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 www.equalityride.com/northcentral

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.