‘Fish,’ ‘spurs’ and ‘zips’: Equality Riders experience military culture of Texas A&M

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: March 29, 2006
For Immediate Release
Contact: Richard Lindsay, 646-258-7193
richard@equalityride.com
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College Station, TX – Equality Riders visited one of the bastions of American military culture at Texas A & M University today. A & M has the largest ROTC program in the country outside of the service academies, and contributes more officers to the military through its program than any other school. Although students at Texas A & M who participate in "the Corps," or military school section of the university can be openly gay, those among the Corps who participate in the ROTC program must abide by the "don’t ask don’t tell" policy instituted by the U.S. military.

"One of the ways a country recognizes its citizens is to allow them the right to serve in its defense," said Jacob Reitan, Equality Ride co-director. "As long as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are unable to serve openly in the military, we are second-class citizens."

Equality Riders were met this morning by Lieutenant General (Ret.) John Van Alstyne, Commandant and Head of School of Military Sciences at Texas A & M. Commandant Van Alstyne hosted the Riders throughout the day, leading them throughout the campus and inviting them to meals with the cadets in the Corps dining hall.

"I’m pleased to see people as committed as you are to trying to change something you see wrong in our government," Van Alstyne said to the Riders. "You being here provides the cadets the opportunity to speak with people who might think differently than they do, which is an important part of their education."

Riders talked to cadets clad in khaki military school uniforms or green camouflage ROTC fatigues during lunch and dinner in the Corps dining hall. Cadets filled in the Riders on the unique military culture of the school, explaining such concepts as "fish" (freshmen members of the Corps) "zips" (senior members of the Corps) and "senior boots" (brown leather riding boots and spurs worn by seniors with their Corps uniforms). The Riders brought up the don’t ask don’t tell policy, personalizing the issue by asking cadets, "Would you serve with me?" and wearing t-shirts with the same question printed across the front. Cadets were open to the question, often considering it for several seconds before answering, but often answering in the negative.

Frequently, the conversations turned to religion, and it became apparent to many Equality Riders that religious objections to homosexuality were behind many of the cadets’ concerns about serving with openly gay soldiers.

"Duty to God and duty to country are inseparable here," said Jarrett Lucas, Equality Rider and point person for the Texas A&M stop. "We’d start off talking about a military policy and before long we were talking about the Bible. If this is the culture of the military as a whole, it explains a lot about why ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ is in place."

The Equality Ride will be in Dallas on Friday to speak with college administrators at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities international conference. There will be a press conference on Friday, March 31 at the Gaylord Hotel Resort in Dallas at 11 AM.

The Soulforce Equality Ride is a journey to change the heart and mind of America on the issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality. Following in the footsteps of the Freedom Rides of the 1960’s, the Equality Ride uses principles of non-violence to confront military and religious colleges and universities with policies banning enrollment of LGBT students. The Equality Riders reflect on the lessons of history, which have shown past religion-based discrimination against women, people of color, and religious minorities to be an unacceptable abuse of the sanctity of religion. At each of the 19 schools on the 51-day bus tour, the young adult ambassadors of the Equality Ride bring this simple message to students, faculty and administrators: Learn from history; end religion-based discrimination.

For more information on the Equality Ride visit www.equalityride.com/media.


The Soulforce Equality Ride is a journey to change the heart and mind of America on the issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality. Following in the footsteps of the Freedom Rides of the 1960’s, the Equality Ride uses principles of non-violence to confront military and religious colleges and universities with policies banning enrollment of LGBT students. The Equality Riders reflect on the lessons of history, which have shown past religion-based discrimination against women, people of color, and religious minorities to be an unacceptable abuse of the sanctity of religion. At each of the 19 schools on the 51-day bus tour, the young adult ambassadors of the Equality Ride bring this simple message to students, faculty and administrators: Learn from history; end religion-based discrimination.

The goal of Soulforce is freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance.

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