From Myth to Empowerment: How GLBT persons can Shift

Roby Sapp and Dotti BerryYou have heard people laugh and say, “Wouldn’t it be great if every GLBT person turned purple?” as if that would allow us to exclaim “Free at last!” Yes, “easy” is how we like it in our society. If you turned purple (GLBT), however, you would still have to deal with your own internal homophobia/transphobia that continues to lurk just beneath the surface. How do you know? Test yourself against the myths that keep you silent. Many of you have not only heard them, but you believe them.

How does your remaining silent and hiding who you are reflect the last vestiges of shame that stalks you individually and our community as a whole? How does your lack of honesty and openness possibly create distrust with people?

Many of the myths feed the erroneous information, and enable you and others to stay in stuck places. Debunking myths encourages you to transform yourself, allowing others the space to shift as well.

Naming these myths is like confronting one’s abuser. Did this really happen? Documenting them makes you realize the absurdity of giving them power.

Myth #1: Your “lifestyle” is nobody’s business.

False. First and foremost, people’s sexual orientation/gender identity been erroneously “co-opted” as a “lifestyle.” The phrase continues to be used in our society, and sometimes within our own community. The dictionary definition of the word “lifestyle,” however, helps us to understand why the term is a misnomer. As well, it serves as a way to denigrate the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community).

life style

n. A way of life or style of living that reflects the attitudes and values of a person or group: "It was a millionaire’s lifestyle on the pocketbook of a hairdresser" (People).

Usage Note: When lifestyle became popular a generation ago, a number of critics objected to it as voguish and superficial, perhaps because it appeared to elevate habits of consumption, dress, and recreation to categories in a system of social classification. Nonetheless, the word has proved durable and useful, if only because such categories do in fact figure importantly in the schemes that Americans commonly invoke when explaining social values and behavior, as in Rachel Brownstein’s remark that "an anticonventional lifestyle is no sure sign of feminist politics, or indeed, of any politics at all." Fifty-three percent of the Usage Panel accepts the word in Bohemian attitudes toward conventional society have been outstripped and outdated by the lifestyles of millions of young people. An even greater number fully 70 percent accepts the word in Salaries in the Bay Area may be higher, but it may cost employees as much as 30 percent more to maintain their lifestyles, where the context requires a term that implies categorization based on habits of consumption.

Source: The American Heritage軒 Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Copyright 見 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

The above definition illuminates the incongruence of the word "lifestyle" as applied to GLBT persons. The definition helps us clarify and understand the distinction between the word "lifestyle" and its misappropriated connection and reference to sexual orientation and/or gender identity/gender expression. Lifestyle is defined as (n) : a manner of living that reflects the person’s values and attitudes. Human sexual orientation and/or gender identity/gender expression is neither a "value" nor an "attitude." Neither a "homosexual lifestyle" nor a "heterosexual lifestyle" exists. In our society, however, while one hears reference to a "homosexual lifestyle," one does not hear reference to a "heterosexual lifestyle." It is the "homosexual lifestyle" that is used as a derogatory term, allowing people to denigrate persons who are gay and lesbian, calling their "lifestyle" a threat to family values. The reality is that how one chooses to live out their human sexual orientation, (whether that is homosexual or heterosexual), or their gender identity/expression, in terms of being "open, in the closet, monogamous, promiscuous, etc." would be the "lifestyle." Those choices represent a "value" or "attitude" consistent with the term "lifestyle."

Referring to GLBT persons as a "lifestyle" allows people to push away and discount the individuals within our community. It leads to misunderstanding the lives and relationships of homosexual, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning persons and who they are, as well as who they love. Referral by the GLBT community to ourselves as a "lifestyle" disconnects us from who we are and communicates shame, as if being GLBT is something to "overcome" rather than a gift to be celebrated.

Myth #2: Let people get to know you first before you "come out" to them. Otherwise, it might create a barrier and they may never choose to get to know you.

False. Allow people to get to know the "real you" from the beginning. Otherwise, people (consciously or unconsciously) feel they have been deceived, and there is a breach of trust which has to be repaired. Those who will create a barrier because of knowing the "authentic you", will probably find a way to create a barrier anyway due to their own fears. Quit being someone you are not so others will like and accept you. Claim the value of who you are, and allow others to appreciate you. There is more empowerment for being rejected for who you are, than being valued and respected for who you are not.

Myth #3: Respect other people’s wishes and don’t "push it in their faces."

False. The "it" they are referring to is you being GLBT, queer or questioning. You, however, are not an "it." Heterosexual people or mixed gender couples, however, don’t follow their own advice. The things they are referring to (such as holding hands with your same gender partner, or talking about your partner or person you are dating, etc.) are the same things they allow themselves to do without claiming they are "pushing it in their faces." Being real and who you are isn’t pushing "it" in their faces. Why? First of all, because none of us are an "it." You are a human being with human feelings, wanting to create authentic connections with other people, just like them. Refuse to allow them to demonize and invalidate your valid and healthy feelings, emotions, and behaviors.

Refuse to participate in "don’t ask/don’t tell policies." If you do, you are an accomplice in the dysfunction within our society about GLBT persons. Your silence is part of the problem, and enables the toxicity that poisons you. Become part of the solution by standing up and speaking out, and claiming and living your authentic life!

Myth #4: No one in their right mind would choose to be gay.

False. Why not? Some of the most creative people in the world are gay. Ask yourself, "If I were not gay, who would I be? What would my life be like?" When I ask myself the question about whether or not I would choose to be gay, my answer is a resounding "YES!" Being gay is a gift that enables me to be more fully alive and connected to others, as well as more compassionate regarding our differences.

Myth #5: Not sharing your authentic life (with the people your parents don’t want you to tell) is a way of respecting your parents and family.

False. Consider that NOT sharing your authentic life with the people you love is disrespectful. YOU are a gift…Act like it! To keep a gift from others is selfish. Remaining silent about whom you are holds you in fear. It also keeps both you and the other person from the opportunity to grow.

Myth #6: Holding hands or showing affection with my partner in front of my family/friends/others is taboo because it makes them feel uncomfortable.

False. You are not responsible for how others feel simply because of being who you are. Sharing appropriate affection with the person you love…yes, even in front of others…is not only ok, but it is encouraging and inspiring for anyone to witness. Love offers ways of expanding; fear contracts. Which one sounds more empowering to you?

Myth #7: Homosexuality is a sin, and the Bible condemns homosexuality.

False. There are many theologians who do not support the theory that the Bible condemns homosexuality. The belief of some people that this is true does not make it true. It makes it their belief. Do your homework if this topic is of interest to you. Go to this link to read Rev. Dr. Lisa Davison’s What the Bible Says/Doesn’t Say about Homosexuality. Also, go to this link to read about recommended books that address this topic. Dare to delve deeply into creating a new understanding so that you can discern for yourself what is true/not true, rather than what others tell you is true/not true.

Myth #8: You will lose everything (involvement with church, friends, relations with family) if you come out of the closet, so it would be best to remain silent and hidden.

False. Far from losing everything, the untold truth is that the gains, in terms of personal integrity and freedom, are far greater than the risks and consequences that we most fear. You begin to recognize the value for being who you truly are, rather than who people think you are. Although some friendships MAY be changed or lost, the ones that remain become deeper friendships because the walls that have created an invisible barrier dissolve. What do you gain if the love you receive from others is based on who you are not?

Myth #9: There’s something wrong with you if you’re gay. You’re not normal. You are disordered.

False. There’s nothing wrong with you. Act like you believe it. Name the emotions you feel, claim the emotions that you feel, and let the ones go that no longer empower you in your life. Commit to living your life with the utmost authenticity at all times. When you find yourself doing otherwise, check in with yourself and be willing to discover what is stopping you. Be completely honest and look at your part in any charade you are playing, and why you are playing it. Seek to understand why you are willing to enable those who would imprison you with their thinking. What emotions are beneath your actions?

Myth #10: Being gay and a person of faith (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or whatever faith) is an oxymoron. If you are gay, you aren’t right with "God."

False. If you are a person of faith, being anyone other than who you truly are will keep you separated from the divine energy, whether that is God, Allah, or whoever to you. There is nothing that empowers a person’s spiritual faith more than experiencing total integration between one’s spirituality and sexuality. This applies whether you are heterosexual or homosexual.

Myth #11: You will only be happy if you are in a heterosexual relationship.

False. A 12 year study at The Gottman Institute in Seattle, WA, made some interesting discoveries. Their website says, "Using state-of-the-art methods while studying 21 gay and 21 lesbian couples, Dr. John Gottman (University of Washington) and Dr. Robert Levenson (University of California at Berkeley) have learned what makes same-sex relationships succeed or fail.

One key result: Overall, relationship satisfaction and quality are about the same across all couple types (straight, gay, lesbian) that Dr. Gottman has studied. This result supports prior research by Lawrence Kurdek and Pepper Schwartz: They find that gay and lesbian relationships are comparable to straight relationships in many ways." Click here to read the synopsis of that research.

If you are a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person, know that you are capable of having as good, or bad, relationship as any "traditional relationship." It is up to you, not family and/or society, to determine whether or not you can have a dynamic and empowering relationship.

Myth #12: Children do better when they are raised in a "traditional" home with "married" parents.

False. The truth is, the "traditional" definition of family (married heterosexual couple with 1.5 children) is only one of the many family structures that our country’s children are born into or currently being raised in. Studies have shown that the presence of a married father and mother is not a prerequisite to positive outcomes for children. Click here for entire article by Jennifer Chrisler, the executive director of Family Pride, the only national not-for-profit organization exclusively dedicated to securing equality for LGBT parents and their families.

If you want children, do whatever it takes to create your own family!

Ask yourself this question: Is the way I am living my life empowering me? If the answer is "no," then it is time to begin living life in a way that does empower you.

見Copyright 2006 Dotti Berry

Dotti Berry is a Life & Relationship Coach who is finishing her doctorate work in Human Sexuality at Widener University. Visit her website, GLBT Coach. Dotti & her spouse, Robynne Sapp, were legally married March 7, 2004, in Portland, Oregon. Their civil wedding license was voided a year later by the State. Their spiritual ceremony was July 31, 2004. They are currently on a yearlong journey, Gay Into Straight America, the initial project of their non-profit, Stand UP Speak OUT, Inc. Their intention is to engage hearts and minds, create authentic connections, and dissolve differences that separate us.

Twenty-one Arrested at West Point Equality Ride Action

For Immediate Release
Contact: Richard Lindsay, 646-258-7193

(Highland Falls, NY) – Military police arrested fifteen Equality Riders and 6 community members as they attempted to step onto the United States Military Academy at West Point to speak as citizens and taxpayers opposed to the military’s ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy. The policy prevents openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people from serving in the military or attending West Point.

"We are here as LGBT people to pose one important question to the future military leaders that attend West Point," said Haven Herrin, Equality Ride co-director. "The question is, ‘Would you serve with me?’ If the answer is ‘yes,’ then we need to tell Congress that military members are open to LGBT people serving with them. If the answer is ‘no,’ then we need to sit down and have a conversation with cadets that is 13 years overdue."

As they have at military campuses around the country, Equality Riders wore t-shirts with the question, "Would you serve with me?" printed on them. At the front gate of the Academy, Riders and community members stepped up to a line of Military Police who informed them that if they trespassed onto campus, they would be charged with a federal offense. The Riders and community members stepped past the MP’s one-by-one and were escorted back to the front of the gate. Undeterred, they returned and stepped past the MP’s again and were arrested and escorted onto the campus for processing. All those arrested were given a summons and immediately released.

Equality Rider Monica Carmean spoke as one of the organizers the West Point visit. "I am here as a straight ally because so often policies like ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ are put in place in the name of heterosexual people," Carmean said. "This policy reflects not just individual prejudice, but government-sanctioned discrimination."

Around 10,000 service members have been discharged under the ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy at a cost of 364 million dollars to the U.S. government. Several of those discharged have been trained in crucial skills such as Arabic language.

Prior to the stop at West Point, Equality Riders were contacted by closeted cadets at the school. Although the cadets were unable to make an appearance at the action for fear of being expelled, one informed Riders that several cadets had pooled a donation and contributed to the Equality Ride.

A West Point professor, Richard Schoonhoven, watched the events unfold from the front gate. "I think it’s a shame that the Academy isn’t willing to enter into a constructive dialogue with Soulforce on this issue," Schoonhoven said. "’Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ is a problematic policy that needs to be addressed."

The Equality Ride has been hosted during its stay in New York City by Soulforce New York City. On Tuesday night, Soulforce NYC hosted a reception and fundraiser for the Equality Ride at the Hasted-Hunt Gallery in Manhattan. More than 150 people attended the event, including Soulforce founder Mel White, Neil Giuliano, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and Ted Allen of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. The morning of the action at West Point, Soulforce NYC hosted a breakfast for the Riders at Judson Memorial Church in Manhattan.

The West Point visit is the final stop on the Equality Ride. Riders will have a chance to enjoy New York City on Thursday and then will return to Washington for a weekend of discussion and planning for the future.

For more information on the Equality Ride stop at West Point, see:

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 Ride Must Never End

by Angel Collie

Here we are, already on the way to Philly. I can’t believe there are only two stops to go. In so many ways the ride has flown by, and in some ways, it seems the end will never come. I find myself deeply saddened as Bill stands up and announces that he will be passing out our final flight info. So, since the day brings nothing but a rather anti-climatic 14-hour drive, I have decided to use the time to reflect a bit.

From day one, the Equality Ride has pushed me and challenged me far outside of my comfort zone into the only area we ever grow. For that I am truly grateful. I spoke in my church before I left and I coined it a "Spiritual Social Justice Boot Camp," and I often find myself wishing I wasn’t so accurate, but in the next thought I wouldn’t change it for the world.

I came on the Ride afraid to stand up and have a voice, even within my own congregation. Now I can give a speech with less than a few minutes notice. I came on this Ride not believing I could accomplish much, and so many times with God’s help, I have seen awesome events organized in just seconds. I came on this Ride expecting to be yelled at and hated and found more Christ-like love than I ever could have imagined. It all goes to show how, as humans, we all have preset expectations that are often inaccurate and lack faith.

Thus, the single most valuable lesson I have taken from this Ride is to truly, "Let go, and let God." It’s always something I said and tried to believe, but I saw it work time and time over. I came hoping to change the hearts and minds of others, but what really happened is a change in my own heart and mind. I found that just as Christians hold stereotypes about us, we likewise do the same. I realized, in Evangelical Christians, I saw the faces and heard the words of those who had caused me to stumble so early in my faith journey. I became cold and shut myself off because my expectation was spiritual violence, or being told it’s an oxymoron to be Gay and Christian. It is on this ride that I have learned that God called us to evangelize to all people, not just those who look, act, and think exactly as we do.

Our motto has always been "Learn from History," and as I go back and dig a little deeper, I am drawn to those who God used to do his work in the Bible. He used people where they were and exactly as they were. I think back to the stories of Mary Magdalene who God chose when she was a prostitute, and John the Baptist who was written off as a crazy person as he demanded repentance, for the Kingdom of God was at hand. Even Jesus himself was put to death by the very religious sects that claimed to be preserving the laws and traditions of His father.

I can’t help but think back to a quote from Good ol’ Mel White: "You know the law of the heart, but you have forgotten the heart of the law." Sadly, over and over, I come in contact with people who know the law but fail to exhibit love– the one and greatest law. God is love, and without love, we are separated from God.

I had the honor to visit the Billy Graham Museum at Wheaton College, and there was one part that was really powerful for me. You walked into a pure white hall that was in the shape of the cross. The long white hall signified the pure sinless life Jesus lived on earth. At the end, there hung a huge wooden cross. After the cross, you walked through a long black tunnel. At the end, there hung a sign that read, "He is not here. He is risen." Next, you walk into a bright room filled with mirrors and clouds to signify his ascension into heaven. It was truly beautiful and touching.

I have also been asked to reflect on the tangible things we have done on this Ride in knowing many seeds we plant will never be seen. I think back to the students, the administrators, the community members, and even the police forces we have come in contact with, knowing many have been changed. They are changed because of who we are and the values we hold. No longer can the stereotypes pinned on us precede us, because to know us is to love us.

Over and over I am overtaken by the importance and significance of this Ride and the effect it has in the lives of individual students. So often, we go to schools and find a student body starving for these conversations. Students are so glad we are there because, for once, they get to hear they are ok– not sick and sinful.

More and more, as the end nears, I understand that it must not end. There are too many places we have yet to reach and too many people who need to be told God loves them as they are. It is tiring work, but truthfully, it’s what is right. We are all called to do justice, and LGBT youth can no longer ignore our calling. No longer are we letting ourselves be confined to gay bars and living in unhealthy ways. We have begun to love ourselves and unite as a sacred community, loved, blessed, and affirmed by God. No longer should people be made to feel guilt simply because of who they love. The ride may be close to wrapping up for 2006, but the message can never end.

Photos from the Soulforce Equality Ride, April 21st, 2006

Photos by Stephanie Houfek

Equality Riders at Wheaton College

Jay Johnson, Wheaton alum and professor at Pacific School of Religion, speaks outside his alma mater

Haven and Jake at Wheaton College

Jake Reitan, Jay Johnson and Richard Lindsay on a panel with Wheaton College representatives. More than 1500 students, faculty and comm unity members attended the event

A Promise Kept: Equality Riders go to Wheaton

For Immediate Release
Contact: Richard Lindsay, 646-258-7193

(WHEATON, IL) – Equality Riders wrapped up two days of dialogue with the students, administration and faculty of Wheaton College today. Riders were welcomed to the campus, where they spoke in classes, presented and shared meals with students.

Wheaton was, in many ways, the inspiration for the ride. While he was an undergraduate at Northwestern University, Equality Ride co-director Jacob Reitan met a closeted gay Wheaton student in Chicago. When the discussion turned to the evangelical school’s policy on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, the student told Reitan if he came out, he could be expelled from the school.

"I told him I thought it was a horrible policy, and it should be changed," Reitan said. "But then he looked at me and said, ‘Actually, I think it’s a good policy. I think it’s a sin to be gay.’"

Reitan was taken aback, and promised to bring a group of LGBT-affirming Christians to Wheaton to present a different message.

"Coming to Wheaton is the fulfillment of a dream," Reitan said. "We’re here to keep a promise I made three years ago, that I would bring a group of LGBT people to Wheaton who affirm their sexuality and know God loves them as they are."

Reitan continued, "We are very thankful to Wheaton College, President Duane Litfin and Provost Stan Jones for welcoming us to campus. They worked with us admirably to plan this visit and the presentations and discussions went smoothly and fairly."

A highlight of the two days of dialogue was a panel discussion in the school’s gymnasium, which drew around 1500 students, faculty and community members. The college, whose most famous alum is Billy Graham, has a strong academic reputation and the discussion was spirited and wide-ranging. Soul Force panelists Jacob Reitan, Richard Lindsay, and Jay Johnson discussed subjects with the Wheaton panel ranging from biblical exegesis, theology, psychology, sociology, law, politics and Christian ethics.

A central part of the forum was the issue of academic freedom. The school’s administration explained to the Equality Riders that Wheaton’s community covenant, which restricts homosexual behavior, is a statement of faith that applies to all students, straight or gay. Wheaton administrators stated that any students standing in support of the goals of the Equality Ride would be risking disciplinary action.

"It is unacceptable for an institution of higher education with a reputation like Wheaton’s to suggest that a student could not, after study, thought and prayer, come to the conclusion that homosexuality is not a sin without risking expulsion," Reitan said.

In addition to his academic training in philosophical theology and position at the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA, Jay Johnson provided the personal experience of being a Wheaton alum and son of a Wheaton faculty member.

Johnson’s motivation for sitting on the panel with Soulforce was more than academic. Johnson said, "I was thinking about what it was like for me to be a scared, closeted student at this school and how much it would have meant to me to hear someone say I could be gay, I could be Christian, and I could have a wonderful life."

After the presentations and formal dialogues were over, Wheaton students gathered with Equality Riders and other community members at a local restaurant for dinner and informal discussion. As their time together drew to a close, Equality Riders went through the now-familiar ritual of breaking off the intense conversations that had started over dinner, exchanging hugs and e-mail addresses with students and heading for the bus. Before the bus headed back to the hotel, some Wheaton students took a brief tour of the bus and even donated jars of food for the Equality Ride hamster, Ryder.

"We’ve made so many new friends at every stop," said Equality Rider David Coleman. "It’s like we’ve planted seeds everywhere we’ve been and we’ll just have to wait to see which ones bear fruit."

For more information on the Equality Ride stop at Wheaton college, see:

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.

Equality Riders Find Supportive Community at Bethel University

For Immediate Release
Contact: Richard Lindsay, 646-258-7193

(St. Paul, MN) – Bethel University warmly welcomed the Soulforce Equality Ride to its campus Tuesday. The day began with a meeting between Equality Ride leaders and school administrators and informal dialogue with students. Bethel allowed riders to present in classrooms to continue conversations about Bethel’s code of conduct, which aligns homosexual behavior with evil thoughts and greed as conduct which should be avoided by Bethel students.

"We are excited to be welcomed on the Bethel College campus and to be given the opportunities to present and discuss issues that affect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students here. This is truly a campus where academic freedom is alive and well," said Haven Herrin, co-director of the Equality Ride.

Several students introduced themselves to Riders as straight allies and many were wearing rainbow ribbons and t-shirts in support of the Equality Ride visit to the school.

"Despite the quality of the dialogue here, it can be possible to be a place of open dialogue and still not be a safe place for LGBT students," Herrin continued. "As long as Bethel College still enforces a discriminatory policy towards LGBT individuals this is an unsafe environment."

As the day concluded, Bethel opened its largest venue to the Riders for a formal panel discussion between three representatives from the Soulforce Equality Ride and three representatives from the Bethel community. More than 1000 students attended the discussion in the University’s Great Hall.

At the conclusion of the forum Riders called for straight ally students who supported the goals of the Ride to stand and be recognized in the forum discussion. The dozens of students who stood demonstrated the diversity of opinion within the Bethel community.

"At the end of the day we have to walk away from Bethel encouraged by our discussions here," said Jessie Sullivan, Equality Rider and co-organizer for the stop at Bethel. "For the first time on our journey we’ve seen public support from straight ally students. Let’s hope these students can see this day as the foundation for changing the school’s policy and building support for LGBT students on campus."

For more on the Equality Ride stop at Bethel University, see:

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.

Equality Riders Experience Redemptive Suffering at North Central University

For Immediate Release
Contact: Richard Lindsay, 646-258-7193

(Minneapolis, MN) – Equality Riders brought their message to the campus of North Central University today, overcoming some of the most difficult obstacles yet faced on the Ride. Several Equality Riders were pushed and pulled from doorways by North Central University security after beginning a sit-in on the campus of the school, but no Riders were injured.

After months of trying to work with North Central administration to create dialogue on campus and being turned away, Equality Riders set up stations on the public sidewalks around the school, speaking with students about Biblical interpretation and heterosexism. Riders also sang worship songs and passed out soft drinks and water. A few students approached the Riders on the sidewalks, although many chose to avoid the Riders.

Students had been told by North Central University administration that Equality Riders were there to challenge their First Amendment right to freedom of religion. According to a report from the Associated Press, North Central administration also fired the editors of the school newspaper, The Northern Light, when the staff would not submit to censorship of their coverage of the Ride.

"I don’t think we’ve dealt with an administration that has tried harder to create a climate of fear around our visit than North Central," said Jacob Reitan, Equality Ride co-director. "Students were told we were here to attack their faith and create a media circus around their campus – anything but our real purpose, which is always to bring life-changing dialogue to the students of this school."

Having difficulty reaching students off-campus, Equality Riders decided to attempt to enter the dining hall to speak with students directly, despite the administration’s disapproval. North Central administration had placed security guards at all entrances to the urban college, leaving locked doors as the only possible way onto campus to dialogue with students. Several Riders approached the locked doors and knocked, asking to come in to speak with students and were tuned away by the security guards.

Not receiving entrance, Equality Rider Richard Lindsay turned and read a passage from Matthew chapter 10:14-15: "If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town."

Lindsay vowed not to shake the dust off his feet, but to continue in front of the building until he could seek dialogue with students. He then sat down in front of the door, blocking entrance to the building. Several other Riders dispersed to other doors around the building and sat down in front of them.

"We did everything we could do to try to reach out to these students without resorting to civil disobedience," Lindsay said. "But the message that God loves lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people was just too important not to be heard."

Instead of calling police, North Central University security guards took matters into their own hands, pulling Riders away from the entrances, kicking doors open and having students step over them. Several Riders reported being kicked by students and shoved or pulled away from doors by security. One Rider was even hit in the head by a camera wielded by a member of the media. After being dragged out of the way, Riders resumed their places in front of the doors after the students passed, holding vigil outside the school for more than three hours. Riders sustained no serious injuries.

It seemed the administration had succeeded in closing off conversation on campus, locking down the school and turning students against Equality Riders, when a small moment of grace occurred.

Outside the back entrance to the dining hall was a small amphitheater where students were gathering to eat lunch. Equality Riders took advantage of the opportunity, setting up a speaker and microphone and beginning to give speeches. Despite security guards asking the Equality Riders to leave, they took no action to stop the presentation. Equality Riders spoke for two hours about their coming out experiences, their faith journeys and their reasons for coming on the Ride. Several students and administrators gathered to hear what the Riders had to say, even appearing in windows above in the dining hall to listen. The most profound moment came when Equality Rider Pam Disel spoke about being beaten in Hawaii for being a lesbian, her portion of the History of Violence presentation. Students and administrators who had gathered out of curiosity were visibly moved.

"Pam’s story shows why this is a life or death issue," Reitan said. "The administration of North Central University did everything they could to keep this dialogue from happening and we reached the students anyway."

Several Equality Riders reported that closeted lesbian and gay students from the school came out to them at some of the tables set up around the school.

"Somehow it always happens," said Equality Rider Jen Ham, who spoke with three gay students from the school. "Students who need to have this conversation seek us out. If we get the message to one lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender student that they are loved by God unconditionally — a message they’ll never get on this campus otherwise — our visit has been worth it."

This evening, Equality Riders held a rally in Elliot Park, a public park across the street from North Central University. More than 300 people from the Twin Cities, including several dozen North Central students, came out for the rally. Speakers included Equality Rider David Coleman; Neil Giuliano, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD); Rev. Laurie Crelly, North Central graduate, UCC minister and head of Minnesota’s Faith, Family and Fairness Coalition; Rev. Mark Blakesley, former North Central student and coordinator of the Minnesota chapter of the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns; and George Takei, LGBT activist and member of the original cast of Star Trek.

Performing at the rally were folk singers Rachael Kroog and Shannon Pierce and internationally renowned recording artist Larry Long. The highlight of the evening was the performance by spoken word artist Tish Jones, a member of the Minnesota team attending the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam in New York City this month, who performed a piece that she wrote about the Equality Ride.

Equality Rider David Coleman spoke about his experience in being expelled from North Central University. Looking over the crowd assembled for the rally, Coleman said, "A year ago when I was expelled from this school, I would never have expected such an outpouring of love to be here now."

North Central graduate Rev. Laurie Crelly summed up the theme of the day. "Scripture says that perfect love drives out fear. I challenge North Central to listen to the voices of love, not fear, in its interactions with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people."

For more information on the Equality Ride stop at North Central University, see

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.

Photos from the Soulforce Equality Ride, April 17th, 2006

Photos by Stephanie Houfek

Bill and Jake discuss strategy at North Central University

Richard Lindsay reads from the book of Matthew

Dawn Davridge and Jarrett Lucas sit in front of the doors at North Central University

Kate Riley gets shoved aside

Phil Reitan and Kate Riley

Randi Reitan negotiates with North Central security

Richard knocks — and the door is not opened to him

David Coleman and Jacob Reitan

Riders lead worship outside North Central University

Rachel, Jacob, Dawn, and David

The family that nonviolently resists together…

George Takei, who played Star Trek’s Captain Sulu, speaks at the rally

Spoken word artist Tish Jones at the rally

Kevin, Jen, Chad, Jonathan, Dawn, and David, "Equality Trekkies" with George Takei

Photos from the Soulforce Equality Ride, April 14th, 2006

Photos by Stephanie Houfek

The Equality Riders vigil at the U.S. Air Force Academy

Equality Rider Kevin Mumaugh, who was born at the Air Force Academy and baptized in the school’s famous chapel, speaks

Jacob Reitan presents a check for $364,000,000 — the amount the government has spent training LGBT service members who have been discharged because of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell"

Demonstrating the harmful effect of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell"

Jacob Reitan

Katie Higgins speaks about the $364,000,000 wasted by discharging GLBT service members

Katie Higgins at the Air Force Academy

Kevin Mumaugh being arrested at the Air Force Academy

Katie Higgins being arrested at the Air Force Academy

Eleven Equality Riders were arrested at the Air Force Academy

Eleven Equality Riders were arrested at the Air Force Academy