"The Table is Open," But Are All Welcome?

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

(Los Angeles) — The Equality Riders arrived at Azusa Pacific University today to the warmest welcome yet received on their journey. Students, faculty and administrators cheered as the bus bearing the slogan, "Learn from history, end religion-based oppression," pulled into campus. The Riders were given name badges and immediately escorted into the college for breakfast.

Each Rider was paired with a student from Azusa throughout the day in order to foster personal sharing and relationships. Equality Riders joined students that morning for the Easter Chapel, a full student body event that happens each year before Easter break. The high-tech service, with screen projection, theater lighting and electronic instruments came together with the ancient Christian tradition of communion, a tradition that the Riders have not been able to take part in at any college. As the elements were handed around the arena, the service leader announced, "The table is open; all are welcome."

"Azusa Pacific has truly opened the table of fellowship to us," said Jacob Reitan, co-director of the Equality Ride. "But even in the midst of the hospitality shown to us today, we have to wonder if lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students can truly feel welcome here." In addition to the chapel service, the Riders joined university administrators for lunch to discuss issues of academic freedom and safety for LGBT students on Christian campuses. The Riders then gave a presentation on the history of religious violence to a standing-room-only audience of more than a thousand Azusa students and faculty. The presentation included personal stories from Riders who had been victims of discrimination and hate crimes. After the presentation Equality Riders took questions from students on their personal experiences of being LGBT, issues of biblical interpretation and the spiritual beliefs that have motivated Riders to take their journey across the country.

Perhaps the most striking story shared during the day came from an Azusa
student who came out in the school paper, The Clause. In his guest editorial, "A Letter to APU: Homosexuality on Campus," Bryan Schnebelt bravely shared his struggles with accepting himself as a gay man on a conservative Christian campus. "Some days the fight to live and be myself is so overwhelming that I can’t even function." Schnebelt wrote. "There are also days when I feel empowered to be who God has made me…I have had the most bittersweet experience here at APU."

Although Azusa Pacific appeared to take a relatively tolerant stance toward openly-LGBT students on campus, the school continues to hold a policy which bans all students from sexual activity outside of marriage, with no approved form of recognition for same-sex relationships available. According to students, the school has also invited "ex-gay" speakers to discuss unscientific theories of "changing" sexual orientation.

"When students are struggling with accepting their sexuality in light of their faith, there must be safe space for them to have their questions answered and their feelings validated without judgment or fear of reprisal," Reitan said. "Azusa has taken a great step forward toward letting that happen here today, but this step is only the beginning."

The Equality Ride’s next stop is at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah on April 10 and 11, where Riders will confront the deadly policies of the Latter Day Saints, which have caused countless suicides by LGBT Mormons.

For more information on the Equality Ride, see www.equalityride.com.

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.

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