challenge of the community to water and nourish these seeds to their fruition. Before we left our last stop in my home state, we sang "we shall overcome" in unison.
by Pam Disel
I have mixed feelings about our visit to OBU. We were welcomed to campus but met with restrictions. We were told not to distribute literature on Thursday and on Friday we were told that only two of us were allowed to distribute literature. Both days, we were confined to the student center and were not allowed to speak with students outside this designated area.
To me, that says something about OBU’s definition of the word "welcome." It shows that "welcome" is as hollow as the "love" that is taught at OBU. A love that is spoken of freely but followed by, ‘"You’re a sinner and should change," is not the kind of love I show, or with which I reach to others.
So, OBU decided to make a statement that LGBT people are inferior, less than, the other, sinners and simply not equal. I feel I and the other Riders let the OBU LGBT students down when we neglected to stand up for them. We simply did not do all we could have done for them. At the end of the day, I felt we put the needs of the administration as more important or more worthy of action/inaction than the needs of the students who were counting on us to stand up for them, as they are forbidden to stand for themselves without serious consequences.
I am ashamed of all of this but am happy we spoke with OBU students, presented our truths, and perhaps shed new light on long standing ignorance for some. I am happy that Kayla and I were able to work with the Oklahoma LGBTQ community in forming a coalition to support and serve as advocates for current LGBTQ OBU students until OBU decides they are worthy of protection and equality on campus. I feel we’ve been given half a loaf our entire lives as LGBTQ individuals and that simply saying "thank you" for OBU reinforcing the idea that we deserve no more is an injustice. We do try our best to stand up for students/friends/family. You are the reasons we do what we do. Know that we truly love you with a deep, meaningful and lasting love. Thank you all for being appreciative of what we did manage to accomplish and look forward to much support in the future from your new coalition and from me when the Ride is over. Let’s get Oklahoma on the loving path to LGBTQ equality.